The Dallas Stars are currently one Nashville Predators win away from being eliminated from playoff contention, not one year removed from their run to the Stanley Cup Final. A lot of their struggles this season will be attributed to their grueling schedule, which has featured 43 games in 76 days and a sprint to the finish line on a seven-game road trip. With so few nights off, the Stars have dealt with a long list of injuries for most of the campaign, including the long absences of Alex Radulov and Tyler Seguin.
One question I frequently ask myself is where the Stars would be right now if they kept Corey Perry around for another season. The Stars’ choice to let Perry walk in the offseason for just $750,000 is a curious one. For the equivalent of a mid-level rookie contract, they lost an emotional leader and veteran presence that might have cost them a trip to the postseason.
Thriving in the Spotlight
Last season, Perry was by no means a standout, spending a majority of the regular season on the Stars’ fourth line. Over the shortened season, he played in 57 games and only managed five goals and 21 points. He was underwhelming and looked like a shadow of his former self, struggling to keep up with the young guns and having a terrible time putting the puck in the net with a career-low shooting percentage. Many around the league, myself included, believed that the 35-year-old Perry had simply run out of gas. Needless to say, heading into the Edmonton bubble, expectations were non-existent for Perry and the Stars, who were riding a six-game losing streak into the pause.
Once Perry arrived in Edmonton, though, he flipped the switch as great players always do in the biggest moments. The 2007 Stanley Cup winner started the series against the Calgary Flames by setting the tone, fighting Matthew Tkachuk in the first period in an eventual Game 1 loss. In Game 2, he scored a goal in the second period to go ahead 4-2. And when the Flames scored two third-period goals to tie the game, Perry stepped up again to set up a game-winner with a beautiful pass to a cutting Jamie Oleksiak to secure a win and even the series. Perry was also the unsung hero on Denis Gurianov’s series-clinching overtime winner against the Vegas Golden Knights, providing a screen in front of Robin Lehner.
Perry’s next goal would come in the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning when he scored a second-period go-ahead goal in Game 4, a game that the Stars would go on to lose in overtime on a shot from Kevin Shattenkirk. Then, with the season on the line in Game 5 of the series, a fatigued Stars team needed a hero. Perry scored the first goal of the game to get the team up and running, but the Lightning battled back in a seesaw affair, and eventually, the teams went to overtime. The Bolts controlled play for most of the two overtime periods before Perry did what he does best. For the second time in the game, he went to work in front of the net, and his goal gave the Stars life and extended their season by at least 60 minutes.
Unfortunately for Perry and the Stars, the story ends with Tampa Bay lifting the cup after Game 6. But with such an impactful performance and vital role in the team’s run to the Final, Perry earned the respect and admiration of his teammates. In an interview just a few weeks ago, Tyler Seguin had high praise for Perry, saying, “I wish I could’ve been his teammate for a longer time,” saying that he sees Perry as “the ultimate guy, the ultimate winner and the ultimate competitor.” Seguin continued gushing about his ex-teammate, adding that “his insight and his passion for the game was contagious. Loved being around him.” In his last compliments of Perry, he said something that we learned from Perry’s performance last season in the playoffs: “He just knows how to win, knows what it takes, and when he spoke up he had everyone’s attention.”
Then, when it came time for a new contract, the Stars let Perry walk for an extremely affordable price tag.
Building on the Postseason
In case some don’t remember, due to his recent success on the scoresheet, Joe Pavelski had a rough time transitioning to Dallas last season. Similar to Perry, he was leaving California to join a new franchise for the first time in his long and successful career. In fact, Pavelski netted 13 goals in the 27 playoff games, just one less than the 14 he had in 67 regular-season games. It can be difficult to adjust for a veteran joining a new system, which is why it took until the playoffs for both Perry and Pavelski to finally find their stride.
The difference between Perry and Pavelski is that the little guy got to stick around for another season and build on the strong foundation he laid in last season’s playoff run, which has worked beautifully for him and the team. Pavelski leads the Stars in goals and points and leads the entire NHL in power play tallies, proving his playoff performance was a sign of finding comfort in a once-foreign Stars system and not a lightning in a bottle scenario. Beyond that, Pavelski has been able to mentor some of the youngsters on the Stars’ roster during an injury-plagued season.
One would think the experience and leadership of Perry would also come in handy this season, even if he can’t pot as many goals as Pavelski. Instead, he could’ve built on his postseason heroics and brought stability to a fourth line that has been mostly unproductive and cycled between Ty Dellandrea, Rhett Gardner, Tanner Kero, Nicholas Caamano, and Justin Dowling.
Plenty Left in the Tank
If the Stars were worried that Perry’s productive days as a power forward were done, they’ve been proven wrong by his instant impact on the Montréal Canadiens this season. No one will argue that Perry is the 50-goal scorer he once was in his glory days in Anaheim, but his nine goals and the “A” on his sweater suggest that he still brings value to a hockey club. On a Stars team that at times desperately struggles to score, Perry’s nine tallies are good enough for seventh on the roster.
Night in and night out, the Canadiens know what they are getting from the pest. He continues to go to the net and use his big frame and quick hands to generate energy, and he manages to add a goal every once in a while. Make no mistake, if the Canadiens are going to do anything in the postseason this season, it will have Perry’s fingerprints all over it. As for the Stars, we will never know the true answer, but I think the leadership and stability of Perry could’ve made all the difference.
Dallas Stars writer at ‘The Hockey Writers.’ I grew up playing ice hockey in Los Angeles but was introduced to the game when I saw my first professional hockey game at American Airlines Center in 2006 and I’ve been a Stars fan ever since. I currently play hockey and study psychology at Stanford University and spend my free time watching and writing about hockey. Check out my personal website MuffinHockey.com and my articles at the Stanford Daily Newspaper!