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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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