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With window of opportunity open, Stars hope to break through

Dallas is considered by many to be a contender for the Stanley Cup this season, and there are a lot of good reasons why

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

I dropped my daughter off at college last week in California, and the experience was … well ... educational.

We went through freshman orientation at Chapman University, whose slogan and symbol revolve around the word "Fenestra," Latin for window. They explain to the students that this is a window of opportunity for them, that they have been given great surroundings to help themselves grow and find a path to success. There was much talk of focus and diligence and patience and learning, and it was pretty inspirational.

I, of course, also saw parallels to this hockey team.

 

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The Stars have their Fenestra right now. They've actually had it for a few years, but the fates or good decision making, or a combination of all of the forces in the universe, have conspired to make this window just a little more open. The Stars are considered to be a contender for the Stanley Cup this season, and there are a lot of good reasons why.

For a start, a lot of people are in a good place.

Head coach Jim Montgomery had never been behind an NHL bench before last season. He had run successful programs in the USHL and NCAA, but his experience at the top level had been limited to being a fringe NHL player. So as he went through his transition last season, his team also had its ups and downs.

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But when you consider that he lost three key players -- Martin Hanzal, Marc Methot and Stephen Johns -- in the first few months of the season, and adjusted quite nicely, you have to like what you see in the 50-year-old coach. Montgomery had the Stars on a roll at the end, going 18-11-3 down the stretch, rolling Nashville in the first round of the playoffs and taking eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis to double overtime in Game 7 before losing.

The hope is Montgomery will eventually have a long and illustrious career in the NHL, but the bottom line is he is expected to be much more prepared this season than last, and thus, he should be able to understand and navigate this window even better. Add to the fact good friend and veteran coach John Stevens has been added to the mix, and the potential for improvement seems pretty right.

Likewise, Miro Heiskanen has a year under his belt now. The third overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Heiskanen is getting great reviews. The 20-year-old last season led all rookie defensemen in time on ice (23:07) and goals (12) and was second in points (33). That performance led NHL Network to rank him 17th heading into this season among all NHL defensemen.

That's impressive.

And when you consider the fact Heiskanen was ninth on the Stars in average power-play time on ice per game at 1:40, the potential for increased ice time and increased scoring is through the roof. Yes, like Montgomery, his window is just opening, but the reality is it's opening up quite a bit this season.

Likewise, players such as Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson can take a big step this season, while rookies Denis Gurianov, Jason Robertson, Tye Felhaber and Ty Dellandrea to get their NHL dream started.

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On the other side of the dressing room, you have older players who might be a little impatient in prying the window open.

Stars captain Jamie Benn turned 30 this summer. That's not ancient by any means, but he has 745 regular-season games under his belt and has played just 32 in the postseason in the past 10 years. He's ready to start making these playoff runs a regular thing.

Anton Khudobin turned 33 in May, Alexander Radulov turned 33 in July, Ben Bishop will turn 33 in November. They are ready to win now.

 

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Dallas added veterans Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry as free agents in the offseason. Perry is 34, Pavelski is 35. Like Andrej Sekera, 33, Perry is on a one-year bargain contract with plenty of incentives in hopes of proving to people he can still be a force in the NHL.

They are looking for a window of opportunity.

The Stars hope to provide one.

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The great part of watching my daughter as she worked her way through high school was seeing just how much work she put in. It was a challenge to be in International Baccalaureate and band and clubs all the while pursuing the best offers she could get from colleges, but she was dedicated and focused and patient, and she earned the opportunity that she is getting right now at Chapman.

My guess is the Stars feel the same way.

They have put in the work in the offseason. They have learned from their playoff run. They have earned the right to be standing where they are right now.

They are looking through an open window and pondering the best way to climb through.

The next step is seizing their opportunity.

Fenestra.

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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