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Opportunity for something great

Stars and Predators have unique opportunity leading up to Winter Classic

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

The old saying is that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

That can apply in so many different ways for the Dallas Stars and the Winter Classic.

The Stars management team pushed and prepared to make a unique proposal to the NHL to bring the traditional outdoor game to Dallas so it could be played at the iconic Cotton Bowl. They were lucky when the league agreed that would be a good idea.

Many inside the Stars organization also felt the best opponent for the game would be the Nashville Predators, creating a new and interesting match-up that would appeal to both traditional fans and much of the hockey South. They were lucky Friday when the NHL announced Nashville would indeed be the opponent for the Stars on Jan. 1, 2020.

But there is one more step in preparation that can take this game from good to great, and that has to occur on the ice. If the Stars can become a playoff team this year, they not only can create buzz overall for next season, they could potentially make this one of the most interesting Winter Classics ever.

Think about it.

What if the Stars and Predators meet in the playoffs this year?

What if they start a rivalry that spills over into next season?

Two Central Division teams who have a history, who have never been in an outside game before, who have some dynamic players…it really could be fantastic.

But the Stars need to hold up their end of the bargain, and that starts with making the playoffs.

Dallas currently holds one of the two wildcard playoff spots in the Western Conference at the All-Star Break. And while there are seven teams within three points of each other battling for two spots, it's a pretty fair ask for the Stars to be atop that pile of seven teams. Heck, you can toss Minnesota (55 points in 50 games) into that group and get eight teams battling for three spots.

Each franchise has its hunger, but the Stars need this as much as anyone.

In addition to having just two playoff appearances (and one series win) in the past 10 seasons, the Stars also have a high payroll (the seventh highest cap hit according to CapFriendly at $78.5 million) and a roster core that appears to be in its prime. Ben Bishop and Alexander Radulov are 32, Jamie Benn is 29, Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg are 26. The time to win is now.

And if it's not now, it's certainly next season, when the players are a year older and rookie coach Jim Montgomery has a year under his belt.

The thing is, the preparation to win next season pretty much has to include some playoff experience this season. Benn has played just 19 playoff games in nine seasons. Klingberg has 13 in four seasons. Seguin, who won a Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011, has just seven playoff games since joining the Stars in 2013 because of injuries.

Bottom line, the window is wide open.

And if they earn a post-season bid, they could get a chance to play the Predators in the playoffs. Nashville continues to be one of the top two teams in the Central Division, and the league's division-centric playoff system means the Stars and Predators could easily meet in the first or second rounds if they both qualify.

The buzz around a series in April would be huge, knowing that the two teams are going to meet in January. And that's just the buzz on the ice.

Consider that both teams are going to be competing in an outdoor game for the first time; both cities have some unique personality traits that include music, fashion and food; and both fan bases can get pretty excited about hockey in the South; and you have a real opportunity just sitting out there.

"When we were drawing this up in our minds, Nashville was always the perfect opponent," said Stars president Brad Alberts. "The fact that the NHL and Gary Bettman made the decision to bring the Predators here, we're thrilled with their decision. I think everyone agrees there is a chance here to do something new, something exciting and something unique, and now we just need to go make that happen."

Getting things done on the ice might be the most important step in that process.

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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