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All eyes are on Stars entering season - and for good reason

Dallas continues to draw positive attention for its summer moves, gaining more national TV exposure in 2019-20

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

A few years ago, when the Stars were being passed up for outdoor hockey games or getting little respect from media pundits and award voters, it used to really get under the skin of the fan base.

But throughout the organization from coaches to management to front-office personnel, the overriding philosophy back then was: "We'll get respect when we earn it." It was a refreshing perspective in a world where so many are worried about accolades ahead of accomplishments.

So it makes sense that when the positive reviews are all around that the organization knows there is still much earning to be done. It was announced Tuesday that Dallas has six national telecasts in the 2019-20 season and that goes along with the NHL Network putting the Stars in their preseason Top 5 and Sportsnet saying the Stars were the third most improved team this summer after offseason moves.

That's exactly what the team has been seeking, but they know it's just a start.

"It's great, and I definitely think it's good to have that on the outside, but we have to keep our focus, we can't believe the job is done," said Stars general manager Jim Nill.

"We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot to prove, so we need to keep the hunger there and put the work in every day."

Video: Stars' Stanley Cup expectations starting next season

Nill understands the team had 93 points last season and finished seventh in the Western Conference, so it has a lot of room for improvement. He also knows it had one of the best records in the second half of the season at 23-16-3, and really started to grasp the system of first-year head coach Jim Montgomery in the playoffs. After Dallas pushed St. Louis to overtime in Game 7 of the second round, people saw the potential of what this team can be. That creates a lot of the optimism the league is expressing.

"I think it was important," Nill said of the postseason performance. "I liked the direction we were headed, and I think we definitely played our best hockey at the end of the year. A bounce here or there and we're the team moving on and not St. Louis, so I think we definitely proved something to ourselves."

In the offseason, Nill has added Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera. Pavelski scored 38 goals last season and is a veteran leader who can add both skill and grit. Perry and Sekera are former top players who are trying to recover from injuries and come at bargain basement prices. That should allow the team to be better and still manage the salary cap. It also should help underscore the point that the time to win is now.

NHL Network analyst E.J. Hradek ranks Dallas fourth in his offseason Top 5, and said there's a lot to like, including second-year defenseman Miro Heiskanen.

"I love the Dallas Stars at (No.) 4," Hradek said on NHL Network. "We talk about the fact they took St. Louis to Game 7 double overtime in the second round. I love Heiskanen on defense, one of the great young defenders, he's going to win multiple Norris Trophies in his career. Ben Bishop in goal, love that. They added Pavelski for some secondary scoring."

Mix that with the fact Dallas will play host to the 2020 NHL Winter Classic at Cotton Bowl Stadium, and the exposure goes way up for this team. After getting just one national telecast last season, the Stars will be featured six times on NBC channels in 2019-20.

Video: Perry discusses knee injury, being ready for 2019-20

"I think it's just part of what we've been trying to do for a few years here and it's paying off," said team president Brad Alberts. "It all has to come together, every aspect of it."

When Tom Gaglardi bought the Stars out of bankruptcy in 2011, he brought back former president Jim Lites and started the process of rebuilding the team's financial infrastructure. Alberts has been there along the way and was promoted to president a year and a half ago.

He has helped push along an attitude that started with Gaglardi and Lites.

"I don't want us to be just another team in the league," Alberts said. "It's very easy for our franchise to fall into that because of our location or because of how we have performed at times.

"We're sort of in the middle of nowhere. California has three teams, we're two hours by plane from any other team. We're in the middle of the woods, so it would be easy to forget us. So we have to really push to be elite not only on the ice, but off the ice as well. We have to push for Winter Classics, and we have to push to host the draft, and we have to push to make a splash, because I think that's going to help us become relevant. Then, we have to be competitive."

The competitive part is helped by the business strength. Players like Pavelski and Perry wanted to come to Dallas because of the infrastructure, and because they want to win now. For some older players, this season really is their sole focus. Add to that the external expectation of high preseason rankings, and the urgency is tangible.

Video: Mike Heika on Stars signing Pavelski and Perry

Before last season, the Stars were among the teams that garnered the attention of John Tavares and Erik Karlsson. This summer, a player like Pavelski felt Dallas was the best fit.

"I definitely think the players think this is a good place to play," Alberts said. "Look who we just got this summer. Look at who we were in on before. That's a sign that we have respect among the players and they want to come here and succeed."

The challenge now is to make the prophets look like geniuses and embrace the pressure. Nill has always been a fan of having his AHL franchise close to his NHL franchise. That way, the AHL players know they are being watched.

"In a perfect world, you try to do things right all of the time, but I think it can help if you know people are watching, if you feel that," Nill said.

"I believe that with the minor-league team, and I believe that with the focus from the outside. It can be a good thing when people have high expectations on the outside to go with our high expectations on the inside."

The Stars seem to be ready for it all right now.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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