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It's only preseason, but Stars must get serious about improving

The regular season hasn't started yet and Dallas is already showing it needs to raise the intensity

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Pro sports is serious business.

The season hasn't even started yet, and the Stars are already showing that they need to up the intensity. Dallas on Sunday made 10 roster moves, assigning eight players to the Texas Stars and cutting both Stefan Noesen and Scottie Upshall from their professional tryout contracts.

It would have been nice to give Noesen (the Plano native looking for a new deal after not getting re-signed by the Devils) and Upshall (the 35-year-old who has worked so hard to get back from knee surgery) a couple more games in the preseason. Even if either didn't make the Stars' roster, they could at least be seen by other teams.

But after a 6-0 loss to Florida on Saturday in Tulsa, the Stars need to make some changes. Yes, it's just preseason. Yes, the top players on Saturday were playing their first game since May. Yes, they have time to change this pretty quickly.

Still, the Stars have not looked good so far.

This team with great expectations of immense improvement looks a little too much like the flawed squad last season that might have depended too heavily on great goaltending and impressive penalty kill.

Video: Montgomery disappointed with performance in Tulsa

And that's a little concerning.

I know, I know, they've got more than a week to go before they start playing real games. They've got three more exhibition performances where they can sand and varnish. They've got a lot of practice time where they can fine-tune chemistry and do some teaching and get a little bit more serious about where they need to be.

And that's probably what we'll see this week.

It's tough to sift through 60-something players. It's tough when the NHL coaching staff has to prepare a different group and travel to Minnesota and Denver and Tulsa. It's tough when you break up your core and try to serve so many masters.

So, whittling the group down to 34 is a huge step forward.

Now, Jim Montgomery and his coaching staff can start talking about the details that are needed to change the Stars into a puck possession team that can make smart, quick decisions, and put the opposition on its heels. Now, the veteran players can start focusing on developing pace and becoming the squad that everyone thinks they can be.

Video: Pavelski on Stars' execution in loss to Panthers

There has been a tremendous amount of talk and hype about the Stars in the offseason, and for good reason. Montgomery did a great job of improving in his rookie year behind the bench and had Dallas in a very good place entering the playoffs. This was a team that overwhelmed Nashville and had a very good St. Louis team on the ropes early. This was a fast team that could slip through the neutral zone and create quick-fire chances that stunned opposing defenses. This was a team that could be a handful.

So when you ponder Montgomery being even better this year, and getting to add good friend John Stevens to the coaching staff, you anticipate more improvement.

And then when you add Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera as free agents and consider increased roles for players such as Roope Hintz, Jason Dickinson and Miro Heiskanen, well there's logical evidence for all of the offseason excitement.

I mean, there is every reason to believe Heiskanen will be much better in his second season, that he will play more than 23:07 a night (and more than 1:40 on the power play) and will have more than 33 points. There's every reason to believe that Hintz and Dickinson will tally much more than the 22 points each contributed last season. There's every reason to believe that Pavelski and Perry (even at their advanced ages) will give you more than the now-departed Jason Spezza, Valeri Nichushkin and Brett Ritchie.

There's every reason to believe that Jamie Benn will be better than the 53 points he tallied last season…the lowest total he's posted in a full season since his rookie campaign and 26 points fewer than what he had in 2017-18.

Those are tangible statistical expectations that should make the Stars a much better team. There's real reason for all of this hype.

Video: Klingberg takes step forward despite loss to Panthers

And so now the Stars must go out and be better, even if it is only preseason.

I know I get dinged for living in the past sometimes, but I am an old man who has a few old stories. One of the things I loved about the turn-of-the-century Stars was the fact they loved the pressure, they wanted the expectations, they fed off of the hype. They had swagger, because they knew what they could do.

They had plenty of fun, to be sure, but they also knew when it was time to get serious.

It's that time for this group.

Oh sure, it's just the first wakeup call, and there will be many times the factory whistle is going to blow this year. Heck, the Blues proved last season that the game of hockey can be very forgiving at the highest level.

But if the first four preseason games have shown anything, it's that you need to take this stuff a little more seriously. Because in pro sports, the other side on most nights is doing just that.

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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