A little more than a year ago, it looked as if the Dallas Stars were giving up on the season and the short-term future.
Despite still being in a playoff hunt in a jammed Western Conference, they shipped captain Brenden Morrow to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and veterans Jaromir Jagr to the Boston Bruins and Derek Roy to the Vancouver Canucks.
They cleaned house in the front office too, with owner Tom Gaglardi sending former fan favorite Joe Nieuwendyk packing and bringing in longtime Detroit Red Wings executive Jim Nill as the new general manager. A couple of weeks later, coach Glen Gulutzan was let go.
The rebuild was on. Few could have predicted the moves made in the months to follow could lead the Stars back to the playoffs this year.
Yet that's where things stand now.
With a 3-0 win over one of the best teams in the Western Conference—the St. Louis Blues—Friday night, the Stars have snapped a five-year drought and claimed the final wild-card spot
It's happening because of a youth movement brought on by the blockbuster trade Nill pulled off with the Boston Bruins, bringing a then-21-year-old Tyler Seguin to Dallas and sending 27-year-old Loui Eriksson to Boston. Other pieces were involved, including Rich Peverley from the Bruins and prospects Reilly Smith, Joe Morrow and Matt Fraser from the Stars.
The deal was all about establishing a young and deadly duo that will only grow together over the coming years, knowing there were other strong prospects already in Dallas who will take over more regular roles when the likes of Ray Whitney and Erik Cole move on.
Seguin and captain Jamie Benn have taken flight even earlier than most Texans hoped, and a young group of supporting players offer plenty of promise for the Stars going forward. The fact the team has flashed so much potential this quickly into the makeover is a bonus.
The quick rise of the Colorado Avalanche is one of the most incredible turnaround stories of the season, going from worst to first in the Western Conference. The young and talented core there has been together for a few years, however, and just needed a final push—apparently at the hands of new head coach Patrick Roy—to get it all together.
The Stars, though, are close in terms of overcoming expectations. Albeit more quietly, the Stars have taken the teachings of coach Lindy Ruff in and are beginning to show it.
And who knows what the Stars may be able to accomplish this spring if they qualify for the playoffs on the final day of the regular season?
Benn and Seguin are a dynamic pair as dangerous as Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews or Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
The Stars have their flaws. Another move during this transition period included shipping veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas to the Anaheim Ducks. Defense is the Achilles' heel for a team that is in the top 10 offensively but the bottom half in terms of goals allowed.
But with a strong goaltender in Kari Lehtonen, who recorded his fifth shutout of the season on Friday, anything is possible for the underdog Stars.
They could play the Blues or the Colorado Avalanche in the opening round, and with nothing to lose and plenty of youthful enthusiasm, they just might make it to the second.