To quote William Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage.” What the Bard didn’t mention is some stages are bigger than others. Even though the calendar still points to December and the season isn’t even half over, the stage the Dallas Stars stepped on last night would be the biggest platform performed on until late spring. Nights like this have repercussions for players and the image of the franchise. This was no time to suffer from stage fright.
When Toronto Maple Leafs come to town, count on a larger and more influential media presence than any team in hockey. This was the Game of the Night, broadcast to a national TV audience in the United States and Canada. Toronto is to the NHL what the Dallas Cowboys are to the NFL. Perform well against them and make a name for yourself throughout the league. Conversely, don’t bring your “A” game and the lasting memory that can come back to haunt you.
For example, in 2018-19 Miro Heiskanen had earned praise and respect from all Western Conference foes. The young defenseman did not have his best moments playing in top markets. Despite having the most Time-On-Ice of any NHL rookie, finishing top-10 in rookie scoring and being a top four defenseman on a playoff team, when the Calder Trophy ballots were turned in, more than 30 media members did not have Heiskanen anywhere on their ballot.
The main storyline on this night couldn’t have been better for the hype-masters: Dallas first place in the Central Division facing a Toronto team undefeated in regulation in their last 11 games (8-0-3). There was also the superstar factor, as for the first time in NHL history two players with point scoring streaks of more than 18 games were on the ice together. Mitch Marner brought his 19-game streak to face Jason Robertson’s 18 game run. Not since “Frank the Tank” headed full speed to the Quad, has streaking been this interesting.
On the biggest stage of the season, a supporting cast member stole the show, worst of all for the AAC faithful, he wasn’t wearing Victory Green. Maple Leafs Goaltender Matt Murray stopped 44 shots, stoned the Stars power play on seven different opportunities including a massive 5 on 3 late in the 2nd period and got help from his teammates to the tune of 27 blocked shots by Toronto skaters.
To make matters worse, in the battle of the two leading men, Marner’s streak continued to an impressive 20 games while Jason Robertson’s journey came to a sudden stop at 18. For now, Brian Bellows’ 36-year-old franchise record remains the standard to be chased.
The Stars have always had to battle for a share of the sports spotlight in DFW. A winning team and players with personality, in that order, are the two main ingredients to capture publicity in this market. On a national level, the Stars need marquee talent performing at an elite level to get publicity.
Jason Robertson’s streak had met that criterion. National writers were doing articles, his face was on the NHL website and ESPN produced a full-length feature. Ask any Heisman Trophy candidate and they will tell you performance is only part of the battle. Publicity on a national level is just as important. (Vote Max Duggan) The same goes for non-traditional hockey markets where making a national statement is rare. The Stars had a big opportunity.
The Robertson for Hart Trophy or Miro for Norris campaigns will only gain traction if they are echoed by more than just the Dallas media and Stars fans. On this night, the most influential hockey market in North America will be talking about Matt Murray standing on his head, the streak of Mitch Marner and Toronto’s ability to end Robertson’s run of greatness. They will not focus on Robertson’s achievements, Heiskanen’s mastery on the blueline or even the resurgence of Jamie Benn. For those hoping the Stars would carry lead billing, it was a disappointing ending to a night that began with great hope.
It's not often enough that the Stars organization has the opportunity to be the talk of the hockey world. These rare opportunities mean a lot more in Dallas than to those franchises who are always in the lead role. All the world's a stage, and maybe next time the Stars will get to stay on the playbill a little longer and create a more lasting impression.