The 1999 Dallas Stars continue to rank as the most successful club in franchise history. But that's what happens when you end the season in truly victorious fashion by hoisting the Stanley Cup high overhead.
A number of players from that magical run to championship glory were in town over the weekend as part of Stars Alumni Weekend. Some like Jere Lehtinen, Richard Matvichuk and Mike Modano continue to live in the Metroplex while others like Guy Carbonneau and Mike Keane still call Canada home.
No matter where they reside, they all still keep tabs on their former club and how they are faring in the NHL. Now that the Stars have a new head coach in Glen Gulutzan as well as several new players, expectations are high for this year's club to end a playoff drought that has now reached three consecutive seasons.
So, who better to assess their chances of doing so than four guys who know the game and more importantly, four individuals who know what it's like to skate the Cup.
One former Star has the luxury of having firsthand knowledge of Gulutzan since he and "Gully" were once teammates as players back in the day.
"I played with Gully, the head coach in Saskatoon and I love his philosophy," Matvichuk said. "I've talked to him a little bit. They've got a good team. They're going to score some goals. The goaltending's there. I think with the addition of Sheldon Souray, his leadership and experience and with Stephane Robidas back there, they'll be OK."
During his three and half years with the Stars, Keane was regarded as the ultimate role player, a true glue guy who always did the little things, the dirty work if you will that is integral to the makeup of any championship club.
He too has a take on how the Stars could do this season.
"Yeah, I watched them last year. I think they have a lot of growth," Keane said. "They have a young group, which they have to play with confidence and build on. With their new coach, he has a new system but it's up to the players to buy in and make sure that winning is the only thing that counts."
However, he was reticent about labeling this season as being playoffs or bust, this coming from a guy who won three Cups with three different NHL teams in his career, something only nine players have ever done in league history.
"You never want to have a deadline like that. Every year, you want to build," Keane said. "I know that guys on and off the ice are going through some changes and that's always going to come into play. You want to make sure that you have positives around. With Joe Nieuwendyk here, a new coach and a new mindset and new ownership soon, that's just going to be positive. That's what you want to have. You want to have a good environment, good, positive surroundings and get off to a real good start."
Lehtinen was a Dallas fixture from the late 1990s extending into just a few years ago. He too keeps close tabs on the Stars and also likes where they are headed for the future.
"I really look forward to the season. I want to see what happens with a new coach and a new staff," he said. "I've been able to talk to the coaches and see the new players coming in. I've seen a couple of practices and exhibition games and it seems like they're a pretty good team. They stick together and the chemistry feels like it's there. I think it will be good but it's too early to say. There haven't been any games played yet but overall, I think it's good."
And like many, he can sense a new energy, enthusiasm and buzz surrounding his former club now that Gulutzan is at the helm.
"Yeah, you can see those games and can sense that. You can see what's in there. Gully, he has a lot of energy," Lehtinen said. "He's a good coach and willing to learn more. I think that's big."
Carbonneau also knows a thing or two about winning Cups as he drank from Lord Stanley's Bowl twice in his career, having also won one in Montreal besides the one he was part of in Big D. He also coached the Canadiens for a while after retiring, so it's safe to say he knows a thing or two about what a winning team looks like.
"It's hard to say if this is a playoff team or not. I think last year, they were right there," he said. "They win one game and they would have been in the playoff. They've got more experience this year and a little more depth. But you look around the league and a couple of injuries here and there and you can be out of the playoffs. You look at all 30 teams and you can probably pick one or two teams that are guaranteed to make the playoffs. There are maybe one, two or three guaranteed not to make the playoffs but every in between can be a surprise."
One thing he can declare is that the club is in good hands with a former Stars teammate in Joe Nieuwendyk calling the shots as the Dallas General Manager.
"Newy having been an ex-player and especially a player who played here, he learned the trade the right way," Carbonneau said. "He has a good relationship with the players. I think he wants to bring that family aspect to the team but you've got to still remember that it's a business. So far, the team has done good. They're getting better. They've got really young players. It's just a matter of keeping them together."