Dallas Stars can expect fewer fans, new rivals with NHL’s return plan

When the NHL season returns on January 13, the Stars will have new rivals for the division and reduced capacity for home games at the American Airlines Center.

The NHL and the NHL Players Association announced a formal agreement on Sunday afternoon for a shortened regular season of 56 games with a training camp for Dallas starting January 3 in Frisco and no pre-season games. Teams will play home games in their arenas, according to the release, but could move to divisional hub locations “depending on prevailing conditions, both in local markets and across North America”.

The Stars lose to Blitz in the Stanley Cup Final in September. This is how Sunday’s announcement affects Dallas.

Fans in the building

Brad Alberts, President and CEO of Stars, said the Stars will have fans at home games with a reduced capacity of around 5,000 people – a number has yet to be determined. During the September playoffs, the team had a similar number of fans for watch parties.

In Texas, professional sports teams can currently have 50% capacity at indoor events, but the space between seats for social distancing is decreasing. AAC typically seats 18,532 fans.

Teams playing at home were not a matter of course for the NHL, which last season ended with hub cities in Toronto and Edmonton. The league reportedly investigated hub options just last week. The league also allowed teams to determine whether fans (like the NFL) should be allowed rather than not requiring participation in the entire league.

Like the rest of the NHL, the stars are in desperate need of ticket revenue in an economy torn by the coronavirus pandemic. The team has taken the majority of its front office staff on leave and owner Tom Gaglardi’s hotel and restaurant business has been negatively impacted.

The Stars were the first team in the NHL to publicly say they would have fans. The Mavericks, who haven’t announced if they would have fans, didn’t have one for their preseason game on Thursday.

Dallas County reported 1,143 coronavirus cases and 30 deaths on Sunday.

Realignment of the business areas

The stars will be in a redesigned Central Division that includes Tampa Bay, Carolina, Nashville, Columbus, Florida, Chicago, and Detroit. Dallas will play each team eight times in the regular season and not against other teams.

The top four teams will advance to the playoffs, with No. 1 playing against No. 4 and No. 2 against No. 3 in the first round of the playoffs. Once each division has a champion, the remaining three teams will be reinstated in the Stanley Cup semi-finals.

When realigned divisions were first reported, it appeared that the Stars were destined for the West, which would have put them in the same division as rivals St. Louis, Colorado and Vegas. While the path to the playoffs in the west would have been easy thanks to the inclusion of the three sub-par California teams, it would have been more difficult to win the division in the postseason.

Headquarters isn’t as top-heavy as the West, and elite competition is limited to the defending Stanley Cup champion. The Red Wings and Blackhawks are being rebuilt while the Hurricanes (Goalkeeper), Predators (Scoring Depth), Blue Jackets (Goal Scoring) and Panthers (Defense) have questions from last season that are still unresolved.

The playoff race should be competitive at headquarters but manageable for the stars. Not to mention, Dallas doesn’t have to deal with late starts on the West Coast: five of the teams in Central are in the Eastern time zone.

The realigned divisions were necessary due to the coronavirus pandemic on the closed border between the United States and Canada, which forced a purely Canadian northern division and three revised divisions in the United States

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