There has been no love lost between the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars throughout their lengthy history as fierce rivals and playoff competitors but most of that seems like a distant memory as the Sharks head to Dallas to face the Stars as division opponents for the penultimate time. Apart from the Stars' playoff drought, the most significant reason is that the characters who featured prominently in previous iterations of this rivalry are gone. Steve Ott is feasting on foes in the Eastern Conference (literally) while Mike Ribeiro is flopping on Verizon Center ice, both players dealt by Dallas last summer.
GM Joe Nieuwendyk returned to the trading block prior to last week's deadline in order to ship captain Brenden Morrow as well as Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr, both of whom were having tremendous debut seasons in Texas, for picks and prospects a month after swapping another useful forward in Michael Ryder for Erik Cole. Meanwhile, Doug Wilson was stripping veterans on expiring contracts from the Sharks roster as well, trading Douglas Murray to the Penguins, Ryane Clowe to the Rangers and Michal Handzus to the Blackhawks.
Teams selling off assets that aren't in their future plans at the trade deadline isn't remotely interesting or unusual. What qualifies as interesting is the fact that both San Jose and Dallas have been downright dominant since their mini-firesales. Dallas is 4-1 since the deadline while the Sharks are 3-1-1 since trading Ryane Clowe and 8-1-1 since beginning their "refresh" or whatever it's being branded by shipping out Murray. San Jose's surge is more easily explainable. As we commented at the time of the deal, trading Murray was addition by subtraction in that it barred the coaching staff from deploying the disastrous Murray/Stuart pairing and jettisoned a defenseman whose best days were far in the rearview mirror.
In his comprehensive review of the Sharks' deadline moves, CBS Sports' Adam Gretz called Handzus "essentially the forward version of Murray in San Jose where his teammates were performing better when he wasn't on the ice with them," which is spot on. Shooting regression, spreading out the offense by moving Joe Pavelski to third-line center and Brent Burns' continued improvement as a forward certainly all played a role but it isn't entirely surprising that the team's chance of making the playoffs skyrocketed after dumping its worst players.
Dallas' post-deadline success is tougher to rationalize. Roy and Jagr were both integral parts of the team's top six, with Roy in particular having been one of the better two-way forwards in the conference this season. But what dealing those veterans, valuable as they were, allowed the Stars organization to do was provide greater ice time and responsibility to their younger players. Brenden Dillon emerged as a Calder candidate and possible outside contender for the Norris Trophy long before the deadline but Jagr and Roy were replaced in the Stars' top six by Alex Chiasson and Cody Eakin, respectively, both of whom have taken their increased role and run with it. Chiasson, who lit the lamp twice in San Jose last week, has five goals in his first five NHL games while Eakin has been an important driver of play alongside Loui Eriksson on Dallas' second line, both of them key reasons the Stars have been a plus-possession team in close situations over this impressive run.
If there's any time for this rivalry to be reignited, it's now. Both the Sharks and Stars sold at the deadline yet ended up with improved teams as a result. Tonight, they'll face off in Dallas with San Jose attempting to solidify its playoff spot by burying the Stars a little bit deeper while Dallas attempts to take control of their playoff destiny by surpassing the Red Wings for eighth place with a win. Sure, it's no Andrei Zyuzin scoring the game-winner on Eddie Belfour or a crushing quadruple-OT elimination game but, compared to other Sharks/Stars tilts from the recent past, one of these teams' last meetings ever while playing in the same division should be noteworthy.
|21-12-7, 49 points
||20-17-3, 43 points|
|5th in Western Conference||9th in Western Conference|
Know Your Enemy: Defending Big D