1/13/19 – The Culture of Mediocrity

When Jim Lites publicly embarrassed the franchise on behalf of Tom Gaglardi and the rest of Dallas Stars management by going after Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin they made several severe miscalculations.

  • They had a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem.
  • They had a fundamental misunderstanding of how to deal with the incorrectly diagnosed problem.
  • They dropped their biggest bomb, seemingly out of nowhere, with apparently no exit strategy should the message not produce results to their liking because they offered nothing in the way of consequences.

What the franchise keeps communicating with the fan base is that they have lost their way. By putting their two best players on blast without covering all of their bases to eliminate any potential excuses the organization opened themselves up to a significant amount of unwanted, but warranted, criticism. Once they dropped that bomb the time for words was over.

And yet…still they talk.

Jim Montgomery’s comments after the Stars lost to the St. Louis Blues further drove the point home that the Stars have lost their focus as an organization.

I am very frustrated that I have not been able to gain consistency in our performance and I haven’t been able to change the culture of mediocrity.

He opined about the effort against the Blues specifically.

“I thought there was no rhyme or reason to some of the decisions we made out there tonight. Our game plan wasn’t executed and that’s my fault for not getting the message through. The last two games have been a real gut punch for me, personally, because I just don’t think I am being able to get across how we are supposed to execute. The more important part is, never mind the execution, the effort can overcome a lot of the mistakes, but there is not the effort there right now to overcome mistakes.”

He was asked what he can do to get the message across.

I don’t know. My job is to keep trying. That’s my job.”

He was asked if he considered using a timeout during the first period to get a message across too.

“You get a lot of timeouts. In other games, I have done that approach on a timeout. I can think of the two Colorado [Avalanche] games, in particular, and Madison Square Garden, and sometimes you feel like that is the appropriate message, and sometimes you tell the captains. There have been sometimes, after a horrible period, where it’s [the captains’] room. You guys need to bring it forth. Unfortunately, there have been too many times where we have to think about how to motivate these guys. That’s a problem in and of itself that we have had to do that so many times this year already.”

In summation

  • I’m frustrated.
  • I haven’t communicated the game plan well enough.
  • I don’t know what to do.
  • The captains need to motivate people, but they often do a bad job of it.

Montgomery deserves more credit than the rest of the front office for publicly accepting responsibility for his perceived sins, but none of that makes an outside observer comfortable that this ship is being navigated coherently.

You don’t know what to do?

You haven’t communicated the game plan well enough?

You haven’t gotten rid of a culture of mediocrity, which inadvertently implies that this culture was blossoming under the 3rd winningest coach in NHL history?

It’s January 13th.

It has barely been two weeks since the Stars as an organization verbally, publicly, and loudly dropped the hammer on Benn and Seguin (mind you, they aren’t the only captains Montgomery would be referencing in his remarks), and the head coach is throwing his hands in the air essentially telling the world that the players aren’t executing what he and his staff are telling them to execute?

I don’t know what to do, but it’s my job to keep trying. This is not inspiring. At all.

By dropping their biggest bomb so early and inappropriately the Stars have set up a scenario where the only productive path they can follow without looking 100% impotent  is to alter the core of the roster. That doesn’t necessarily mean subtract from it, but it does at the least mean add to it. You simply can’t drop that bomb then continue to publicly complain about the same things.

In any leadership scenario if the leadership throws down the gauntlet they simply have to back up their words with actions if results don’t follow lest they run the risk of losing every shred of credibility.

How about an example?

On several occasions this year I have been told this same general idea by different students.

“Just give me a 70.”

“I’m trying really hard, but I don’t know this stuff. I would like to get at least a 75.”

“You can’t fail me.” (My personal favorite.)

This group of students wordlessly tells me on the regular that they have never learned accountability. They expect to pass regardless of any work they do. They tell me they’ve done their work – then I see 10 assignments with no attempt made. No homework is turned in. Virtually no one is in tutorials. Few ask questions in class. The expectation is that I am going to capitulate to give them what they want.

I’m stubborn.

I spent weeks trying to figure out the biggest appropriate bomb I could drop on them to get their attention. I decided to let them fail. They would get whatever grade they got put on their report card then, given that they need to learn, I would give them four days to recover credit despite that grade going home to mom and dad.

I sent home a form letter to every parent three weeks before Christmas detailing all the missing assignments for each student, listing tutorial dates, giving my email, providing login information for our online work program, and showing grades. I made as many calls as I could to people who didn’t return my letter signed. I covered all of my bases prior to dropping that bomb to give any stragglers a chance to get it together and to cover myself so no one can reasonably say I didn’t do everything in my power to help.

In the end, I know I have gone above and beyond to help these kids do what they need to do to be successful. I have removed every possible excuse these kids could have to the point that the only possible conclusion any reasonable person can make is that these kids failed themselves. If I don’t stick to my guns now it will all be for nothing.

Could Stars management honestly say they did everything possible to make this team competitive at a high level in 2019, given their offseason, prior to dragging Seguin and Benn? The same offseason which saw them add a decent backup goalie, promote a 19 year old defenseman, sign Blake Comeau, and sign Roman Polak? Really?

Of course not.

Now the Stars are still not happy with their roster. They publicly blamed Benn and Seguin for the mess so now the only logical next step is to find them some help. They can’t move either guy without their consent, and doing so would be stupid. They only have enough cap space to add a player making about $4,000,000 for the season at the deadline (though that could have been significantly higher had they put Stephen Johns on LTIR after training camp, something they inexplicably didn’t do).

How much of an impact is $4,000,000 going to buy you right now?

Unless they get very creative the answer is coming from within. Erik Condra needs to stay in the bottom six. Denis Gurianov needs to be given a chance even if he struggles. Roope Hintz keeps improving. Joel L’Esperance is the 2nd highest scorer in the AHL. Let him have a go.

As a general rule I never support those who call for full rebuilds of teams with a lot of talent. The Stars have it. If you think this roster is good enough to win and you want to infuse this roster with passion then the most obvious option is to bring players in who haven’t been tainted by this culture of mediocrity.

Give the kids ice time at the expense of veterans. Let them bring youthful exuberance and excitement into the lineup. Put them in leadership roles and see what happens. Empower them to push veterans even if they make some mistakes. From day one the message has been that mistakes aren’t as important as effort. Am I to believe kids fighting for their NHL lives won’t put that level of effort out there? Of course they will.

Barring a massive reorganization of the roster on a shoestring remaining budget the only way forward for 2019 is to let the kids play prominent minutes if the Stars still aren’t satisfied with the product on the ice. They have to do something to if they still aren’t satisfied. I think I speak for many of us when I say that I can’t listen to Stars management complain anymore.

Stop clutching your pearls, take the reins, and do something about it. Lead the organization the way you want the players to lead on the ice.

Accept responsibility and fix this.

Edit: apparently the Stars can make up to about $12,000,000 in cap space by retroactively LTIRing Johns, Martin Hanzal, and Marc Methot. Would’ve sworn that wasn’t possible, but apparently the Stars can add anyone available should they choose. The point remains: do something.

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