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Behind Jim Nill, the Stars are building a contender in Dallas

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In his first year at the helm of the Stars, Jim Nill has turned things around in Dallas.

Bruce Bennett

Flash back to the 2012-13 season.

The Dallas Stars finished dead last in the former Pacific Division. Their 48 points put them in the league's bottom-eight. The Stars missed out on the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year, after having previously missed the postseason only five times since 1986.

A few years can dramatically change things though, and Dallas is finding that out firsthand.

It all began with Jamie Benn. Originally drafted by Dallas in the fifth round back in 2007, Benn was the centerpiece, the player with all the potential, but he needed help.

Something else happened in 2013 in Dallas. Jim Nill was named the new Stars GM in April after having previously served as the director of amateur scouting for the Red Wings. Nill recognized the need to give Benn a skilled battering mate, and did so immediately after coming into the job, acquiring Tyler Seguin from the Bruins. Seguin allowed Benn to go back and play on the wing, a spot that serves the power forward much better.

But Nill wasn't done. He then used the high draft pick the Stars had earned from their inept lockout-shortened season to select Valeri Nichushkin. And as an 18-year-old, Nichushkin hopped into the fold and played alongside Seguin and Benn, filling out the Stars top line.

Now fast forward to July 1, 2014, the start of free agency. Nill and the Stars brass were again on the hunt for a high-skilled center, only this time, it was more of a two-way street. When Nill poached Seguin from Boston, the Bruins were looking to part ways with the 19-year-old budding star.

But Tuesday, as Nill and his cohorts set their sights on Jason Spezza, they circled in on a player with a no-movement clause, and one who already had vetoed a trade to Nashville. Spezza held as much power in the proceedings as Senators GM Bryan Murray.

But when the dust settled, and Spezza was given his choice to join the Stars, he 'OK'd' the deal, and will join a Dallas team that continues to accumulate talent and build toward Nill's vision.

In short, the Stars have come along way from the bottom-dwelling team that selected at No. 10 in 2010.

"I think we're putting hockey back on the map here. I think Dallas is a great hockey town," Nill said after acquiring Spezza. "You look back to when they were in their heydays, when they won the Cup and that Dallas was as good a city anywhere in the world for hockey, and I think we're getting back there.

"We have a good core of kids of great young players that are under the age of 25."

Of course, Nill wasn't done on Tuesday. After stealing Spezza away from Ottawa, he inked his late-season line mate Ales Hemsky. The duo of ex-Sens will almost positively link up again in Dallas, giving the Stars a great scoring punch on their top two lines.

"They have great players like Jamie Benn and Seguin and they have more guys than that," Hemsky said. "They showed it last year, even in the playoffs, they have a great team to compete for a Stanley Cup, so that was a big factor for me."

Again, this is a far cry from what things were like before Nill took over. Spezza's acquisition did not come with a contract extension, and, it's possible he may be a Star for only one season, or a half-season if Dallas is unable to extend him, and Nill tries to get some return at the trade deadline.

Dallas may not quite be ready to compete with the Kings or Blackhawks, the clear heavyweights in the Western Conference. But coming off a first round playoff series in which they took a good Anaheim team to six games, and looking like a better team after these latest additions, and Dallas should be right in that mix of second-tier teams in the West.