Twenty-five years after winning the franchise’s only Stanley Cup to date, the Dallas Stars have put themselves in excellent position to win another.

As champions of the National Hockey League’s Western Conference, they can enjoy home-ice advantage in any best-of-seven playoff series through the first three rounds. If they then reach the Stanley Cup final, they would lose that advantage if they play the lone team in the league that finished with a better record, the New York Rangers.

As the Stars prepare to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the opening round beginning Monday at the American Airlines Center, Dallas’s regular-season success has often been attributed to the depth of individual scoring on a team that finished third in the NHL in goals. Dallas boasts eight players who scored twenty or more goals, a league high. The team’s top goal scorer, twenty-year-old Wyatt Johnston, ranked thirty-fourth in the league with 32 goals. That’s balance.

The team’s share-the-wealth approach also shines through in the time on ice (TOI) Dallas players averaged. Jason Robertson, the 24-year-old forward who led the Stars with eighty points on 29 goals and a team-high 51 assists, also led Dallas forwards in time on ice, playing 18:19 out of each 60-minute game (or a maximum 65-minute contest, when there’s overtime).

Before Dallas’s regular-season finale Wednesday, I approached Robertson in the locker room and asked him to guess where he ranked among NHL forwards in time on ice.

“Seventy?” he said before quickly reconsidering. “Sixty?”

I was surprised he guessed that low, given that he leads the Stars in that category, and there are 32 teams in the league. Then I told him the answer: “Eighty-three.”

The highest-ranking NHL forward in TOI this season was Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche, at 22:54. In a typical game, a team will play twelve forwards divided into four lines (a center and two wings), with line shifts usually coming every thirty seconds to a minute, though that can vary depending on game circumstances.

But ice time isn’t always parsed equally among the forward lines. The fourth-line players often receive less time than the others. A team that is equitable in allotting time across all four lines is said to “roll” them. The Stars are big on rolling four lines. Because of that, virtually all of the forwards on Dallas’s top three lines have played significantly fewer regular-season minutes this year than in the recent past, and that could help them stay energized for a long playoff run. 

“You’re fresh,” Robertson said. “You can exert more energy, [play] harder shifts.”

Roope Hintz, considered the fastest skater among Dallas’s forwards, averaged 17:14 this season compared to 18:02 two years ago. Veteran forward Tyler Seguin was down to 16:32 from 17:49 in 2021–22. Matt Duchene, playing his first season in Dallas, averaged 16:45 compared to 19:00 two years ago with the Nashville Predators. Joe Pavelski, the team’s oldest player, at 39, and its number two scorer, with 67 points, averaged 16:48 this season, compared to 18:28 in 2021–22.

This isn’t happenstance under second-year head coach Pete DeBoer. “It’s an important part of what we do,” he said.

I assumed these minutes would be tracked closely during games, perhaps by an assistant coach watching real-time TOI on a tablet. Nope.

“We get sheets between periods with updated time on ice and shift length,” DeBoer said. “On the bench in the moment, it’s just a feel. I think you develop a feel for what an appropriate shift length should feel like to keep your energy in your group.

“Everybody’s different,” he said. “You’ll see some guys around the league play minute-plus shifts depending on the team and the coaching staff. I’m really adamant on short, hard shifts and setting the next guy up for success by getting off the ice at the right time. We take a lot of pride in that, and it feeds into how we play.

“The [players have] adapted to the yelling from the bench: ‘Get off the ice!’ ”

And after an 82-game regular season, the players have bought into sharing the workload. “I think that’s been part of our DNA from day one,” said captain Jamie Benn, who averaged 15:07 this season after playing 16:44 two years ago. “We all need to sacrifice a little something.”

Duchene said the minutes philosophy was spelled out to him last summer when he signed with Dallas. “Would I love to play twenty minutes a night? Of course, and so would everybody,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m sitting on the bench watching talented guys play hockey.

“It’s kind of a game of attrition for us where we kind of just wear down another team with rolling lines and you don’t worry too much about matchups,” he said. NHL rules allow home teams to send out players after the visitors during stoppages in play. If the away team sends its top scoring line, the home coach can counter with the line he believes can best contain the opposing team’s best offensive group. Yet DeBoer often eschews this strategy in favor of the Stars’ rolling lines. “Coach has trust in pretty much everybody on this team to get the job done,” Duchene said. “It’s nice to play that way.”

A different type of time-saving could also boost the Stars’ postseason chances. Jake Oettinger, their first-string goaltender, played almost six hundred fewer minutes this season than he did a year ago, making 53 starts in 2023–24 compared to 61 last season. It would be a stretch, however to say that Oettinger’s additional rest was part of anyone’s master plan—a mid-December groin injury sidelined him for almost a month.

Oettinger became the Stars’ primary goalie two seasons ago, and he put on a dazzling performance in a playoff defeat, saving 64 of 67 shots in an overtime loss to the Calgary Flames that eliminated Dallas. In 2022–23, he finished fifth in the voting for the NHL’s best goalie after compiling a goals-against average of 2.37 and a save percentage of .919 with five shutouts.

Oettinger wasn’t as impressive early this season. He won only eleven of his twenty starts before the groin injury, allowing five or six goals in four games. His overall numbers at the end of the season were a drop-off—2.72 goals against, a save percentage of .905, and three shutouts. But Oettinger finished strong, winning ten of his last eleven starts including back-to-back shutouts. He allowed more than two goals only once during the closing stretch.

“It’s probably the first real adversity that he’s faced in his pro career as a starter,” DeBoer said. “I think those kinds of things harden you and battle-scar you, and I think that’s great.

“He’s been building his game for a while and looks pretty good,” the coach went on. “He looks confident, not overthinking things, just reacting.”

“It’s been a tough year at some points, learned a lot about myself,” Oettinger said. “The people close to me believed I could turn my game around.

“Now,” he said, “the real fun starts.”