1/19/19 – Jim Montgomery’s December Demeanor Shift

The Dallas Stars are a mess, and I keep wanting to understand why. I realize this is futile, but that has never stopped me before. So I decided to jump head first into the world of Jim Montgomery post game quotes to see if it is possible to see when things started going so wrong.

I’m not going to post 100 quotes from Montgomery here, though I did post a lot of them. The quotes make this post long. Sorry.

I did paste 95% of his post home game quotes into a Google Doc in case you’d like to read them. These are from after the home games – the games I get post game emails about so they’re the most easily accessible. Picking and choosing quotes for this story is by definition cherry-picking. That’s why I’m providing that link so you can see for yourself, and determine if I’m out of my mind.

Before I’m asked: yes, I notice the disproportionate amount of comments about Brett Ritchie. I’m going to get to that eventually. What also stands out is that Montgomery had a shift in public tone or demeanor somewhere in mid-December.

I’m not going to try to speculate about what happened because I have no idea. I don’t think that would be fair to anyone. I will say that the massive tonal shift is very obvious, and it would be naive to simply think nothing changed. You don’t go from praising a team and their leaders to, as an organization, calling the leaders fucking horseshit while talking about a culture of mediocrity without something happening.

We’ll start from opening night and go in chronological order.

10/4, 3-0 win over Arizona

“I liked the way we started the game and then I thought we kind of fell back a little bit.  The only part of the game where we need to get better at was the last eight minutes of the second period.  Once we were up 3-0, the air came out of our balloon and they really came at us.  If it wasn’t for (Ben) Bishop being so great, it could have been 3-3 at the end of the second.  That’s something we need to learn from and build on but overall our emotion, our effort and our execution was pretty good for game one.”

10/6, 5-1 win over Winnipeg

“Yeah, I mean, some of those plays I was just like ‘wow, Nelly [Todd Nelson], did you see that play? Did you see that goal?’ They were special tonight, but more importantly, as a team, I thought we were really good. I thought our puck pressure – I loved our start.

On Jamie Benn

“What I’ve really enjoyed about Jamie Benn in this short beginning of the season is how vocal he is and how accountable he’s holding people on the bench. His leadership has been very valuable.”

10/9, 7-4 loss to Toronto

“There is a lot of areas that we need to get better at. This is going to be a good learning experience for us. I thought our effort and our emotion was very good. Our execution wasn’t where it needed to be against a very good hockey club.”

Discussing if the top line was good enough against Toronto:

“Offensively yes. Defensively, they were out there for three goals, five-on-five, so no they’ve got to do a better job of shutting people down. Not only creating offense but not giving up momentum.”

10/13, 5-3 win over Anaheim

“I think we learned that we can change momentum in a game. I don’t think anybody was happy with our first period. In particular, we thought we were not playing with enough aggression in tough areas like our net front and our defensive zone. That being said, you have to give credit to our leaders. I don’t know what they did to change, but everything changed about face and that’s a credit to our leaders and everybody else who followed them.”

I feel like I should point out how often emotion, momentum, and effort are brought up. The leaders are praised for leading. Jamie Benn is praised for being vocal. Montgomery is providing criticism, but the tone feels like it’s coming from a good place.

10/19, 3-1 loss to Minnesota

“I just think that we have too many forwards in particular who aren’t confident offensively. And they’re not working hard enough to get to the greasy area. I thought Dubnyk saw too many shots from our point men. We did a good job getting it to our point men, but we’re not doing a good enough job fighting and clawing to take away his eyes and create more rebounds.”

10/23, 4-2 win over Los Angeles

“I thought the first twelve minutes, and then in the second period, there were a lot of opportunities. It was the mentality we wanted tonight. I thought we did a much better job tonight whether it was the puck carrier or people getting there for rebounds. I think it created a lot of scrambles that we hadn’t seen in our last three or four games.”

10/25, 5-2 win over Anaheim

“I thought, in tonight’s game, if you look at a picture of what Stars hockey should look like, that’s tonight.”

As of 10/25 the Stars, in Montgomery’s mind, were able to play the exact type of game he wants to see. 10/25.

11/8, 4-3 win over San Jose

“I think we’ve toughened up on the road trip and become resilient. A lot of people have confidence in other people which is good long-term. We’ve got to get better in our team game, we can’t continue to rely on goaltenders and the occasional goal to strike ahead. Clearly San Jose was better than we were tonight as a whole.”

On Roman Polak

“He’s probably a microcosm of what we’re looking at. He scrapes, he battles, he claws, he kicks and that’s what we’re doing as a team right now. It’s fun to be in the room because everyone is fighting for each other. We’ve got to keep building on that and improve our five-on-five game.”

11/10, 4-5 overtime loss to Nashville

“I thought we did. It’s been something that I thought has built with our team on the road trip, and it’s that we don’t stop fighting. We are getting production from a lot of people. It’s funny; remember in the first five games when everyone was worried about secondary scoring? It’s primary scoring now that is not where it needs to be.”

Oops.

11/12, 2-1 loss to Columbus

On Benn and Tyler Seguin

“No, I loved the way they competed tonight. Both of them. I thought it was the most passion and will, and if they keep playing that like we are going to be in a good place.”

Effort.

“But, I really like our effort. If our effort is like that, you know the execution is going to come because we have a lot of skill in that room.”

In six weeks they will be called fucking horseshit.

11/16, 1-0 win in overtime over Boston

“Something we’ve really improved upon this year is our commitment to playing through the game, no matter what the score is, and continuing to play hard in the third period. That escaped us early as three of the first ten games we lost was because of failures in the third period. That’s an area of our game that has really improved.”

11/23, 6-4 win over Ottawa

“I thought the top line got us going. They were on top of pucks and I thought this was Tyler Seguin’s best game since maybe our fourth game of the year. He was moving his feet, winning battles and he was reading on the forecheck. And, obviously, his shot. He was letting it go from everywhere.”

12/3, 4-1 win over Edmonton

“Jamie Benn has been phenomenal for, I’d say it’s been close to ten games now.  He’s really winning so many battles and we have a lot of people who are digging in.  I think Tyler Seguin is really picking up his game and when your best players are your hardest workers then you start to see your team build.  I think that’s what we’re seeing.  Because of that, all the other guys are following but a lot of them were already there like the Dickinson’s of the world and the Faksa’s and the Pitlick’s.  Now it seems like no matter who you name, I can say that person is bringing compete and they’re playing hard for their teammates.  The selflessness we’re seeing is starting to become contagious.”

12/7, 3-2 win over San Jose

“We found a pulse. We were bad in the first and thank god Ben Bishop was not. They are a really good transitional offensive team and we weren’t going through bodies. We weren’t getting pucks deep and we had a lot of turnovers and we just mentally were not sharp. I thought that was a carry-over from our morning skate which wasn’t very crisp.”

On the top line

“Yeah, you know what, they were just like the rest of the team; they got better as the game went on, but I didn’t think it was one of their better nights. I do think Jamie wasn’t himself, and I don’t think his vision was right, after he took that elbow in the eye. It was accidental, but he wasn’t stopping on pucks and didn’t seem to be around the puck as much as he usually is. And, the other two were just not what they usually are for us.”

This was the first post game mention of the morning skate I believe.

12/18, 2-0 win over Calgary

“There’s different times where you’ve got to recognize that you’re not playing with emotion. You have to play this game with emotion, but you can’t be emotional. I thought we had a real good balance of that tonight because even though we were in control in the first two periods, we weren’t that in control on the scoreboard.”

This is about where the tonal shift goes into high gear. It’s subtle at first and builds until December 27th when Sean Shapiro wrote that Montgomery told the team he was “fucking embarrassed” with their practice and place in the standings. He’s referencing a lack of energy and emotion more. No one is really being praised except Ben Bishop and of course Brett Ritchie (???).

12/20, 5-2 loss to Chicago

“I didn’t prepare them well enough as to what our details have to be on rush defense against a team that is a really good rush offense team.”

Pond hockey:

“It’s very frustrating, we didn’t have the right attitude. We had the right attitude against Calgary. We played a hard game, played the game the right way. But, we played pond hockey tonight, especially in the first 30 minutes and it cost us. We were down 3-0 for a reason.”

12/23, 3-1 loss to the Islanders

“Maybe after the first seven minutes we ran out of gas. I thought we skated the first seven minutes and then we were real bad.”

” We have to keep working. We have to keep working together. We have to get tougher. And that’s mentally, I’m talking about. Not so much the physicality on the ice, but they go hand in hand.”

“To me, it’s more a mindset. The product on the ice, obviously, the offensive side of the game is porous right now. To me, it’s a mindset of pushing the envelope and wanting to make plays, wanting to be a difference maker. Guys were tired tonight, but a lot of other teams have similar schedules and they find ways to win hockey games.”

12/29, 5-1 win over Detroit

“I think it’s too early to say we’re building anything. I think we’ve got to do it over a more extended period of time. In tonight’s win there were moments where we were a very good hockey team and there’s moments where we weren’t again. It’s not a consistent thing of how we’re playing together.”

This one sticks out to me because throughout the year Montgomery has tried to be upbeat and positive. The Stars just beat the shit out of Detroit, and this is the most enthusiasm he can muster. Score effects are real. This was also the day after Horseshit-Gate

1/2, 5-4 win over New Jersey

On Seguin:

“He’s been practicing really well lately and hasn’t been rewarded.  He got rewarded tonight and I thought it was his best game in a long time.  The way he was attacking the net and the way he was getting into shooting areas where he scores from.  He was getting inside the dots, his one-timers were from high quality areas instead of being towards the boards.”

On December 3rd he praised Seguin. That’s a stretch of about a month, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that over that time he still led the Stars in expected goals and shots with a low shooting percentage. Call it a hunch.

1/4, 2-1 overtime win against Washington

This is where the quotes feel bizarre.

“Our struggles come from when we have success. We get way too comfortable when we have games like we did tonight. That’s the history of our season and that’s really the history of the last three years. It’s not the road, it’s our mentality. We don’t change at the right times and our shifts are too long. Anytime we face adversity we don’t dig in we take short cuts. That’s why we’re an inconsistent hockey team. We’ve just got to keep harping on the details that we believe in. Keep harping on the process. We hope that, as a group, the leadership and the core guys are able to pull everybody in with them.”

Why is Montgomery talking about the last three years? That’s weird, right? He wasn’t here so the only way he’s getting that information is second hand at best. He spent a good part of the season praising the leaders, the emotion, and everything that goes with that, but now the team doesn’t dig in when they face adversity?

January 12th was the “culture of mediocrity” game. Those quotes are located here.

In early to mid December something changed. Whether Montgomery got tired of seeing similar threads in the games or something else I have no idea. But things clearly took a turn for the dark side about a week before Jim Lites publicly embarrassed the franchise.

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1/17/19 – The Dallas Stars Can’t Enter The Offensive Zone

When I was looking into the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier I wanted to start getting into how the top teams in the league enter the zone. The Dallas Stars seem terrible at it. They aren’t really terrible at entering the zone, but what they do immediately after they enter the zone tends to be predictable and bad. They also aren’t particularly good at entering the zone with possession either. As with most things related to this team the Stars are good enough to be respectable, but can’t reasonably play with the big kids.

Why is it important to enter the zone with possession? From a statistical perspective it leads to more shots. NHL teams take about .66 shots per zone entry with possession of the puck. That drops to around .26 shots per entry when they dump the puck in. It may not seem like much, but it is. If a team dumped the puck in 100% of the time they would take about 40 less shots attempts per 100 entries compared to a team that always carried the puck in. If a team is shooting 5% on shot attempts we’re talking two to three goals difference on those 100 entries. Think about how many times a team enters the zone per game.

It’s a big deal.

The Stars are actually middle of the pack in possession entries per the data tracked by Corey Sznajder. I don’t think that accurately reflects how serious the problem is though. When you compare the Stars to most of the top teams in the league a pattern emerges.

Many of the better teams in the league are led in entries by their star talent, and many teams in the league have many players who would lead the Stars in controlled entries.
The Calgary Flames are a weird exception.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche have four players who have more success entering the zone than the Stars top forward including two of their very best in Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Going back over Tampa Bay is a bit redundant. You get the point from this article. They’re way better. We get it.

Nashville Predators

Nashville has four skaters show up prior to Janmark. Among those are most of their key forwards.

San Jose Sharks

San Jose has five above Janmark. They also have seven of the top ten.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto: five before Janmark and seven of the top ten.

Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg has three before Janmark and six of the top ten.

Washington Capitals

Washington has three before Janmark before the Stars rattle some off, but the three ahead of Janmark are considerably ahead of him.

I have to reiterate that this is 10-15% of a season’s worth of data so far so these numbers could be worse, and to be honest I wouldn’t be shocked if they were. The Stars seem to be trending in the wrong direction with the eye test,

So yes, the Stars as a group are in the middle of the pack when it comes to entering the zone with possession. They do it without the top end entry ability of many of the better teams in the league. Watching the Los Angeles Kings and Jack Campbell (!!!!) gobble up the Stars tonight made this seem like a relevant post to get into the world.

This team is screwed unless they find out how to enter the zone more effectively soon.

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1/14/19 – Dallas Stars Swap Devin Shore for Andrew Cogliano

The Dallas Stars have swapped 24 year old Devin Shore in exchange for 31 year old Andrew Cogliano of the Anaheim Ducks. Cogliano is signed for two more years at a hair over three million dollars.

If you look at this trade in a vacuum it looks like the Stars turned a 24 year old into a 31 year old locked into a three year contract while producing not much more than the 24 year old. The points here don’t really matter. This trade isn’t about points. This trade is about finding guys who can drag the entire team into the fight.

Andrew Cogliano is fast. At one point he was among the fastest in the league. He is known for being an excellent penalty killer. He is valued around the league for being a great guy and a leader who never takes a night off. The addition of Cogliano helps this team in a number of ways, and it may even improve the offense if he frees Radek Faksa up from some of his defensive responsibilities.

After the loss to the St. Louis Blues Jim Montgomery discussed the culture of mediocrity around the team. I wrote more about that situation here. The main idea there was that listening to Stars management continue to clutch pearls about how bad the culture is without changing the players out would have been obnoxious and pointless. This trade in isolation isn’t going to fix all of the issues, but it’s a start.

Sean Shapiro hit the nail on the head this morning. In his Shap Shots column he talked extensively about how the mediocre culture took root. This is a blurb from his thoughts:

Benn has also been allowed to define what leadership means for the Stars. He leads by his play rather than his words, making his captaincy less impactful when he’s not playing at a high level.

While Benn takes the lumps because of certain things he represents, he’s also provided the shield that stops other leaders on this team from being exposed. When Benn was out recently, the bench was silent; no one stepped up. When players that wore a letter were asked after Saturday’s loss to St. Louis about how they could impact the team as leaders, they responded by essentially saying they had done their jobs, that the loss was not their fault.

No one is asking John Klingberg to babysit other players while they get ready for a game, but there is a responsibility that comes with wearing an “A” which means you actually work to help make sure those following you are prepared. You need leaders to be part of the solution, not the problem.

This is where mediocrity takes hold. There is an expectation that others will be better, but no one is taking responsibility for the problems. They go all the way to the top and trickle down.

You aren’t going to change Jamie Benn’s personality, and changing a culture from within is hard. Bringing new respected voices in from the outside is one way to make it start to happen.  Make no mistake though, it’s a start.

Cogliano doesn’t fix the offense. He doesn’t fix the transition game or make the team have a consistent productive second line, but if he can help guide the younger guys on the bottom lines to being better more consistent professionals he will make an impact whether he does anything on the ice or not. And if he can be that guy in the bottom six working to rally the troops during in tense moments even better.

Leadership is important. It’s always going to be virtually impossible to quantify. Clearly Stars management and the coaches think there is a leadership void. Without being in the room it is almost impossible to fairly say, but the coaches aren’t just making the concerns they see with leadership up.

This is a team that desperately needs secondary scoring, and that isn’t coming from Cogliano (or Shore). We’ll see what else they have planned, if anything, but if they think they are a legitimate contender they need more.

There will be a full write up about what Cogliano is and can provide later. In the meantime, I guess the Stars decided to try to fix it eh?

Good.

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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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9/15/18 – Jason Dickinson, Julius Honka, and development through positive reinforcement

The Dallas Stars have taken a severe beating from fans for the inability to develop prospects into productive NHLers. Drafting players with high floors and low ceilings plays a part, but another part of this problem is getting talented players to blossom once they reach the professional ranks.

I think often the development process is misunderstood in sports and education in general. Skill development is only part of the equation. People have to have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills to the best of their abilities, and they also need to be in the right headspace to maximize those abilities.

It is still all too common to think of an athlete as weak-minded or some other garbage whenever the mental attributes of sports are brought up. Robin Lehner’s story as laid out in The Athletic shows an extreme proof of concept that, who knows, maybe isn’t that uncommon?

You can scream “be a professional” all day if you choose, but every job on earth is more difficult with outside distractions. I’ve been dealing with debilitating tooth pain for two weeks constantly. I only missed two days at work. If I had been evaluated on any of those days my evaluation would suggest I need to find a new line of work.

Nothing I went through compares to what Lehner has dealt with, obviously.

A large mental roadblock is confidence, and I don’t think the significance of confidence can be overstated when it comes to personal development. I see it every year with my students who come in expecting to fail because they always have. They make jokes, refuse to try, and avoid all work because doing all of these things keeps them from facing failure.

The fear to fail keeps people from taking risks. As a teacher I can do one of two things: reinforce that fear by emphasizing the mistake, or emphasize the courage it took to take the risk while correcting it in a positive way. Reminding people of their failure repeatedly doesn’t add to the person. They very likely know they messed up. Building that person up to be the best they can is often difficult, but it can be crucial.

Two days into the tenure of Jim Montgomery as the Stars head coach you’re already seeing that he is a master of this ability. The way he seems to be handling his young players provides that missing element in the development process that has kept the Stars prospects from thriving in Dallas.

Sean Shapiro’s reporting from camp has been excellent as always. Early on he has pulled some quotes that caught my eye. On day one of camp he caught up with former first round pick Jason Dickinson, a prospect who definitely needs to step up soon.

“The way he runs it out there, he’s not black and white,” Jason Dickinson said. “He sees the other options out there. Like we’re going through a neutral zone forecheck and although I might miss the perfect route, as long as he sees the recovery, he’s really happy with that. And he’ll come over, and say, ‘That was a great recovery. The route at the beginning wasn’t great, but I like where you came back to.’ And that’s a huge thing. If he’s able to recognize that you knew you messed up, but you were able to fix things.”

You can see Montgomery emphasizing the positive here. You can see the impact it has on Dickinson. Montgomery is showing him that he believes in his ability as a player to solve problems on the fly, and he’s praising his ability to solve this problem while showing him the optimal way to do it.

It adds value to the young player by validating what he did plus showing him the best way to do it. He doesn’t have to be in his head when it comes time for the game wondering if he’s going to lose ice time for making a mistake. He can just be himself and know that’s good enough.

Anyone with a passing interest in the local hockey team saw how the Stars handled Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, and then Julius Honka. Questioning the ability of the players to play in the NHL is fair on some level. Then you see how Pittsburgh was able to pull value out of Oleksiak, and how the Avalanche pulled value out of Nemeth.

Honka has more upside than either of those two ever did. His game was so marginalized last season that at times he was barely recognizable as Honka. What can he do if he’s allowed to be himself? Sean followed up with Honka and Montgomery about their impressions of each other so far.

When Montgomery looked at the film he saw in Honka a lack of confidence. There were many things to like, but the defender needed to be in a spot where he was trusted and wasn’t second-guessing himself every shift.

“I want to get the confidence back and play the offensive style of game that I do,” Honka said. “It’s nothing too much, just play and, of course, pay attention to those little details. Just enjoy and play, kind of go with the flow.”

[…]

“I think the biggest thing is I want to be myself more,” Honka said. “I haven’t really had the chance to bring the best out of me yet. It was a good summer. I feel ready to go.”

[…]

“You know what? I saw a smile on his face for the first time today. So I was really happy,” Montgomery said. “He’s always guarded around me, and I felt like someone, I don’t know how, he was smiling around the coaches. I think he’s starting to see that his feet are gonna be something that are gonna really help us the way we want to play defensively and offensively.”

He got Honka to smile. What more do you need to know?

Montgomery can only put these guys in the best position to succeed. The players still have to play. They’re going to play better if they can get out of their heads. Montgomery seems to be putting them in a place to maximize their abilities by building them up instead of putting them down. It remains to be seen how that will translate on the ice, but if I had to bet I would bet on it leading to a positive change for the Stars development fortunes.

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