While the Dallas Stars are still young, their expectations have clearly changed.
This group is no longer just hoping to get to the playoffs.
"We've been together for a year now. The new players have fit in well," said Jamie Benn, their 25-year-old captain. "We've got a little bit more confidence as a group just making the playoffs, and I think we can bring that into this year."
Not only did the Stars end the longest postseason drought in franchise history last season, they came oh so close to taking top-seeded Anaheim to Game 7 in the opening round. The Ducks had to score twice in the final 2:10 of regulation in Game 6 to force overtime, and won on the only shot there.
"We had a great year last year, and this year I think our expectations are a lot higher," said Tyler Seguin, the 22-year-old center.
General manager Jim Nill, a longtime assistant GM with Detroit, was hired in April 2013 after the Stars missed the playoffs for the fifth season in a row. He hired veteran coach Lindy Ruff, who had eight playoff appearances in his 15 seasons with Buffalo.
Nill's biggest initial deal was a seven-player trade with Boston to get former second overall pick Seguin, who in his debut Dallas season was the leading scorer with 84 points (37 goals, 47 assists). This offseason, Nill added 31-year-old former Ottawa teammates Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky.
"Last year, Jamie Benn moving back to the wing, Seguin coming in, how were they going to mesh together? And we've seen that they're as dynamic a duo as there is," Nill said. "A lot of questions have been answered. ... We've got the excitement of adding Spezza, Hemsky and these guys. It's an exciting time, good for our team."
Spezza (23 goals, 43 assists) is a center acquired in a trade before free-agent right wing Hemsky (13 goals, 30 assists combined with Edmonton and Ottawa) signed a three-year contract. The two will likely be paired together, providing another scoring line behind the front line led by Seguin and Benn (34 goals, 45 assists).
Here are some things to know about the 2014-15 Dallas Stars, who open the season at home Oct. 9 against Western Conference finalist Chicago:
POTENT POWER PLAY: During the preseason, Ruff had a primary power-play unit that included Seguin and Benn, his top two scorers from last season, and newcomers Spezza and Hemsky. "We were finding each other," Seguin said. "It will be great to see what we can do once we learn each other a lot." Ruff said he expects those guys to read off each other, rather than having a specific plan where, "You've got to be here, and you've got to be there."
BACKUP GOALIE: The Stars went into training camp with several options to be goalie Kari Lehtonen's backup. They used four different players in that role last season. Anders Lindback, who started 67 games over the past four seasons with Nashville and Tampa Bay, exited training camp as the second goalie on the roster.
WORKING CLASS: Benn said the team has developed an identity as a hard-working team. "We've got to be the hardest-working team out there," the captain said. "Our skill's going to help us out, but if we don't work hard, we're not going to win many games."
STILL UNSIGNED: When the Stars opened training camp in mid-September, unsigned restricted free agents Cody Eakin and Brenden Dillon were working out at home in Canada. Eakin, a center, signed a two-year deal and joined the team this week. Defenseman Dillon remained unsigned and it was uncertain if his contract would be resolved before the season.
PEVERLEY'S PROGRESS: Nearly seven months after collapsing on the bench during a game because of an irregular heartbeat, forward Rich Peverley is doing off-ice workouts. But he still hasn't been cleared by doctors to get practice or play, and there is no specific timetable for when that could happen. He had surgery in mid-March to correct an abnormal heart rhythm, an issue that was diagnosed during training camp last year.