This one will be short, I promise. – Also, we tried to link the orginal theme, but Youtube would have none of it. So in keeping with the theme of the article, new Dallas it is!
The Dallas Stars are one of those teams that most people don’t really think about anymore. We used to. Especially here in Edmonton. Since around 2008-2009 it seems like nobody has really paid much attention to them except in the area of bankruptcy and the decision not to trade Brad Richards.
So what exactly is happening in Dallas now?
Tom Gaglardi took over the team just over a year ago, buying it out of bankruptcy auction for approximately $240 million. The team has been working to find its financial footing since then. This past summer they made a small splash in the free-agency waters when they signed Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million and signed 40-year old Ray Whitney to a two-year deal for the same amount, with limited movement clauses. As luck would seem to have it for this franchise, though, the Jagr contract is likely to be curtailed, if not lost entirely, due to the current NHL lockout, while Whitney may not play for them until he is 42.
Gaglardi appears to be a responsible owner, and has made some very intriguing moves since taking over the Stars. He brought back Jim Lites, the former President of the Stars during their dominant years, to the same position he’d held before in order to get the franchise back on its feet. He also brought aboard Jason Farris, most recently of note as the author of Behind the Moves, a book detailing the moves and motives of GMs in the NHL, to be the head of Business Operations and Development. Aside from retaining Joe Nieuwendyk as GM, Gaglardi also brought Bob Gainey back as a consultant to Nieuwendyk, giving some veteran mentorship to the still-learning General Manager.
Reading through the Stars head office personnel gives the impression that this organization is well-outfitted for the NHL. Brad Jellis is their Head Strength and Conditioning coach, Les Jackson is an Assistant GM and head of Scouting and Development while Frank Provenzano is another Assistant GM in charge of Hockey Operations. This division of labour ensures that both departments get the full-time attention they need. They have employed Mark Janko as Director of Hockey Analytics and Administration, a crucial investment for a budgeted team, in addition to Video Coordinator, Kelly Forbes, a distinction that is not mirrored in some supposedly well-run Canadian franchises.
The scouting department is also well-manned. The Stars have eleven listed amateur scouts in addition to two professional scouts, a head of European Scouting, Kari Takko, and Director of Pro Scouting Paul McIntosh. Scott White is also listed as the Director of Minor League Operations and a Pro Scout.
Money is being spent in the right places, management positions needed to identify and acquire talent, not to mention the upper management needed to oversee and coordinate all of these combined efforts. The Stars’ ownership appears stable and fully invested in the process.
Stars On Ice
The Stars have a mediocre roster that is more or less accomplishing what one would expect. They aren’t really a playoff contending team and outside of Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson they lack any true budding stars around which a team might be built. There are a few interesting names here and there, Kari Lehtonen, Alex Goligoski, and Mark Fistric for example. But the team lacks any significant talent or prospect on the horizon that can excite the imagination of a fan base that is looking for a reason to cheer for this team.
The team has struggled recently and there does not appear to be any internal options available to improve. However, at the very least the organization has a deep pool of potential players that can, if all goes well, maintain the franchise for the time-being.
It is difficult to tell what the addition of Jagr and Whitney might have done for the team this year as the former has played a support role recently while the latter, though effective, is getting into Teemu Selanne country, and the Dallas roster does not have an abundance of players who might shelter or support these two elder statesmen of hockey.
Looking over the roster it is difficult for me to imagine this team finishing any higher than 11th in the West without over-achieving and some of the best players that the team has both in the present and immediate future are on the roster right now.
Keep Them Doggies Rollin’
Corey Pronman’s Hockey Prospectus has the Stars prospect pool ranked 13th in the league. Their two notable drafted players are Radek Faksa and Jack Campbell. After that Jamie Oleksiak, Reilly Smith, Ludvig Bystrom, and Scott Glennie are the players that most fans might find appealing. The depth available for the franchise is very strong, however the franchise is in need of a draft-day surprise, a franchise player they can surreptitiously acquire and develop to become that 1st line franchise star.
The drafting success of the Stars has been mixed of late. Through 2003 to 2005 the team drafted well, taking players such as Loui Eriksson, B.J. Crombeen, Niklas Grossman, Mark Fistric, Matt Niskanen, James Neal, and Tom Wandell. In the two years following, and leaving out the most recent draft years, the results have thus far been underwhelming. This is likely due to the financial troubles that previous owner Tom Hicks was suffering during that time. The Stars, unfortunately, bore the brunt of his fiscal woes and one imagines that scouting resources may have become rather limited during the final years of his ownership.
Draft picks were also scarce during that time as management was trading them to acquire players that might return the team to the post-season and, presumably, a profit.
This past season the Stars had to get creative to remain above the salary floor, picking up Eric Nystrom to make up the salary lost when the Rangers proved unable to rehabilitate Sean Avery. The rules around the salary floor may change in the current CBA negotiations. It remains to be seen what direction Gaglardi wants the franchise to take. As mentioned earlier, he certainly does not appear to be overly concerned with a larger payroll – he has increased the payroll by about $5 million – provided it can produce results. This is where the structure of their current contracts is intriguing.
The Stars have only four players signed to contracts that extend past the 2014-2015 season and as such the roster retains a great deal of positional flexibility. Others might call it uncertainty. Either way, the future of the Dallas Stars is anything but written in stone at this point.
At the end of the 2012-2013 season Dallas will have six unrestricted free agents: Jagr, Brendan Morrow, Derek Roy, Michael Ryder, Eric Nystrom, and Mark Fistric. There are several options open to Joe Nieuwendyk when those contracts expire. He might choose to re-sign one of those players, promote one or two from within their development system should they be ready (Reilly Smith, Scott Glennie and Matt Fraser seem to be the closest to the NHL), and then pursue one or two remaining players in free-agency. Another alternative would be to aggressively pursue free-agents for most of, if not all, the required positions in much the same way that Dale Tallon did in the 2011-2012 off-season.
There are no blue-chip prospects that Nieuwendyk needs to shelter behind free-agent veterans, nor are there any who could come in and become a cornerstone player.
At this moment Jamie Benn is their one franchise player, and he remains an unsigned RFA. The winger has become a notable player and would likely be either a 1st line LW on a good team or a very strong 2nd line LW on an outstanding team. To date, his numbers haven’t demonstrated that he alone can carry a team and inevitably he will need support in linemates and team depth for the team to be successful.
The reticence of management to sign Benn is not unusual amongst GMs this year. Many organizations appear to want to wait until the new CBA has been finalized, anticipating that terms will become more favourable for franchises negotiating second contracts. Given Dallas’ financial history this might be a mixture of both managerial prudence and fiscal restraint.
Texas Hold ‘Em
When the Stars refused to trade Brad Richards at the 2010-2011 trade deadline they essentially gambled on the chance of short-term income from a potential playoff series, against the long-term health of the organization in the form of picks and prospects.
The status of the team today, and the general lack of high-end potential in their development system is a consequence of that decision.
I was never too critical of the Stars for hanging on to Richards, even though I knew it was a poor decision. The Oilers refused to trade Luke Richardson, Curtis Joseph, and Todd Marchant when their contracts were expiring, despite trade offers, because the franchise needed those players to attempt to get to the playoffs. The income from those gates was considered more important than any players or draft picks they could get in return. In hindsight those were patently foolish decisions that mired the team in a long drought of mediocrity and futility, essentially preventing the very thing that those players had been retained to accomplish.
I can neither blame, nor feel sympathy for, the Dallas Stars being in the same position. That being said, learning from the mistakes of the past is a fundamental test of a functional organization (and most sentient organisms), and as such the impact on the Dallas Stars of losing Brad Richards ought to be examined by every NHL manager.
Gaglardi and Nieuwendyk are in a precarious position. They need to increase their ticket sales; however ticket sales in Dallas are directly related to the performance of the team. The team faces a difficult task in trying to acquire the needed talent to improve, either by draft or trade, while steadily progressing, or at least offering the promise thereof to the fans.
They need to get better and they can’t afford to be bad in order to do it through the draft. Signing Jagr and Whitney is not the answer.
The Stars are in some ways an intriguing franchise. They seem to lack any distinguishable player or personality, outside perhaps of Benn and potentially Jagr, that would make fans in other markets sit up and take notice. However, ownership is quietly doing all the right things in the front office and depending on the decisions that that management group takes over the next few seasons, they could become a perennial playoff contender, though perhaps not a championship caliber team. Or they could fall flat on their faces and end up rebuilding the long way. There is even the chance they could relocate, if things get bad enough. Gaglardi tried to move one team to Canada already, might he try again?
***For the record, I don’t think Bettman will allow the NHL to leave the Texas market.***
Dallas appears to be a team primed to try and gather momentum gradually, building continually through the draft and taking calculated steps towards a return to the post-season. However, at this point the chances of a championship in the near future seem almost negligible.
All of that aside, I am left with the distinct impression that Gaglardi and Nieuwendyk have a more elaborate and ambitious plan than to simply try and improve incrementally over the course of a decade. Gaglardi has a background of involvement with hockey ownership, first with the Kamploos Blazers, followed by the Canucks in 2006, then again in a failed bid to move the Thrashers to Hamilton in 2010. While the idea of a Canadian owning a Texas hockey team might seem a little incongruous, Gaglardi has family ties to the lonestar state and appears committed to the local fan base.
On Nieuwendyk I am less optimistic. It is still early in his career as GM, but some of his moves thus far have been curious. His low-risk short-term decisions have met with modest success in Nystrom and Souray. However, the signing of Jagr and Whitney as well as the refusal, albeit one likely determined by previous ownership, to trade Richards does not speak well for his ability to recognize the challenges that lay ahead nor how best to approach them. Neither does having Bob Gainey as a consultant encourage me, despite his previous success with the franchise or his time with the Canadiens.
As you can see, this team really has me torn over where they might go. What I can say is that the Dallas Stars may occupy the middle-bottom tier of the Western Conference for a while longer, meaning that the Flames will be trying to stay ahead of them while the Oilers will likely be leapfrogging them in the near future.