1/6/19 -Radek Faksa, Not Julius Honka, Screwed up That Play Against New Jersey

When Jim Lites embarrassed the Dallas Stars organization at the behest of owner Tom Gaglardi he mentioned that he’s tired of “bloggers talking about Honka” among other players. The Dallas Stars organization should go full earmuffs for the rest of this post.

I could sit here and bitch about the nuance of developing people for another 1000 words easily. I almost did it. I deleted about 100 words when I started once I realized most of what I was saying was already written here. I’m not sure if that makes me a blowhard or redundant or some combination thereof, or if it even matters. The points still remain the same, and the ideas as they relate to the development of Julius Honka remain the same.

In the Stars 5-4 win over the New Jersey Devils Honka made a couple of plays that ended up with poor results. This play in particular, and the response to it, bothered me.

HonkaFaksa.gif

The general consensus has been to blame Honka for the goal against for a turnover in traffic. Full bias disclaimer, I still very much believe in Honka. What I see is Honka reading that Radek Faksa was going to take the puck to the blueline so he jumped into the play with the intent of going to the boards to give Faksa puck support.

Four Devils skaters are right there squeezing Faksa off. He got himself completely isolated, and from my view Faksa’s only play with the puck is to put it in deep where Tyler Pitlick could have engaged in a one on one puck battle if Honka himself didn’t retrieve it. Instead, Faksa tried a suicide pass into Honka’s skates with no defensive support behind him.

The only other thing Honka could have reasonably done here is to back out of the zone as Faksa skated towards him with virtually all of the Devils giving pressure. From my view this is exactly the type of play the Stars have been saying they want from Honka. They want aggressive in the name of creating offense. This was it. He didn’t make the bad pass. Faksa did.

On day one of training camp, the first under Jim Montgomery, Mark Stepneski had a bunch of quotes from players and coaches that dealt with being aggressive.

Let’s start with Montgomery:

“Be aggressive, make mistakes out of being aggressive,” Montgomery told the first group of players as they practiced. “Attack pucks in your area.”

Devin Shore:

“We were given the green light to be aggressive as long as you are working hard back over the puck. That’s the way the game is played now. Mistakes are going to happen, but make sure they are hard mistakes, that way you can recover.

A soft mistake definitely happened here on this play. Again though, I think it was Faksa.

John Klingberg:

“Every team wants to pressure, but the reads are going to be a little different as to when we want to go or when we don’t want to go. And when the defensemen are breaking out, they are expected to be really jumping and be up on the attack.”

Attack. Be Aggressive. This is exactly what Honka did here. The reaction to immediately blame him for this play is somewhat understandable if you buy into the idea that Honka is constantly making egregious mistakes that are detrimental to the team. He isn’t, though he is far from perfect.

The message here to Honka should be an acknowledgement that this was good aggressiveness. This is what they need from Honka even if ultimately the play ended poorly. When Honka is making these reads he’s playing the game that is going to keep him in the NHL for years to come.

Most of the time he isn’t going to get a pass into the skates with four opposing players around. Take your pitchforks to Faksa and save your ire for the next turnover credited to Honka.

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1/1/19 – The Fucking Horseshit Dallas Stars: Management Attacks the Media

December 30th, 2018:

“I think I want you to be honest with the team. I want you to be honest with everybody. That’s what we all want. You have your job to do; I have my job to do. You watch games. You analyze games. Just be honest. That’s all that matters to me.”

– Jim Nill to Sean Shapiro

December 28th, 2018:

“We are a stars-driven league, and our stars aren’t getting it done,” Lites said. “It’s embarrassing, and no one writes it. Write it!”

— Jim Lites to Sean Shapiro

I tend to not read much written about the Dallas Stars. Some of that is due to the scarcity of quality work to read. Some of that used to be because I wanted to give my honest thoughts clear of as many outside influences as possible which is something I realized eventually is ridiculous. The motivation was good, but the execution was silly.

The motivation was that I wanted to give my own personal honesty as best as I could. I wanted to look at data, watch games, and get lost in my own mind before sitting down to write about whatever rabbit hole I followed at that given moment to produce, hopefully, some useful nugget of truth.

I’m sure I haven’t always been successful at that, but my motivation has always been to provide my truth, and to be as honest as possible to help paint the picture of whatever is going on with the Stars.

It gets harder when you know people are reading. You have to take yourself seriously on some level, though some take themselves too seriously. For myself, I can joke around and flirt with the line of being obnoxious, but at the end of the day I’m always coming from my own place of truth based on observations and data; shit posting about the Minnesota Wild aside.

One thing that has stuck with me in almost a decade of doing this was when Brandon Worley told me he’d be able to back up anything I wrote for Defending Big D if I was honest and supported my ideas with data.

The Stars weren’t (and aren’t) shy about calling or sending an email if they feel something isn’t fair. That pressure added an extra check to anything I wrote. I was going to make damn sure I was willing to stand behind anything I wrote no matter who had anything to say, even if I rarely had any interest in using my press pass thus making sure I never really have to see anyone.

If the Stars are getting anything from the media, they’re getting truth. They simply don’t like what the truth is so they’re lashing out. Jim Lites and the rest of the management team don’t get it.

“I am sick and tired and listening to bloggers and others talking about Brett Ritchie, Julius Honka, or Gavin Bayreuther, or Taylor Fedun, pick a guy,” Lites said. “We’re just too good. The fans deserve more and the owner deserves more. And I share that opinion with the owner, the fans deserve better and Benn and Seguin aren’t getting it done. Until they do we aren’t going to be good enough.”

At the end of the day, you are what your record says you are. Bill Parcells may get quoted for that often, but for as simple as that quote sounds the wisdom in it is sound. If the Stars were as good as they seem to think they are their record would reflect that. This belief that they are too good after a decade of futility is the type of severe lack of self awareness that breeds failure.

It’s the level of foolishness that lets a franchise believe Val Nichushkin was going to come back to the NHL and be an offensive weapon after showing no evidence of it in Russia.

Or to say this with a straight face:

“Hanzal has had a series of injuries, but remember we spent that money on Hanzal to replace (Cody) Eakin after Eakin was gone (in the expansion draft). We really signed Hanzal to take his spot, and while he had a history of injuries we didn’t think it would be this dramatic.

Or to move Jamie Oleksiak and Jordie Benn for middling draft picks. They’re currently 19th and 20th in Goals Above Replacement out of all defensemen in the NHL according to Evolving-Hockey. For the record, Brenden Dillon is 41st. Alex Goligoski is 44th. Miro Heiskanen, the top Stars defenseman this season with John Klingberg injured, is 47th.

Oleksiak is kind of the point of all of this. Oleksiak was objectively bad as a Star. As an amateur he didn’t show much to suggest he would be the offensive player some in the organization thought. He did things that suggested he had talent, but the mental side of the game was always an issue.

Pittsburgh made him fit. They took the raw ability, minimized or fixed the mental issues holding him back, and made him into a very productive player. He and the Penguins deserve all the credit in the world for getting legitimate value out of him.

For that to happen the Stars had to fail in their ability to pull value out of him. They failed in their evaluations of all of these defensemen. They’ve failed to bring in the next wave of scoring talent. They’ve failed in their efforts to develop secondary talent.  They failed at evaluating goaltenders for five years. They failed to identify that this team isn’t good enough to essentially stand pat this past offseason.

The front office has failed every step of the way, and their failures overshadow any perceived shortcomings of Benn and Seguin. People aren’t writing about them being the problem because people don’t feel like they are. Sure they can be better, but their production is far down the list of reasons why the Stars aren’t very good.

If the Stars truly wanted truth then that is what they want. Instead what they really want is this:

Benn and Seguin needed to be pushed more by outside sources, in team executives’ minds. It wasn’t happening nearly enough, so they decided to unleash Lites.

They want the veneer of an interested and independent press, but in reality they’re acting like they want the media to react the way they want them to.

“I’ve been in Montreal before. I’m in this business for 40 years,” Nill said. “In Montreal, I think I’d be probably doing the damage control with you guys because you guys would be talking about the players, and this is something that we just thought we’re going to make sure it’s time to put an end to it, and we’ve had multiple meetings and the ownership isn’t happy, and so it came out. This happens in other markets. It’s just happening in reverse order.”

They. Just. Don’t. Get. It. The idea that their assessment of the roster isn’t what everyone else on Earth sees doesn’t compute. The media are talking about the players. They just aren’t focusing on the players the Stars incomprehensibly want them to focus on.

I’m now going to go back to enjoying the last half of my vacation from my actual job. Myself, and many others like me, do this for free because for whatever reason we gravitated towards hockey when we were exposed to it.

I’ve written for WFAA and the Dallas Morning News online plus flirted with doing it more regularly for actual money. I know I will never have a future writing about hockey, and as a card carrying old I made peace with that. At the end of the day I’m still paying out of pocket to give myself a place to write whatever I want for the maybe one to two hundred people who will see it on a normal active day.

When those people click on this absurd site they’re going to get my truth and honesty. The same is true when they click on Defending Big D, or hear Bob Sturm on The Ticket, or read Sean Shapiro or Matt DeFranks. They’ll get honesty when they find a story by Mark Stepneski or Mike Heika on the Stars website, even if there are natural limitations to what they can say given their employers.

At the end of the day we’re all going to maintain professionalism too, whether we’re paid or not. The fact that blindsided media members and unpaid zealots can easily do this while management of a team who desperately needs our coverage stoops to using blogger as an insult says a lot about the state of the franchise.

The truth is that, right now, it’s an embarrassment.

The quotes come from The Athletic articles by Sean Shapiro linked at the top of the post unless otherwise noted.

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12/31/18 – The Fucking Horseshit Dallas Stars: Accountability and the Mustache

 “They’ve been out of the playoffs four or five years, so something does have to change. There has to be some accountability. There has to be accountability to yourself first of all, accountability to your players and accountability to your fans. We need to go from there.”

— Jim Nill, May 3, 2013

Accountability is a funny word that you can’t use lightly. It’s one of those words that you better mean when you use it because the moment you hold yourself to lower standards than you hold the people below you in the power structure you lose all credibility.

That doesn’t imply that mistakes are unacceptable. They’re a necessary part of any process because mistakes lead to teachable moments that help people grow to become better than they were. When a mistake is made, however, if it isn’t owned the problem becomes worse. The Stars front office is stiff arming away the idea that they need to be accountable and possibly irreparably damaging their credibility.

By blaming Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn for the lack of success this season Stars management has shielded the rest of the roster from criticism and taken the focus away from the on ice product they assembled. What their intent was here is irrelevant. They have directly blamed two of the most talented and productive hockey players in the world for a mediocre team season when the roster has 21 other members.

Initially the story seemed to be that Jim Lites was telling the media how he felt about the team. Then it became more obvious that Tom Gaglardi had something to do with this when the Scott Burnside piece came out where Burnside staunchly defended Gaglardi’s right to say whatever he wants about employees. It turns out that Jim Nill and the rest of the front office knew the message was coming too.

Nill was still mostly in the clear here until he issued virtually the same statements as Gaglardi through The Athletic.

“First of all, the hockey message that Jim (gave) was dead-on,” Nill said. “I think that message had to get out there. We’ve all got to be better, from the top, from management to coaches to players, all the way down, we’ve got to be better. So, the message is right. I’ve talked to Jim, I don’t condone the language or the tone. Jim and I have talked. He’s emotional, he wears the star in his heart, and he got emotional and understandably. So I don’t condone that, but the message that was sent from him and management I think was dead-on correct, and I agree with all of that.”

Where did Jim Lites say the team, management, and coaches need to get better? He said Benn and Seguin. This is spin and talking out of both sides of your mouth, Jim. “I don’t agree with the language, but the message was dead-on”. You either agree with the message that Benn and Seguin are at fault, or you think everyone has to be better.

S-P-I-N.

And the spin isn’t even the most galling part about this statement. It’s the idea that Nill can hide behind these words while trying to make both his bosses and the players happy. You can’t try to soften the blow after the fact. Gaglardi and now Nill are both trying to blunt the tip of the spear they threw at Benn and Seguin. It looks a million times worse than simply owning the message.

There can be zero doubt that Nill was involved in orchestrating the message. Shapiro hints at it in the previously linked article. This answer from Nill’s post season interview with Shapiro shows how frequently he is in contact with Gaglardi.

Have you talked about this season with Stars owner Tom Gaglardi?

I’ve talked daily with him. And of course, and well they shouldn’t be, they aren’t happy at all. They’ve invested a lot in this, they’ve given us the tools, we had to, and we didn’t get the job done.

The front office orchestrated this attack on 14 and 91 without a doubt. From all reports Lites has said nothing to the players all year. Why would you have him deliver the message if you weren’t looking for the most spectacular way to have it delivered? If you wanted it delivered calmly and succintly the messenger is Nill or Gaglardi. They got exactly what they hoped to get, but the backlash caught them off guard.

“We’ve had meeting after meeting after meeting. The accountability on the ice is not there. 

Lites threw around the word accountability then singled out “on the ice”. When is the last time someone off of the ice was held accountable other than the coaching staff? The players play to the best of their abilities given the constraints laid down by the coaches. The coaches can only work with the players they are given. The Stars have gone through three coaches in the last five seasons.

Say what you want about Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock, but they’re 3rd and 6th all time in wins. Jim Montgomery is coming off of a highly successful NCAA career that includes a championship pedigree. They must be doing something right.

“I’m telling you, we are gonna run through a GM who does everything he can to make the team better because we aren’t getting results.”

If he and his staff have tried everything they can to make this roster better then that suggests they’re out of ideas and this is the best they can do. If this is the best they can do then perhaps the necessary end for this regime is close. If accountability actually means anything to this organization then it should start at the top. Last I checked neither Benn nor Seguin signed the checks for Martin Hanzal, Marc Methot, Roman Polak, Brett Ritchie, or Devin Shore.

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12/30/18 – The Fucking Horseshit Dallas Stars: Burnside Stumps for Gaglardi

Recently departed Dallas Stars employee Scott Burnside, former and now current league-wide NHL writer, decided to carry water for his former employers in the wake of Jim Lites’ immature tirade against Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin with the subtlety of your wife’s ex-boyfriend walking into Thanksgiving dinner to give her a long deep kiss while you and your family are carving the turkey with concerned looks on your faces.

There is an argument to be made for ignoring this entirely, but the mere fact that this hatchet job isn’t being issued by anyone local sends up enough red flags for me that I think it’s worth discussing. Burnside is willingly or inadvertently being used here, and given the tone of the article it becomes vividly obvious quickly that he is more than happy to fetch Gaglardi’s slippers for him without getting an ounce of drool on them.

Drool on the slippers means no pets, and we needs the pets for a job well done.

I don’t know how else to discuss the Burnside drive by at The Athletic other than going through it line by line. Click on it if you want.

That the comments were as pointed as they were – among other things, Lites told The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro that Benn and Seguin were playing like “fucking horse-shit” and that their play was “embarrassing” – is a classic dropping of the gauntlet.

Pointed. Dropping of the gauntlet. We think this is behavior to be encouraged.

That it came from a veteran NHL executive who is on his third go-round with the Stars as opposed to rookie head coach Jim Montgomery or GM Jim Nill tells us that this was no shoot from the hip spasm of emotion but a well thought out message that came from the top, the very top.

Had this come from Montgomery or Nill would it have meant it was an emotional response? Do these guys routinely show their emotions and blast players publicly? What exactly is the point?

Montgomery did tell the team that their morning skate was “fucking embarrassing” recently, but he didn’t say this to the media. It got out, but he was never quoted on the record as saying it as far as I’m aware. If anything, I think Montgomery has enough sense not to do what Lites did. Nill definitely does.

From there Burnside goes on about his first time meeting Gaglardi with quotes about how John Klingberg, Seguin, and Benn need to be better prior to last season. Seguin and Klingberg got passes though before Burnside got to his main point.

When the team needed leadership the most, when they needed a guy like Benn, the team’s captain, to seize the moment and put a halt to the bloodletting, it didn’t happen.

This is one of the worst narratives in all of sports, and the NHL is the worst about promoting it as fact. The captain is often important because they tend to be the best player, or at least one of the best. Full stop. The label doesn’t really mean that much. Leadership matters – if you’re criticizing the team for “leadership not stepping up” you’re inherently criticizing Seguin and Klingberg too. Also Jason Spezza.

(Further reading: NHL players discuss the importance of a single captain.)

The entire season can be encapsulated by a game in Winnipeg in the midst of a crippling six-game winless road trip.

Here I almost agree with Burnside. That season can be encapsulated by this six game winless streak. That road trip began on March 11th and concluded on March 20th. The Stars played in Pittsburgh, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Washington.

That’s a tough road trip at the end of a trying season. They picked up two points. The team as a group wasn’t good enough to consistently take points from the top teams in the league. Yet, the main guys still produced. As a point of reference, this is how the five big producers performed over that stretch.

Streak

All three members of the top line were at a point per game. Benn had eight points in the six games and only two penalty minutes. They were legitimately fantastic.

So, let us read on.

Benn, who’d been going back and forth with Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler throughout the opening frame, brought down Wheeler away from the play with 16.3 seconds left in the period. With 0.9 seconds left, Wheeler set up Patrik Laine for a power play goal, as the Jets went on to win.

Wait…what?

This is the point where the motivation for this article becomes blatantly obvious. We’re focusing on this penalty, the only penalty Benn took in a six game road trip, to say Benn is a bad leader who let his team down when he led the team in scoring on this same road trip?

On top of that, it was the first goal of the game they ultimately lost 4-2 with an empty netter. Benn himself scored for the Stars later on, so even if you believe he’s responsible for that goal he made up for it.

This statement is so ridiculously out of place that I had to go back and look at the goal. The play itself actually started off of a faceoff with eight seconds left.

LaineGoal.gif

Blake Wheeler falls on his ass, somehow gets a puck between Dan Hamhuis’ closed legs, and Laine drills an uncovered one timer home from the slot while Greg Pateryn and Tyler Seguin are puck watching.

All of these things, including the penalty, happen in the course of a hockey game. All of these things are points of emphasis a coaching staff will use when teaching players to play in a way to maximize their positive impact on the game. None of these individually are why the Stars lost, and to focus on one tiny aspect of this entire sequence as a reason to bash the leadership ability of Benn is flimsy enough that I could almost believe Burnside is trying to position himself to be the next White House Press Secretary.

I asked Benn after the game how yet another loss had transpired for the slumping Stars.

He said that the Jets scored more goals.

Good one.

Maybe it’s the way the question was framed. Maybe there’s no good answer after you’ve lost five in a row and your season is slipping away. Still, guessing that Sidney Crosby or John Tavares or Alex Ovechkin –or go on down the list of NHL captains – would have found a way to sound less petulant than Benn sounded.

I can’t read that not-so-subtle jab and not want to see what was actually said. So let’s go to the tape and see what this interaction actually looked like. It’s the third video down on this Burnside story from after the game.

Burnside: Another game where you do a lot of things right, but a lapse or two, and it ends up costing you two points. What’s the level of frustration at this stage on this road trip after a game like this?

Benn: You know, we lost the game when we needed to win and that’s about it.

Burnside: What do you point to in terms of how this one got away from you?

Benn: They scored more goals than we did.

Burnside: Ok. Can you talk about the penalty that led to the first goal with less than a second to go in the first period?

Benn: Probably a stupid one.

That isn’t quite how Burnside relayed the interaction. He’s clearly still annoyed about it though, otherwise why bring up something so trivial nine months later?

If my girlfriend is emotional because her child is sick and I ask her “is everything alright?” there is a non-zero chance I’m going to get snapped at for asking a stupid question. I can respond by escalating the situation, or I can take a step back to do some self examination then try to move forward. Is she in the right for snapping at me? She would tell you no a little bit later on, but the response is understandable from my view because she’s been dealing with something troubling personally prior to an obvious question being asked on my part.

If you ask a professional athlete that obvious of a question during a season-killing losing streak in a tough year a curt response is understandable. At no point did Benn do anything unprofessional – he simply had a short response. The damning part for me is that Burnside was clearly fishing for something about the penalty Benn took – an incident he referred to again in this story for The Athletic.

It’s telling that when Mike Heika asked the next question the tone and delivery were the same, but the response was more specific.

Heika: You could wake up tomorrow morning out of the playoffs. Does that scare you at all, or do you just take it one at a time?

Benn: That should give us that much more drive and motivation to bring our best effort for the next game.

A woman I am unable to identify asked the next question to which Benn gave another thoughtful answer. I’m not going to speculate about anything. What I can see in this one instance is Benn having no time for the line of questioning from Burnside, and what I can read from Burnside here is that it clearly stuck with him. Whether or not there is more to it I have no idea, and honestly I don’t care.

Having spent a season around the team, the questions surrounding Benn, specifically, are not new. At various points last season from the highest levels on down there were repeated questions about how to get Benn back to the level that saw him make the Canadian Olympic team in 2014 and win the scoring title the following season.

There were meetings, formal and informal, with coaches, management and former players all aimed at trying to get more from the 29-year-old, all aimed at helping him find a comfort level that would allow him to fully take advantage of his enormous skill set.

Name names, give dates, provide details. This isn’t reporting – it’s gossip. This makes it sound like Benn was walking in a daze for an entire season. What were these meetings about? How many were there? Who was involved? I’m not suggesting Burnside is lying – far from it. What I would like to know is what the nature of these meetings were so that I can decide for myself if it even matters or is relevant to the story.

When you throw it in the story like this as supporting evidence that Benn isn’t living up to standards you need to actually provide proof or context or quote someone directly. When you make yourself the story or source you simply have to provide more than hearsay.

One source familiar with the team said he felt Seguin struggled to connect with Montgomery and that there was some backsliding after last season’s gains.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe it isn’t. Who knows? Seguin is shooting 7.5%. If he were shooting his career percentage he’d have 17 goals. If he had 17 goals no one would say a word about him. Ergo, who cares? This is gossip.

Now it’s time to turn our attention to making sure Father has his dinner ready promptly at 5:30 when he gets home so he has time to lounge around in his slippers and robe with a pipe before heading to bed after a long day at work.

Lest anyone suggest that this is an example of an absentee owner simply making noise from afar through a trusted lieutenant, that’s simply not the case. Although Gaglardi doesn’t live in Dallas, the Canadian businessman committed wholly to the team, including financially, as evidenced by the contracts bestowed on Seguin, Benn, Alexander Radulov and Ben Bishop. Gaglardi has also invested in the community with other business ventures.

So, Gaglardi, via Lites, gets to say whatever he wants about players who play for him on the team he owns.

I have zero problems with that.

No, he absolutely doesn’t. Spending money and “being invested in the community with other business ventures” doesn’t give you a free pass to say whatever you want about employees. It also has nothing to do with how the message was delivered or whether the message has any merit. None of this is relevant.

In many NHL cities, such futility would generate anger in the marketplace. There would be nonstop discussions about the ailing fortunes of the team – take Philadelphia, for example, or Chicago.

In Dallas, the reaction to such futility breeds apathy more so than anger, which in many ways is worse as the Stars try to carve out a place in the vast shadow cast by the Dallas Cowboys.

Burnside

CHICAGO! I remember the 90’s my dude.

Burnside has now decided to turn the cannons on the Stars fanbase, and I’m not sure why. I don’t know what any of this has to do with Lites, Benn, or Seguin, but here it is. The Stars fanbase sucks because they aren’t rioting in the streets or otherwise making their voices heard by not going to games?

In most markets wouldn’t you call a fanbase good for sticking around through mediocrity?

Not only that, but going through ESPN’s attendance database since the American Airlines Center opened it is pretty apparent that when the Stars are good attendance is good. When the Stars are mediocre attendance is mediocre. When the Stars are bad attendance is bad. The table to the right is the Stars rank in average attendance year by year. They’ve made steady gains the past five seasons, but can’t get over that hump presumably due to results.

Why is any of this necessary in this article?

“Hope they jam it down my throat,” Lites said in a text sent to The Athletic Friday night.

He then added that this would be his final comment on the matter.

Fair enough.

No, it isn’t fair enough. Where on Earth is it acceptable for a CEO to make such outlandish comments then just say “I’m no longer talking about it”? How can any unbiased reporter accept that as a response? What a farce.

The team’s position, or more to the point, the owner’s position has been made abundantly clear.

And really what is the downside of making such comments?

Some hurt feelings? Get over it.

The irony of this being near the end of an article where the author whines about short answers given to him in response to an obvious question nine months ago by a player he is currently helping shovel dirt onto is not lost on me.

Reading this made me think the Stars immediately went into spin mode. I don’t think they knew how Lites was going to deliver the message, and if they did I don’t think they thought it would get the type of blow back it has gotten. Someone(s) made very grave miscalculations.

The Stars obviously used the media with the sole intent of torching Benn and Seguin. They used the initial reporters to spread the message. It went poorly. They simply reported what was said, and the reaction has been swift. Burnside has put himself into the conversation to shill for Gaglardi, and with it any credibility he had is gone.

I’ve spent a decade writing about this team on my own time just because I enjoy it. I have no allegiance to the Stars or Benn or Seguin or Gaglardi – no one. I’ve heard many times that I’m too down on things or to lighten up only to then hear comments about how oddly optimistic I am at times. The reality is I always try to be honest whether the situation is good or bad.

This is fucking bad. The organization should be embarrassed. That they haven’t even issued an apology while the NHLPA is releasing statements on behalf of Benn and Seguin is so embarrassing. Garbage articles like this add another level of embarrassment to the situation, and everyone involved in the publication of it should be embarrassed too.

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12/29/18 – The Fucking Horseshit Dallas Stars: Mickey Mouse Again

I don’t know how many posts this is going to end up being, but it’s going to be a few.

Not to brag, but I’ve been married before. When you’re married or with someone for a long time you are afforded many opportunities to learn how and how not to communicate. Whether you learn it during the relationship or afterwards isn’t my place to say, but in my case it was a little bit of both.

One thing I always believed was that my partner and I were just that – partners. No disagreement we had was going to involve anyone else unless we got to the nuclear options when nothing else is working to solve the impasse. I have never gotten to that point in any relationship because, I think, I’m very open to compromise and finding solutions. A strong unified front is an important thing in a relationship.

Solutions are usually easy to find if you’re willing to look. They tend to be easier to find when you take a humble approach, leave preconceived notions at the door, and come to the table ready to make all parties happy.

If I have a disagreement with a partner or a concern or whatever, oddly enough I simply go to them to discuss it calmly, honestly, and privately. Privacy allows for honesty to happen while minimizing the fear of embarrassment, an emotion that never helps any situation improve. You may get different results out of someone after embarrassing them, but correlation is not causation.

What I would never do, and I have somehow seen this done by Facebook friends, is shame my significant other publicly (or privately for that matter). “Hey Facebook, my wife is such a worthless piece of shit. Can you believe how much I have to put up with now that we’re married? Why aren’t things the exact same way they were when we just met? I’m going to cry and bitch and moan about it for a few more childish paragraphs.”

This does not help. It makes our relationship look fragile and bad. It makes my significant other feel hurt. To a lesser degree of importance, it makes my friends and family look down on me while taking sympathy on her. There is no upside whatsoever of me doing this.

And yet, this is exactly what Jim Lites and Tom Gaglardi decided to do to Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

Lites called reporters in and offered these words. It’s all worth reading, but in short he said this:

“They are fucking horse-shit, I don’t know how else to put it,” Lites said. “The team was ok. But (Tyler) Seguin and (Jamie) Benn were terrible.”

The Dallas Stars owe Seguin 78 million dollars over the next eight seasons. They owe Benn 57 million over the next six. Neither player can be moved without their consent. They’re both locked in forever. This is the nuclear option when you have exhausted every other possible option, and you don’t really care how much damage your words cause as long as you get what you want out of it.

The first thing we have to accept is that Tom Gaglardi approves of this message 100%. He knew Lites was going to speak and according to all published evidence they are on the same page about performance. Maybe Gaglardi didn’t know how he was going to phrase it, but he knew the message. This is his message now whether the words came from his mouth or his messenger.

Gaglardi spoke today through a Scott Burnside article we’ll get to later.

“A lot of people say, why would the CEO say something like this? First of all those were Jim’s words. Probably not some of the words used were probably not the ones some of the others in the organization might use, those were his words, but the message is from the organization. Top to bottom.”

“The underlying message is how the organization feels,” the owner said.

When Jim Lites is speaking on behalf of the organization those words are the words of the organization. He delivered the message from his office after assembling reporters in his capacity as the CEO. If a statement like this is going to be issued you can’t backtrack from the wording of it a day after publicly blindsiding the two cornerstones of the franchise.

Own it. Benn and Seguin owned it in response. The franchise should follow their example.

What the organization is saying is stop talking about Julius Honka being scratched. Stop talking about how objectively bad Brett Ritchie is now, or how little Devin Shore produces, or the black hole the offense enters with Roman Polak or Blake Comeau on the ice, or any number of other problems. Focus only on Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. He literally said this to Shapiro and others:

“I am sick and tired and listening to bloggers and others talking about Brett Ritchie, Julius Honka, or Gavin Bayreuther, or Taylor Fedun, pick a guy,” Lites said.

I’ll translate: fuck those guys, they don’t matter. That should definitely help Julius Honka and Gavin Bayreuther develop.

Lites managed to shit on six different players, undermine his respected general manager and first year head coach, and belittle minimally compensated (at best) people who give his team (that needs the coverage) free publicity on their own time after they leave their actual jobs in a last ditch effort to coax more offense out of two of the few forwards capable of producing – all with the tacit approval of the owner.

None of this is appropriate or acceptable. This is embarrassing for a franchise that should be more focused on figuring out the actual reasons why they’ve made the playoffs twice in the last decade, earning one series victory over a hapless Minnesota Wild team, rather than issuing targeted unannounced edicts through very public tantrums.

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12/29/18 – After publicly embarrassing Benn and Seguin, Stars turn to rookies in key roles

There is a lot going on We’ll get to it. This is more time specific though. We’ll get there.

Yesterday Jim Lites and Tom Gaglardi embarrassed themselves and the Dallas Stars organization with their charade lambasting the two safest athletes in DFW sports. Today as the Stars head back to the ice to try to pick up some points the Stars will turn to two rookies in key roles hoping to jump start the offense.

Apparently these are the lines the Stars are going to roll with tonight when they hit the ice in Game One, Post National Embarrassment.

Roope Hintz has been recalled from the AHL….and is going directly into the top line centering Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov. Benn, despite being “fucking horseshit” is also going to be on the top line tonight. Message sent, indeed.

Bringing someone who wasn’t good enough to be on the NHL roster yesterday right up into the top line certainly seems like the move a stable organization makes. This should work well.

Shall we use Natural Stat Trick to show why these lines could still be a hot mess?

Lets start with line one and Benn and Radulov without Seguin. They have 214 minutes together the last two years without him to the tune of a 51% Corsi.  If the goal here is to spread the offense around keeping that duo together while finding linemates for Seguin is one way to do it.

The problem with this is that the duo of Devin Shore and Seguin have, so far, proven to be virtually useless together. The last two seasons they’re a touch over 43% in the shot attempts in 200 minutes.

Both of these lines are banking on the infusion of prospects who have performed in the AHL this season. Hintz and Denis Gurianov are being asked to be the Stars versions of Jake Guentzel, Chris Kunitz, Connor Sheary, and whoever else Sidney Crosby’s Penguins turned into gold. These two get the first shots at being Adult Dude NHLers.

Tyler Pitlick, Radek Faksa, and Blake Comeau don’t have a prayer with the way the roster is currently utilized. We can take some time to consider them, but to be honest why? They’re going to get buried in their own end taking on the most difficult defensive assignments. The Stars have a quality two way player in Faksa, and they’re turning him into Manny Malhotra.

Those three actually have 110 minutes together this year at about a 48% shot attempt rate with 70% of their faceoffs coming in their own end. That’s a surprisingly respectable total given the challenging minutes, but expecting them to hit or exceed that is unfair to them. They have an impossible job that could theoretically be useful if the rest of the roster could score given smaller defensive responsibilities, but I digress.

Mattias Janmark, Jason Spezza, and Brett Ritchie man the fourth line. They have 54 minutes this season that were surprisingly productive, coming in at a 54% of the shot share. I don’t see much happening here other than Spezza creating chances with Ritchie attempting to pick up rebounds, but it is the fourth line.

Spreading the offense around is a good first step, and giving the kids a chance to shine can’t hurt. The front office launched the nukes, and now the survivors have to huddle together to figure some things out. It doesn’t look good unless Gurianov and Hintz can be the guys they were in the AHL quickly.

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12/27/18 – The Stars forwards are painfully unproductive

The Dallas Stars are screwed, and there isn’t much that can be done about it without some drastic reorganizing of the roster. This is a problem that has been apparent for a while. The reasons for the problems have been apparent for a while. Years of not addressing these underlying causes have put the Stars in a spot where they have a mediocre product on the ice that is wasting the primes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, and Alexander Radulov along with the final productive years of Jason Spezza.

This morning head coach Jim Montgomery pointed out that the Stars were “fucking embarrassing” in the morning skate. In the morning skate, friends.

The more composed press scrum after the morning skate is below.

I don’t know how much the morning skate matters, but if matters to Montgomery right now given how poorly they tend to start games. Mike Heika wrote it up just four days ago so it shouldn’t be too surprising to see Montgomery is still emphasizing it. The fact that the players still aren’t meeting the standards of the coaching staff despite this emphasis and the numerous messages sent is a bit problematic.

After a certain point you have to begin wondering if they can meet the standards. At some point this is just a bad team, and there is blame that can be assigned everywhere: the “core players” (however you define them), the depth forwards, the coaching staff, player development, special teams, and the front office. No team is squarely mediocre for just one reason.

This season pretty squarely falls on the forwards though. This chart from Sean Tierney is the Stars forwards Goals above Replacement from Evolving Hockey.

GAR

The Stars top three forwards have generated 21.4 goals above replacement. Collectively the top six have generated 31.5. That seems fine, but it’s nothing more than fine. Those totals rank 11th and 10th respectively across the league. Again, that’s fine. It isn’t good enough, and historically hasn’t been, to cover up for the other flaws on the roster.

One problem is recognizing who the top six actually are, and how they contribute value. Benn, Seguin, and Radulov are the clear top three. Seguin is 22nd among NHL forwards followed by Radulov (37) and Benn (50). No franchise boosting single performances, but as a trio a quality showing. Spezza, Jason Dickinson, and Blake Comeau are the next three.

Comeau derives none of his value at even strength so far. All of his comes from drawing penalties and being a quality penalty killer. Dickinson and Spezza are 8th and 9th in even strength ice time among forwards so they appear to be generating value despite not playing enough to maximize how much they can produce.

According to Evolving Hockey only nine Stars forwards have generated positive even strength value this year. Gemel Smith, Justin Dowling, Denis Gurianov are among those three which highlights the problem. Mattias Janmark is another, at half of a goal above replacement in 500 minutes. This team is terrible at even strength, and the majority of their production comes from three guys who have spent 258 minutes together.

In those 258 minutes the Stars are fine. With Radulov, Benn, and Seguin on the ice together they hum along at 55% of the shot attempts. In the 1043 minutes without them on the ice the team is a terrible 45%. To take it a step further take Spezza and Dickinson off the ice too. That’s 490 minutes of 43% shot attempt hockey.

The top three guys being 11th in the league in GAR is fine, but the franchise is expecting more out of them than being at the top of the middle of the pack. Given the lack of success of the franchise the past several years, now under three different head coaches, I think it’s more than fair to question if that core group as constructed and used can ultimately be successful.

Starz If the strength of the team is those three players, then expecting them to contribute the most value to the cause by exclusively playing them together implies that you’re banking on the admittedly mediocre depth players to take up the slack in the remaining minutes which they haven’t shown an ability to do.

The table to the right (up?) shows how each of the trio does without the other two on the ice so the idea of rolling one on each line seems optimistic at best – which goes back to the depth issue and usage. How do you split them apart when there is no one to put out there with them?

What the Stars have largely not done is try Dickinson or Spezza with any of those three for any extended period of time. Spezza has skated with Benn and Seguin for close to 50 minutes. and the trio controlled the play to the same degree Radulov and the duo have. Surely a second line of attack can be opened up with Radulov skating with Dickinson, Gurianov, Nichushkin, Hintz…someone?

Another red flag is the usage of Faksa. He’s taking all of the difficult minutes, but he’s getting caved in. Given how much of a burden he has taken on, shouldn’t you expect the rest of the line up to have more offensive opportunities? If they aren’t capitalizing on those chances at what point is killing Faksa’s offensive opportunities not worth it? His results have essentially negated the value generated by Spezza or Dickinson. It doesn’t seem that productive.

The Stars only have a few choices here.

Change how the lines roll and find some combos that work then stick with them for a while. Ideally, yes, you need everyone to be comfortable playing together. But, if half the roster has shown no ability to move the needle does it matter if they feel comfortable playing with the top guys?

Add to the core forward group via trade. This should have happened in the offseason somehow. It didn’t, and now they can’t score. There were opportunities to do it and the Stars, for whatever reason, chose not to do so.

Blow up the entire bottom of the roster. Let Dowling, Gurianov, Hintz, Joel L’Esperance, and whoever else take regular shifts. Punt on Martin Hanzal, Devin Shore, and Brett Ritchie. Hint: this is not going to happen mid-season because the logistics don’t make any sense.

Do nothing. If they take this route they aren’t going to make the playoffs. I don’t know which route they take, maybe a mixture of all of them, but something needs to change. Stability is important, but keeping stable mediocre results isn’t going to make anything useful happen. This team has talent, but whatever it is that is going on is keeping it from truly shining.

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11/22/18 – A year ago Alexander Radulov ate a banana whole on the bench

“I’ve studied bananas for close to 15 years and traveled to every continent where bananas are grown and I have never seen anyone eat a peel,” says Koeppel, author of “Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World.”

If banana expert Dan Koeppel watched the 2018 Dallas Stars, he would’ve seen it.  A year ago today Alexander Radulov did the seemingly unthinkable on the bench. The eccentric Russian (not enigmatic!) sat down for a snack on the bench. His item of choice was a banana. a sensible request. Unlike most of us, Radulov did not have time to peel this ftuit before attacking it. Little buddy devoured it whole.

banana

This astonished many people, myself included. Honestly if Sean Shapiro ever writes a sequel to his book this should be chapter 101. The man ate a whole damn banana on the bench on purpose.

Is it a coincidence that he was -2 in this game with only two shots in 21 minutes? Probably, but you at least have to wonder.

Is there any nutritional benefit to eating a whole banana?

Nutrition experts say that while there are many interesting nutrients in the banana peel, the amounts are small and, more importantly, there aren’t any studies showing that our bodies can actually absorb them.

“Just because a nutrient is in there doesn’t mean you can use it,” Levtisky explains.

If there are no nutrients, does it at least taste good?

Banana peels just don’t taste good, says Leslie Bonci, a nutrition consultant and owner of Active Eating Advice. “They’re bitter and they’re very chewy.” Beyond that, there is the problem of the toughness of the peel. You’re not going to be able to puree them for a smoothie unless you have a super high-powered blender, Bonci says.

It tastes like shit. You can’t even make a smoothie from it. It’s bitter. It’s chewy. There is no nutritional benefit. There was literally no reason for Radulov to do this, and he did. It”s one of those events that don’t matter that I’ll never forget. Athletes can get legends attached to their name that often are complete fabrications that overshadow actual feats they accomplished. In 15 years when we look back at Radulov, this would be one of those we wouldn’t believe without photographic evidence.

Radulov is the best. He may never win a scoring title or a Stanley Cup, who knows, but I know for a fact that I will never forget that he allowed me to see a grown man eat a banana whole on the bench. I’ve seen something a banana expert has never witnessed.

“Go ahead and google ‘monkey eating a banana,’ and you’ll see that even most monkeys are peeling the banana before eating it. If monkeys are smart enough to figure this out, we should be, too,” says Koeppel.

That may be the case Mr. Koeppel, but if you Google “Alexander Radulov eating a banana” you will get some hits.

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11/20/18 -Developing, or not, Julius Honka

Developing any skill is hard. I don’t care if we’re talking about hockey, making a pizza, or learning to write. Skill development is challenging because of the inordinate amount of factors that go into it that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the skill.

School this year has been a unique challenge for me. Our kids came to us out of control behaviorally with learning gaps, un-diagnosed learning disorders, and an extreme lack of confidence due to the aforementioned issues. Regardless of how they come to me I’m charged with putting them in a position where they can be successful on the STAAR exam at a 40% clip for them personally and 60% clip to meet grade level expectations for the state.

What matters is results. Full stop. The extenuating circumstances don’t matter. 75% of my students being served by special education. ESL, or 504 doesn’t matter. The regular gaps of the students not served by a special title doesn’t matter. What matters is how prepared these kids are to succeed on an exam that the school, district, and state can point to as an indicator of success or failure.

Such is life for anyone in a position where they are asked to develop talent in any walk of life. Each different scenario presents unique challenges that people on the outside will not be able to comprehend without being there. When people criticize teachers for a lack of success I tend to laugh because few know what goes into the process of dragging a kid kicking and screaming to learn a subject they don’t care to learn. It isn’t possible to know all of the inputs to the situation from the outside.

Hell, it isn’t possible from the inside. Prior to break I found out a student of mine has a two year old child. How am I supposed to continue to be upset about this student being sleepy at 6:50 in the morning on a daily basis? I can’t in good conscience be mad at this kid, but knowing this information gives me an opportunity.

I can now point out how much better off his child’s life can be if he completes high school. I can work with him to make sure he gets the information he needs while understanding he has significant responsibilities at home. I can build a relationship that shows I care which allows me to feed him negative feedback in an environment where he understands I’m saying it because I care and want him to be successful.

Sports development has one significant difference from teaching kids: the personal responsibility falls on the athlete to use the coaching and tools at his disposal to meet the goals set by the development staff. All of the other extenuating circumstances don’t have to matter to the development staff because in a professional environment the professional is expected to meet the standards of his profession despite any noise on the outside.

Inevitably I would guess most coaches care, but the nature of professional sports is such that if a player isn’t meeting a coach’s expectations they turn to the next man up if he gives the team a better chance of success. There exists a delicate balance between development and success on the ice that organizations have to maintain. The question they have to answer is can a player develop his game while maintaining a level of play superior than enough of his contemporaries in the organization to demand a roster spot?

Julius Honka is not a top four defenseman in the 2019 NHL season. There is a fair debate to be had about whether or not he can ever reach that goal on a championship caliber team, a ceiling set for him with the pedigree of being a mid first round pick. What there can be little debate over is that in the minutes he has been given overall this season he has produced capably.

I pulled a bunch of info from Corsica on the Stars most common five defensemen. I then changed the numbers to their ranks among the five of them. Honka is one or two in most, and goes no lower than third on any of them except ice time. One of the lower ranked ones is individual expected goals per hour, but he, like John Klingberg, isn’t an even strength goal scorer. You wouldn’t expect him to excel there.

3

There are a number of inputs to this situation that need to be considered before anointing Honka as being on his way to greatness. Honka gets the easiest zone starts, the easiest competition, and consistently the worst linemates of the five players. Given the first two he should be producing. The last nugget should, theoretically, bring his offensive totals down. It probably does drag his secondary assists down, but he’s tops among these five in primary points per hour. The signal here is that he is doing something right.

The emphasis here should be on something. As in, not everything. The sum total of what Honka has brought to his role this year is positive by almost every statistic you can find. An overwhelming consensus of the available information suggests he has done something right.

Jim Montgomery has pointed out that he wants players taking chances to make offense happen. The idea has been that he can live with mistakes, if the mistakes come from a player trying to make a play. Many of the mistakes Honka does make come from trying to make a play, but the mental calculus any professional has to work to figure out if he can make a play is off for him right now.

It isn’t so far off to make him a liability in the role Montgomery and his staff have given him however. If you look at the sum total of his skills with the assumption that all are equally valuable, or look at the events which transpire with him on the ice without proper context, or disregard the statistical information generated by his play the conversation becomes disingenuous and unfair to the player.

If you watch Honka play you see good flashes and bad flashes. You see the inconsistency in his game that holds him back. We’ve seen Honka do magical things with the puck that make him believe he can do anything with it, but we’ve then seen those same situations bite him in the ass enough that it is going to naturally make him question his ability as a hockey player while minimizing the amount of skill he puts on display.

Honka, at his best, skates the puck out of the zone and springs the offense with crisp outlet passes. He gets into the offensive zone and sets up goals with quality vision. At his worst Honka is passive defensively for fear of making a mistake, gets pushed around physically, and turns the puck over because in his mind he feels like he can make plays that to this point sometimes lead to turnovers.

And in the end, the statistical indicators show that this year Honka has done quite a bit more good than bad in the role given him by the coaching staff. Having a discussion about Honka without the context statistics provide is not going to provide the proper nuance necessary to fairly look at the overall game he has played making any discussion that begins with that premise pointless.

The injury to Klingberg has provided an opportunity for Honka to show that he can be the type of top four defenseman the Stars thought he could be when they drafted him. I pulled data from Corsica again for the last five games for the four regular defensemen still playing.

image1

Honka, largely, has been the worst of the four. He has the points, but other than that statistically he has been the worst of the regular four. Added responsibilities and being forced into the situation of being “the guy” on a pair more frequently have exposed Honka is pretty clearly not a top four defenseman right now, or, at least, not a play driver for a defensive pair.

On the other hand, Miro Heiskanen is proving that he is already a top pairing defenseman in the league at 19. With Klingberg out of the lineup he has a 72% xGF rate to go with a 53% Corsi and almost 90 minutes of even strength ice time. The kid is an absolute horse who, with Klingberg out, has stepped up to show he is the future of the franchise defensively.

Honka hasn’t, and that’s ok. When the roster is in less flux he will slide back to his role ideally with more positive experience that will allow him to fine tune that rough mental calculus that leads to turnovers and mistakes. He may not develop into the guy many hoped he would, but as a bottom six guy who can put points on the board he still has value.

And, using the data tracked by Corey Sznajder from 2014-2018 this image shows why it’s too early to just toss Honka out.

2

The kid has something. It’s just a matter of him finding the right balance between risk and reward so he can unlock it consistently.

11/14/18 – Devin Nystrom

Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin, and Devin Shore lead the Dallas Stars with four goals at even strength.

This is a sentence that accurately describes hockey in the year of our Lord 2018, a year that makes zero sense in most contexts.

Shore’s career high in goals is 13 which should immediately raise some alarms. The five he has in 18 games this season have him on pace for 23. 23 goals from an unexpected source would be a major boost for a Stars team that needs offensive production.

It isn’t going to happen. Shore is shooting damn near 30%. He’s a a career 10% shooter prior to this season. Prior to the injury he was on pace to take 78 shots over the course of the entire season. He took 115 and 123 shots in each of the last two seasons. He’s 3rd from the bottom on the Stars in individual Corsi attempts per hour and 3rd from the bottom in individual expected goals per hour per Corsica. Like last season, he is still not consistently doing the things necessary to create offensive production.

I’m sure Shore is a wonderful teammate and a great guy. He does some things that do help the team. What I’m saying isn’t about that. He just isn’t very productive offensively, and these numbers are a mirage. I would say his shooting percentage will come down over time, but he takes so few shots it may linger up there for a while when he gets back in the lineup.

The point is this: many players before him have done this. Eric Nystrom notably did it after the Stars picked him up off waivers. Absurdly high shooting percentages will come back down to Earth, and players need to have the secondary areas of their game together to the point that they can still contribute when the goal scoring hot hand ends.

I like Devin Shore. I have a picture of him on my digital picture frame on the wall, which sounds infinitely creepier typed out than it did in my head. It pays to be honest though, and the reality is this isn’t sustainable offense.

Please do not send anyone to attempt to beat me up this time.