There are times in sports where things come together right in front of your eyes. Most of the time you can tell that you're witnessing something special, but it's hard to know exactly how rare or impressive what you are seeing actually is. Historical context is something that is difficult to gauge in the moment, and clarity doesn't come in weeks, months, or necessarily even years. The current era of the Dallas Stars offense cannot be accurately quantified in the present. They are just at the beginning of a journey and it is impossible to predict where it will go from here. However, over the last year-plus, if you've had the feeling that you are seeing something special in Dallas, it's because you are.
When you dive inside the numbers, you start to see just how special.
There are the surface stats that tell you the Stars are among the elite when it comes to offense. At over 3.5 goals per game, the Stars lead the Western Conference, and rank third in the NHL. Their power play is second in the league at just under 30%. They rank in the top-five in shots-on-goal and lead the league in five-on-five shot-attempts per game. While noteworthy, these numbers hardly stop the presses. Narrow the scope, however, and you find a few more of the head-turning variety.
Specifically when looking at the Stars big-three of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg, you start to see that they are in a different class.
It begins at the top of the NHL scoring leaderboard where all three started Wednesday in the top-8 in the league. Benn and Seguin lead everyone with 20 points each. Their 40 combined points are a dozen more than the next set of teammates that lead their club in scoring. Since the duo was united in the summer of 2013, they rank second and third among all NHL players in points, and are far-and-away the highest-scoring set of teammates. Since the start of last season, their ranking improves to first and second overall in the league. This year, Benn and Seguin became the first pair of teammates to each register 20 points in the first 13 games of the season since the 2005-2006 season. Keep in mind that ten years ago, the average amount of NHL goals-per-game was 6.1, compared to 5.3 the last four seasons. This year's milestone comes despite the adjustment of a much lower-scoring game played today.
Keep going and the numbers get more unique. On Tuesday night, Seguin netted his sixth hat trick in 164 games since joining the Stars. That tied Mike Modano for the Dallas record of most hat tricks in club history. Modano, the first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, and one of the best forwards to ever play the game, got his six hat tricks in 1,142 games in a Dallas sweater. Almost one thousand more than Seguin. Seguin has averaged a hat trick for every 27.3 games he's played for the Stars. According to STATS LLC, of every player in NHL history to play at least 100 games for the same team, Seguin's rate of hat tricks per game in Dallas ranks seventh all-time. The six ahead of him are Wayne Gretzky (Edmonton), Mike Bossy (New York Islanders), Pavel Bure (Florida), Mario Lemieux (Pittsburgh), Charlie Conacher (Toronto), and Phil Esposito (Boston). All of them are in the Hockey Hall-of-Fame. That's the company Seguin is in with his production. And again, most of those came in a different era of the sport. None came after 2001.
Shift back to Benn and you find that dating to March of last season, the Stars captain has also been in elite company. In addition to making history by becoming the first player in franchise history to win the Art Ross Trophy, Benn also has 43 points in his last 25 games. In a down scoring era, that's an average of 1.72 points per game. It is the first time in more than two years that any player in the NHL has recorded that many points over a 25-game span. The last player to do it was Sidney Crosby in 2013. Going back further, the only player in the last five years, besides Crosby, to string together a 25-game run like the one Benn is on was Steven Stamkos in 2010. Both Crosby and Stamkos were first overall draft picks and are likely headed towards Hall-of-Fame careers themselves.
As for Klingberg, the young blue-liner is leaving an initial footprint seldom seen in the last quarter-century. Despite having not even been in the NHL for a full calendar year, Klingberg is tied for the league lead in scoring by a defensemen, and ranks tied for eighth overall. He has 53 points in his first 78 NHL games. He's the first defensemen since 1996 to reach that many points in that opening span of time. In fact, dating back to the start of the 1992-1993 season, only three defensemen aside from Klingberg have registered 53 or more points in their first 78 career games.
One of them was Sergei Zubov.
Think about all of the defensemen who have started incredible careers in the last 20 years. Erik Karlsson, P.K. Subban, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Mike Green, Andrei Markov. The list goes on and on. None of them began the way John Klingberg has.
This week the most respected coach in hockey, Mike Babcock, once again called for bigger nets. He said, "It's impossible to score."
Well, the Stars are doing the impossible. And they're doing it at a rate that hasn't been seen in quite some time.
Benn is 26 years old. Seguin and Klingberg are each 23. Their stories are hardly written. Heck, they've barely started. The same can be said of these Stars. There are a lot of years and a lot of games still to be played before the benefit of hindsight tells us just how impressive what we are seeing truly was.
But the numbers up to this point don't lie. Neither does the eyeball test. What is happening in Dallas doesn't happen very often, and it's been a long time since it has.
A great thing about sports are the timeless debates they spawn. How do players and teams from different eras stack up against one another? How does what you witness today compare to what we saw 10, 20, 50 years ago? Where will it rank when we look back decades from now? There's no real answer, but that's part of the fun. How this team and these players get viewed in the future may wind up in those debates. It is not an exaggeration to say that for the last year-or-so, the Stars offense has been historically good. But who knows? That will all sort itself out down the road.
In the meantime, just know that stretches like this don't come around too often. Appreciate what you are watching, because you never know when you'll see it again.
The Dallas Stars are rewriting history. Enjoy the show as you go along for the ride.
The Stars finish their four-game road trip this weekend with stops in Carolina and Detroit. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' before they head back to Dallas:
Despite winning four of their last six games, the Stars have allowed three-or-more goals in each of them. By contrast, in the first seven games of the season, Dallas only allowed three-plus goals twice. As noted above, the Stars offense can cover a lot of goals-against. However, with an emphasis on defense heading into this season, look for the Stars to harp on improving that number, despite their outstanding record. Carolina and Detroit both rank in the bottom-half of NHL scoring, with Carolina tied for the third-fewest goals-per-game this season. Friday could offer an opportunity for the Stars to get back to better defensive numbers.
The incredible numbers put up by Benn and Seguin could lead some to believe that the Stars are top-heavy when it comes to scoring. While certainly loaded at the top, Dallas has done a good job of spreading out the scoring as well. The Stars have had 14 different goal scorers this season - tied for the ninth most among NHL clubs. Even without the blistering pace of the Stars top-two, their third and fourth scorers - Klingberg and Jason Spezza - combine for 25 points, which still ranks just three back of the lead of any teammates not named Benn and Seguin.
The Stars have won 10 of their 13 games to open the season. Included in those victories are a pair of wins against the 7-4 Penguins and a win versus the 6-2-4 Canucks. However, their three losses came at the hands of Florida, Colorado, and Toronto. Two of those three have losing records, and combined that trio has gone 11-19-5 this year. On Friday the Stars visit Carolina to take on the 5-7 Hurricanes. Coming off an impressive Tuesday win against a hot Boston club, the Stars have to make sure they avoid the trap of facing a struggling team in their next game.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on ‘Stars Live’ and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.