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Stars’ fourth weather postponement adds even more difficulty to an already condensed schedules

Dallas Morning News logo Dallas Morning News 2/18/2021 Matthew DeFranks, The Dallas Morning News

In order to make the playoffs this season, the Stars will have to navigate the toughest remaining schedule in the NHL.

The NHL postponed Saturday’s Stars game against the Lightning on Thursday morning “as a result of ongoing power issues caused by severe weather in the Dallas area, and after continued consultation with City and State officials,” the league announced in a statement.

It was the fourth postponement of the week for the Stars amid the winter storm that resulted in widespread power outages across North Texas: games Monday and Tuesday vs. Nashville were postponed, as well as Thursday’s scheduled game against Tampa Bay. It was also the eighth postponement of the season for the Stars, whose first four games of the season were shifted because of a COVID-19 outbreak during training camp.

The result is an abnormally taxing schedule that awaits the Stars: 44 games in 78 days, should the NHL mandate Dallas plays the full 56 games and that its regular season ends May 10 as scheduled.

“Listen, that is a huge burden, but we can’t deal with it all at once,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said.

The Stars next game is Monday at Florida. The game kicks off a five-game trip through Sunrise and Tampa.

“We know what’s ahead, obviously,” captain Jamie Benn said. “A grueling schedule, but we’ll manage our days pretty well here. We’re really all just looking forward to our next game.”

For comparison, the Stars’ final 44 games last season happened in 106 days. Their final 44 games in 2018-19 were in 99 days. Even the hectic Edmonton playoff bubble (27 games in 56 days) wasn’t as tight as what the Stars currently face.

Entering Thursday’s games, only New Jersey (10 games) had played fewer games than Dallas (12). By the time the Stars resume play on Monday, the Devils will play three times and no team faces a more constricted regular season schedule than the Stars.

Add in that among those 44 games, the Stars play eight vs. 10-2-2 Florida, eight vs. 10-3-1 Tampa Bay and four vs. 10-3-1 Carolina and the road gets even tougher.

“It’s important that we get these games in so we avoid so many games that guys are going to get injured,” Bowness said.

“That’s the situation that terrifies us, that there are so many games and the guys are going to get tired and get injured out there.”

There are two things the NHL could do to alleviate the load on the Stars: allow teams to play different amounts of games or extend the regular season longer.

Last year when the league shut down to the coronavirus pandemic, teams around the NHL had played a different number of games and the league simply went by points percentage to determine playoff positions. Might the league allow the Stars (and naturally some other teams in the division) to play less than 56 games, given the scheduling constraint caused by the pandemic and this week’s weather?

The NHL could also push the end of the regular season back. Initially scheduled to finish May 8, the regular season now ends May 10 after COVID-19-related postponements.

The league would have to consider the effect of a delay on the scheduled start date for the 2021-22 season, and also likely have to finish the playoffs before the Summer Olympics begin July 23. Since NBC airs the Olympics, the NHL would be left without an American television partner for the playoffs if the two events overlapped.

Internally, the Stars could opt to rest players down the stretch in a similar manner to the NBA’s “load management.” Bowness said those decisions would likely be dependent on where the Stars are in the standings relative to a playoff spot.

“If we see guys are clearly tired, yes,” Bowness said. “Would we give them the night off from games? We’d absolutely have to because if you don’t, then you run the risk of them getting injured and we won’t do that to our players.”

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