The Fucking Horseshit Dallas Stars: A Hockey Franchise in Dangerous Denial

The_Atlantic

I’m pissed. Let’s do this.

It’s tough to know where to even start with this one. This may get long.

I’ve been a hardcore fan of the Dallas Stars ever since their arrival in Texas back in 1993, and I’ve covered the NHL and the Stars in some form or fashion for the better part of the last decade. In all those years I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like team CEO Jim Lites’ profanity-laced, on-the-record tirade directly pointedly at the team’s two superstar players. It was a bizarre moment not just in hockey but in all of sports, leaving many questioning not only the tone but the message itself.

What they hell were they thinking?

It’s clear that there is an incredible amount of frustration within the Dallas Stars organization, and perhaps tension between the hockey ops and the business side. One side feels it’s held up it’s end of the bargain while the other is failing to deliver on expensive promises.

Lites was the first person hired by Gaglardi, brought on to steer the franchise out of bankruptcy and to restore the revenue-generating enterprises that helped make the Stars so big in Dallas twenty years ago.

He definitely had an impact, as the season-ticket holder base increased, the Stars unveiled a very successful new logo and color scheme, and the Stars have worked once more to increase their business footprint in the market and expand on opportunities around the AAC. Yet what also made the Stars so successful as an organization back in the heyday of the late 90’s and early 2000’s has less to do with Lites’ business acumen and almost everything to do with one thing – the Dallas Stars were one of the most successful teams in the NHL from 1993 to 2005.

The Stars won – a lot – and they did so with star power in Modano, Nieuwendyk, Hull, Hatcher, Belfour, Turco, Morrow, etc, etc. For a while there, the perfect storm brewed to put hockey fever in Texas.

For a hockey team in Dallas – a hotbed of football where the rise of the baseball and basketball teams coincided with the Stars’ demise – the only way to rise out of the shadows was simple. Just win. Make the postseason on a regular basis, win a playoff series every now and then and at least flirt with making it to the Stanley Cup.

Gaglardi and Lites understood this. They hired Jim Nill and brought in an expensive veteran coach, and Gaglardi instantly showed the willingness to open up the checkbook and spend to the cap. And for a few years there it seemed to work. The Stars were one of the highest-scoring and most exciting teams in hockey. They made it to the playoffs in 2 of three seasons. Won a division title. It all seemed to be going rather well.

Until it wasn’t. Until the seams in how the team was built started to show, until years of bad drafting and poor prospect development caught up to them. Until the inability to find a reliable backup goaltending fried Kari Lehtonen. Until the Stars seemingly shied away from the style of hockey that earned them so many wins, so many new fans and so much attention from around the NHL.

Jim Nill was handed an organization light on top-end prospects and with only Jamie Benn and an unknown John Klingberg to really build around. He was aggressive early on – trading for Seguin and Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp and hitting early on a key veteran pickup like Patrick Eaves. His teams were built around veterans that complimented a young core but as those veterans left, or retired, or were too injured – more and more never quite lived up to the what the team so obviously needed and what the hype promised

So now we’re in the present, with the Stars on their third head coach in three seasons and once again fighting for a playoff position while battling through key injuries, underperforming (or absent) veterans and a team that’s devoid of offensive skill at forward outside of the top line.

The team is scratching and clawing and surviving, and while frustrating at times it’s clear that Jim Montgomery is coaching with all he’s got in his first NHL season, that the team is inconsistent but considering the injuries — the Stars have gone through 12 defensemen this season! — that, honestly, fighting for a wild card spot is actually a pretty good place to be in.

There’s room for improvement. Benn and Seguin aren’t exactly scoring like we’re used to, but it’s clear a key addition on the second line could really help balance the forwards and if the defense is actually healthy the Stars could maybe – perhaps – be a playoff team in April.

But, see, that’s not good enough. No sir. The time of excuses is over.

The Stars have one of the highest payrolls in the NHL, are right up against the cap and next season will be paying their two superstars a combined $26 million in salary. So for the owner to look up, see those two players not even in the top 50 in scoring and his team again fighting for a playoff spot, it’s understandable he’s going to be upset. He wants results for the investment he’s made.

Gaglardi is a passionate hockey fan. He’s a passionate owner with money to spend on his team. Those two have not coincided well the past few years as it’s become clear Gaglardi has started to get a bit too involved with a few questionable directives – with Lites becoming the apparent fall guy for this latest outburst.

Hire Hitchcock – get the defense fixed.

Get Benn and Seguin’s ass back in line, now.

At this point it’s clear that Lites was not acting alone, launching into some rogue ranting at the nearest reporter with a microphone. Instead this was calculated, supported by the owner Tom Gaglardi himself, with the apparent intention of lighting a fire under the butts of their top paid players in the middle of another rather frustrating season. The language was brash, the tone was insanely harsh, and it was wholly unprofessional on so many levels it’s hard to even put into words.

There are invariably some out there (and I’ve definitely heard from them) that believe this rant was needed, that Benn and Seguin aren’t keeping up their end of the bargain and it was about time someone yelled at the Spoiled Millionaire Millennials who so obviously weren’t putting in the effort needed and were being content with playing through their newly minted contracts and not much more.

“THEY’RE JUST LAZY!” cries the older generation at the younger. It’s a tale as old as time – especially now that the cultural divide between those 55+ and those under 30 gets wider and wider.

Frankly, Lites comes across as nothing more than the front office personification of that most annoying commenter on any fan site, or that guy constantly yelling “shoot!” from the upper bowl every single time a player has the puck in the offensive zone. It screams of using a sledgehammer to put a thumbtack in a wall, and reeks of a nasty notion that has been building regarding this hockey franchise the past few years:

The Dallas Stars are lost in mediocrity, and are in denial of not just how they got there – but how to get out of the mess they created.

Story time.

Before Lindy Ruff and Tyler Seguin arrived to set the Dallas hockey world on fire, the Stars were in trouble. The team had just come out of a bankruptcy, they had a new owner but the team just wasn’t that good. Fan interest in Dallas had waned considerably, and the Stars roster was just a bit of a mess.

There also wasn’t much local coverage. There was Mike Heika at the DMN, one radio show that regularly acknowledged the team, some team writers, Mark Stepneski and us folks at Defending Big D. I won’t lie, we took advantage of the sparse coverage and did our best to fill a gaping hole in advanced coverage of the Stars. We were good friends with the regular beat writers, we earned press credentials and a permanent spot in the press box, and we built a very strong readership.

We were also brutally honest.

Twice I was pulled aside by players imploring us for some more positive coverage, that they were trying hard to build the fanbase again but it’s tough with so critical coverage.

Several times I was contacted directly by Jim Lites’ office regarding articles we’d written, critical of not just the on-ice coverage but also our coverage of other questionable aspects of the Stars organization (anyone remember the Ice Girls lake day video?)

It’s a tough spot to be in. We had earned credentials and valued our access as an independent blog, and were careful not to rock the boat too much at times. It was clear though that the team was a bit sensitive to overly critical coverage in a market where they were struggling to get recognized along with the big boys.

So that’s why Jim Lites’ comments just ring so hollow, and why they came across as so cheap and personal. Lites lambasted the local media (the bloggers!) for not being hard enough on Benn and Seguin, while coming down too much and writing too many negative articles about Shore or Ritchie or Nichushkin. Where was the outrage? This would never happen in a real hockey market like Montreal or Boston or New York, he claims. So if the media won’t destroy the two best players on the Dallas Stars who are actually one of the very few contributing positively to the team this season, then by damn Jim Lites is up to the task.

I’ve heard this a lot the past week:

“Look, I don’t agree with the language or the tone. But don’t you agree this was needed in a way, that something needed to be said about Benn and Seguin?”

This is where this whole debacle really and truly falls apart.

See, no one is denying that Benn and Seguin are having a down year compared to past seasons. There’s no one that hasn’t acknowledged that the rest of the big NHL scorers have picked up the pace, while they have regressed in point production.

The issue is with the underlying message that Lites apparently really needed to send: This would all be just fine if only those two were scoring more. It was right there in his comments. In what the owner had to say in his follow ups – that this is “the most talented” and the “deepest” team since Gaglardi purchased the Stars.

It’s laughable. And it shows that at least publicly, this is a front office and management that has no intention of truly owning their own mistakes and shortcomings that also led to this point – and instead has chosen to lay it all on the only two forwards actually dragging this thing along on a night to night basis.

Lites and management want absolutely brutal honesty when it comes it their two star players – players who are unable to even come close to firing back and responding with the same level of animosity and vitriol that was directed towards them. Players who are now put in an impossible position and must appear as absolute professionals, and who so far have handled this situation far, far better than the older gentlemen that sign their paychecks.

What they don’t want is brutal honesty when it comes to their own decisions, their own mismanagement of this team over years. Like I said, I’ve had a few interesting phone calls over opinion pieces I’ve written. Bob Sturm mentioned this week upper management with the Stars contacted him privately, upset about his reaction on Twitter and how he should be supporting the hockey team.

It’s absolutely ridiculous that the Stars get to drag Seguin and Benn through the mud yet lash out at any criticism directed toward the decision makers.

Well – I can tell you this. Their actions have probably had the exact opposite effect of what was intended.

Almost immediately every hockey analyst around the web jumped to check the actual numbers behind what was going on with this team this season. Surprise – it turns out the Stars aren’t nearly as deep as they think they are and in fact, Benn and Seguin are not only the two best forwards on the team but they’re the best by a mile in almost every category.

If anyone with the Stars wants to send the message of “if only Benn and Seguin were scoring more then we’d be fine” then they are nothing but delusional about the reality of the current roster and the issues leading to its construction.

Let’s break it down. You want to hear some critical, no punches pulled analysis? Let’s do it.

Benn isn’t scoring as his usual pace.

Well, sort of.

It’s true that Benn isn’t shooting as much and he’s shooting from much closer to the net than he used to. It’s also true that it’s clear he isn’t as capable of extended dominant play like he used to.

Perhaps he’s just not trying as hard as he used to, now that he’s getting paid.

It’s one of the oldest cliches in pro sports: athlete does their best in a contract year, scores a huge payday and then doesn’t put up the same numbers that won him that contract, leading everyone to believe they’re just cashing a paycheck without the will to compete like they once had.

Nevermind that those huge contracts are won based on past performances, and generally are earned near the end of a player’s prime (or at least right in the midst of) meaning a natural dropoff in production due to age coincides with the years they just so happen to be getting paid the most.

Which is exactly what has happened with Jamie Benn.

Benn has missed just 13 games the past seven season combined, and has played in every single game four of the past five seasons. He’s one of the last few true power forwards, combining a punishing physicality with deft puck skills and brute force. That takes a toll over time, and Benn has dealt with several injuries over the years and is now approaching 30.

I don’t know what the Stars expected, but there’s going to be a bit of a dropoff over time. I know there’s concern that perhaps the raw emotion isn’t there as much as it used to be – but let’s not begin to pretend that we can just lay it all at his feet.

Yes, we wonder where Beast Mode has gone. Perhaps making Benn angry is what they wanted, to get him pissed off and taking it out on the opposition. Perhaps this was intended to get the team to galvanize around him.

By all accounts Benn is as much of an upstanding citizen as you could want from your young superstar. There’s never been any hint of an off-ice issue, and he’s the face of the franchise. He’s given everything he has to the team the past ten seasons, when he was pretty much the only reason to even watch the team at times and why there were even competitive – and the moment things start to regress even a little bit we just rake him over the coals in a public flogging?

“Well, the rest of the team follows his lead! As captain it’s his job to motivate his teammates to play better around him!”

Actually….no. That’s the coach’s job. The captain in hockey is way overblown by fans and by media to some extent, but you can’t put an entire hockey team’s performance – especially when he’s only on the ice for 1/3 of the game – on the shoulders of one singular player.

Which brings us to…

The Stars have a massive issue with scoring depth on the NHL roster and in the system.

This has been building for a while, and this is why this whole narrative of “if only they were playing better” sounds so damn idiotic.

The Stars had good depth for a while there. Then players got older, and left. Nill tried and failed to find cheaper veterans to plug those holes or overpaid the wrong veterans to fill others. Cody Eakin was replaced with Martin Hanzal; we know how that’s turning out.

In the middle of last season, with the Stars all the way up to the 3rd in the conference, it was clear that the Stars needed help with scoring depth. Instead the team started to struggle and Jim Nill chose to do nothing at the trade deadline, and the Stars suffered one of the worst regular season collapses in Dallas sports history.

Then Nill shot for the moon with Tavares and Karlsson over the summer, but apparently had not much of a backup plan or intention at truly chasing other names that could really help the team. It was frustrating as hell to keep hearing about these insane attempts at getting the very best in the NHL, yet hear almost nothing about adding anything else of substance.

Well, the Stars added Blake Comeau. That was something. It was like all of their energy was in making these huge splash moves, but no energy for anything else.

Perhaps those ventures were also being pushed by ownership.

After all, knowing what we know now, having one of those two names on board sure would make selling the Winter Classic in Dallas that much easier. Right?

But why such an issue with depth, aside from some questionable free agency signings?

Jim Nill has become too conservative.

First off – kudos for not trading Miro Heiskanen.

Yet suddenly Nill has grown afraid to part with prospects or draft picks, holding on to these assets as if they were absolutely vital to the future of the franchise. Since 2016, Nill’s only significant trades are for Marc Methot and maybe the trade for Reece Scarlett. The Stars GM will mention how valuable draft pick assets are and how important it is that teams build from within.

Maybe it has to do with now these are his prospects that he’s drafted, and he’s not playing with inherited assets. Perhaps it’s a few too acquisitions not quite working out as intended, and perhaps it’s suddenly being too concerned with taking a big risk despite the high reward.

And he’s right – the teams that have the most depth in the NHL and are consistently successful are those that find players to stack their roster with through the draft. So he wants to be sure to hold on to those assets, to not part with those 1st or 2nd round picks because by darn – they are valuable to the future of a franchise.

Except…

The Stars are way too conservative with prospects and are paying the price for some really poor drafting the past ten years.

Remember that aversion to high risk? That apparently applies to the NHL draft.

The Stars for the most seem to have been following the same script for drafting for the past 15 years, with some rare exceptions sprinkled throughout. Go for high-character players, that can play good two-way hockey that may not have the highest ceiling but definitely have very safe floors.

And if that prospect is really, really big – even better. Get a lot of really, really big and raw hockey players as the risk to take because if they do get some skill – hot dang if they won’t be big and tall as hell.

Imagine how different this whole conversation would be if the Stars had just grabbed Barzal instead of Gurianov. If they had grabbed Tolvanen instead of Oettinger. Veleno or Farabee instead of Dellandrea. Or if they took any sort of chance on raw offensive talent on a player that might not fit their ideal size, but puts up a lot of numbers.

In fact, outside of Jason Robertson the Stars really have not picked any prospects the past ten years that absolutely blew anyone away with stats.

The Stars aren’t adapting to a changing NHL.

The Stars seem to be stuck drafting players for 1997, when the rest of the NHL – at least many teams that seem to want to be really exciting and successful – is embracing the speed and increased skill and scoring of the young players taking the league by storm.

Instead the Stars decide the destroy their two best players for not keeping up. “Why are you so low in scoring!?!?!?”

Well, yes – they’ve regressed a bit. A bit.

The rest of the NHL is just scoring that much more. Is that Seguin and Benn’s fault? Is it their fault the rest of the team can’t score consistently?

The Stars have grown stale in management and front office.

I’m so happy the Stars have Jim Montgomery and a new young coaching staff.

I’m so sad the Stars have basically not changed anything else about hockey operations during all this time.

…and I don’t have the energy for this exercise any longer.

************************

Here’s the reality – none of these involve easy fixes. The rest of the NHL is moving on to faster, younger, more skilled – the Stars are so lucky they won the draft lottery and were basically forced to draft Miro Heiskanen. Otherwise the prospect pool outside Jason Robertson isn’t really offering much in the way of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Maybe Nill has some trading tricks up his sleeve. Perhaps the Stars do use this as a jumping off point to come together as a team and start to improve and get into the playoffs and maybe shock a team in the first round.

Perhaps they would have done that anyway without the public shaming – what with Klingberg returning and a rookie head coach adjusting and adapting as the season moves on.

Whatever the case – the long term prognosis of this franchise is starting to look rather worrisome. We’ve been saying that for a while now, the alarms slowly getting louder and louder but see – the Stars don’t want to hear that sort of criticism.

This is exhausting.

Here’s the cold hard truth that all of this rambling boils down to: the long and short term issues with the Dallas Stars have to do with so much more than Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin that’s it’s absolute insanity to even try and suggest otherwise.

That it was the owner and the team’s CEO, who — without even talking to the players personally – decided to adorn the Dallas Stars franchise with the “fucking horseshit” moniker from now until the internet dies, makes it just infuriating.

It’s bizarre. It shows a franchise with a very real issue with self-assessment and an organization that is abhorrent to any criticism but apparently wants the media to burn their two best players at the stake daily until morale improves on and off the ice.

It’s infuriating. It’s embarrassing.

I hate that this is why the Stars are being talked about, and I hate how this was apparently consciously timed with the announcement of the Winter Classic. I don’t know what they were thinking with that timing – or if they were even thinking at all in that regard – but it only adds to the bafflement over what this was all supposed to accomplish.

The Stars were already on the upswing when this happened. Seguin will start scoring more. Benn is who he is at this point.

Take a look at the collective mirror and admit your own mistakes first. Address those – do all you absolutely can, without question, to build a winning hockey team. Then perhaps you have the capital to go after your most-loved players.

“Fucking horseshit.”

It’s sad. It’s shameful.

I hope I never have to write anything even close to resembling this again.

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11/13/2018 – Sean Shapiro writes the definitive history of the Mooterus

Sean Shapiro has written the definitive two page history of the Mooterus. He wrote some other stuff in 100 Things Stars Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die so you should pick it up.

Book1

But let’s stay Aggressively On Brand here. There have been literally dozens of us screaming for this for many years. Sean deserves credit for giving The People what they need.

Through meticulous research Sean points out that the Stars went 13-7-3 wearing the Mooterus, almost certainly their best winning percentage with any jersey. He quotes Jim Lites as saying the jersey is “a fusion of Texas icons and the spirit of the Dallas Stars” which is a simply amazing quote in retrospect.

What are these icons? Space? A bull? Women’s reproductive rights? It’s simply a fascinating observation on his part given the niche the jersey would take as an out of scale model of a woman’sMar body detailed enough to be used in OBGYN schools across the land.

Marty Turco, pictured below from the Stars recent Mooterus video, is quoted as being a fan.

Turco
“It’s styish. It has a western feel,” said Turco. Indeed. He may regret that quote now, but Tom Hicks, the former owner who drove both the Stars and Texas Rangers into bankruptcy displayed his marketing acumen when he stated “good riddance” that the jersey was gone. The Stars, as it turns out, made $400,000 dollars on jersey sales.

What makes the book worth your money is this level of detail about things which might otherwise not matter outside of the context of a book specifically about the Stars. There are many of us who do want those details and are amused by facts like the fact that no one will claim to be the designer of the Mooterus.

There are chapters about Mike Modano’s stretcher being dropped, Fabian Brunnstrom, Patrik Stefan missing the empty netter, and, of course, Pantera. A chapter dedicated to a three to five day party at Vinnie Paul’s house where players got so drunk that they showed up to the parade attempting to sober up after damaging the Stanley Cup is very much written to my interests.

Which is part of the beauty of how Sean put the book together. There are sections anyone will find interesting if they are very familiar with the team. The book overall is a wonderful introduction to the history of the franchise for anyone who doesn’t have the knowledge base in place already. Even the “well educated”, for lack of a better term, will find many piece of information they never knew.

Go buy it. Learn about the Mooterus. It’s good.

8/4/18 – Bogorad Takes Over the Mic

It’s easy to overthink things when an obvious solution is right in front of you. Overthinking things rarely turns out well. The Dallas Stars decided to take the obvious solution to the broadcast booth that was staring them right in the face by announcing that Josh Bogorad will take over as the play by play man starting with the 2019 season.

I think the tendency is to think that the obvious solution is the safe choice. Maybe it is sometimes? That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice. Bogorad is knowledgeable, has always done a great job in any broadcasting role the Stars have asked him to fill, and strikes the perfect tone that the broadcasts have been lacking since Dave Strader had to take a medical leave of absence prior to his untimely passing.

Obvious, in this case, is a perfect fit.

During the 2016 training camp in Austin I headed out to what was then Cedar Park Center for the weekend to check out some practices and the scrimmage. For the scrimmage I sat in the press box. As one would expect I was at the far end of the press box near the broadcasting equipment.

I had already watched John Klingberg legitimately skip down the hall to the dressing room in skates, and almost tripped Antoine Roussel prior to sitting at the far end of the press box. I don’t know if the events are related, but I assume they aren’t. Seated right next to me was Bogorad and to his right was Texas Stars broadcaster Brian Rea who were going to broadcast the game I assume for dallasstars.com

Sitting next to them as they called the game was the most entertaining experience I had that weekend. Have you ever tried to sync a radio broadcast up with the TV, or tried to listen to the play by play while in the stadium on a radio? This was like that, but it felt like they were broadcasting the game to me since I was sitting right beside them.

I can’t tell you how many times I almost replied to something they said. What impressed me the most was how effortless Bogorad made what had to be a somewhat chaotic presentation seem. The scrimmages have players randomly on different teams, some of whom are AHL lifers he has barely ever seen. I think that was the year the jerseys didn’t have names on them either. There were no commercial breaks, just period breaks.

When there was a break in the action Josh would just talk like he was completely comfortable in his surroundings, like what he was doing was completely normal while being the nicest guy with whom you could hope to interact. I’m happy for that guy. He’s going to do a great job for as long as he wants the gig.

That same year I rode in the media elevator with Craig Ludwig. I feel like it’s relevant to this story, but I don’t know how else to tie it in.

I didn’t think this would happen because you always heard that Daryl Reaugh wanted to do play by play. Former players rarely seem to take to play by play, and Razor had his ups and downs. I imagine this transition wasn’t easy for him to accept. The broadcast is better for him accepting it though because he is easily the best color commentator in the business. His experience should help easy Bogorad into the chair full time.

Good for the powers that be for making the right decision. Now find a way to get Julie Dobbs back into the fold and call it an offseason.

 

7/25/18 – I Love Brisket

I love brisket. Well done pork ribs and turkey are fantastic, but if I go get barbecue the brisket needs to be top notch. Smoked meats are a labor of love. A quality packer brisket cooked appropriately will take about 90 minutes per pound, and these suckers can be 15 pounds. A cook has to love doing it to do it, and do it well.

That labor of love is a big part of the appeal brisket has to me. The first brisket I ever cooked was for my ex-wife’s birthday seven years ago.
Brisket1

It was a piece of shit! Look at all that unrendered fat in there. I didn’t cook it for nearly long enough. I didn’t crutch it to make it cook faster. All those crumbs lying around aren’t a good sign either. It wasn’t good. I had no real idea what I was doing, but I did my best. It was still delicious.

The craft of brisket has appealed to me for years. Listening to people talk about their barbecue process fascinates me to no end. I’ve watched Aaron Franklin’s Austin PBS show detailing the steps he takes to make the world’s perfect brisket at least four times.

I think “process” in general might be what I’m attracted to. I remember when the Rangers traded for Jonathan Lucroy then being enthralled with listening to him talk the nuts and bolts of the game, or listening to Ken Hitchcock or Jim Montgomery do it.

I don’t think I’ve ever really written about barbecue or the process behind barbecue before despite being in love with it. I got silly enough that I even made a Google Map go track the places I’ve been starting a few years back.

BBQMap

What makes good brisket? That’s up for debate I suppose, but I always look for a good solid bark, nice smokiness, and brisket that can easily be torn apart by hand with incredibly little force.

Franklin’s is the best, though there are many really good briskets in Texas.

Franklin

Nothing really compares to it though. Pecan Lodge in Dallas is great. Willow’s from a trailer parked in a bar parking lot in The Heights is easily the best I’ve had in Houston proper. Reveille in Magnolia, out of a trailer that might actually be on the owner’s front yard. is top notch too.

Brisket isn’t everything. Some places have excelled at getting other meats perfected. Pinkerton’s in The Heights has immaculate ribs that come close to Franklin’s. Feges near Reliant Stadium has smoked pork belly, which I never knew I needed. My favorite non-brisket item I’ve ever had is the bacon burnt ends at Heim in Fort Worth. They may actually kill me, but I think I’m ok with that happening.

I like to think all of these places put that same level of love into their meat. You almost have to when you sit in a hot trailer serving meat or live above your restaurant (Pinkerton’s).

I love brisket. That’s all. Shrug.

7/6/18 – Erik Karlsson and Other Drugs

The Dallas Stars really did almost acquire Erik Karlsson. As of this writing he still hasn’t been traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning so honestly who knows what is going to happen. We’re essentially at the point now where the Stars were on July 3rd. There are many people who thought for sure Karlsson was headed to Dallas.

Then reports surfaced that Ottawa wasn’t satisfied with offers from multiple sources in Ottawa as sources in Dallas went mostly quiet. Now the Lightning are on the brink of acquiring him, reportedly, despite having virtually no cap space and a ton of major free agents coming up.

If Tampa Bay can pull it off then more power to them, but as long as the ask from the Stars turned into Miro Heiskanen the Stars were never acquiring Karlsson. Many of us tried to tell you. A spirited debate kicked up which is great. I took a stab at going into it here.

The debate is good. I strongly disagree with one side of it, but I can’t in good conscience tell them they are outright wrong when the position ends with “trade for Erik Karlsson”. Nothing in my conscience allows me to call the concept wrong. What did blow my mind was the number of people who replied on Twitter or Reddit to people who actually know some information with statements like “how do you know that” or some variant.

But I guess that’s the point of all of this, eh? People want information and they want it now. Instant satisfaction is king while people call for the head of Jim Nill after he made spirited efforts to acquire John Tavares and Erik Karlsson. Names. And I can tell you they aren’t done trying. Keep your heads about you and everything should be fine. If they end up not handling business I’ll be right there with you, but we’re way too early in the process to bring the pitchforks out yet.

An aggressive amount of links:

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Also if there’s anything you want to see from me at the Morning News (or here) just give me a shout.

Why Stars shouldn’t let Bobby Ryan get in the way of completing an Erik Karlsson trade

Stars have reportedly ’emerged as a front runner’ for Erik Karlsson; Senators ‘focusing’ on Miro Heiskanen in possible deal

Tyler Seguin should follow Jamie Benn, not Drew Doughty, when negotiating his new contract

Dallas Stars sign model backup goaltender in Anton Khudobin, and that’s perfectly fine

John Tavares isn’t coming to Dallas, so where do the Stars go from here?

Stars’ deal with Blake Comeau leaves room to afford John Tavares

Why the Stars saw reason to give Valeri Nichushkin another go

Stars reportedly will sign Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Roman Polak to a one year deal

Dallas Stars reach agreement with ex-Bruins goaltender Anton Khudobin

Antoine Roussel, Greg Pateryn reportedly find new homes; Dan Hamhuis, Kari Lehtonen still looking

As Stars wait for John Tavares news, backup goalies are on the radar

There’s even more, but damn. I wrote a lot of shit the past week, eh? Thanks a lot Tavares and Karlsson. For the record, this story is still pre-written in my drafts.

Karlsson

I was told to have it written because a deal was coming. They were that close.

6/22/18 – The Decline of Jamie Benn

Disclaimer: Site Update

Jamie Benn has been a great player for this franchise. Seven years remain on the contract Benn signed prior to last season at an annual cap hit of $9,500,000. He continues to produce on the point sheet, but at various times throughout the season questions did creep in about his overall game. This quote from almost-colleague Mike Heika is but a small sample of what was going on:

BennLeadership

I have no opinion about that because, really, who knows what leadership even means without being in the locker room. Heika hears things so if he says that someone is probably saying it so, I mean, whatever. The on ice production still looked good during a season that was mediocre overall playing under a defensive-minded head coach.

Going deeper into the data tracked by Corey Sznajder you could see a decline with Benn, but the same decline was there for all forwards. I put that together here, but I’ll include the image again.

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The zone entry and exit percentiles Benn fit into saw a marked drop from 2017 to 2018, but those shot contribution numbers are alarming. Offensively Benn went from being super elite to merely being good. He still fit into the same percentile based on how many shots he personally took, but his overall impact on the offense per hour of ice time was significantly smaller.

But, that’s the impact you kind of expected under Hitchcock. The same didn’t really hit Tyler Seguin, but we could write that off as Seguin really taking to the two-way role Hitchcock made him play.

SeguinA3Z

I’ve referenced the data Ryan Stimson released a week ago a few times on the Morning News website, but it’s really awesome information to be at the finger tips of a bored curious adult. It’s a lot of data. I haven’t been able to talk about it in depth on the Morning News website, but we’ll go into it more here.

I pulled screenshots of the last four years of Jamie Benn data from the release. It includes defensive, passing, and scoring information along with shot quality info. These four charts are going back in time from 2018. I’m just going to present them without comment first.

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Benn in 2017.

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Jamie Benn in 2016.

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2015 data isn’t as thorough, but 2015 Benn was undoubtedly something to behold.

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It isn’t elegant looking, but I took his year by year percentiles and threw together a quick and dirty graph of the trendlines in Excel.

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The overwhelming trend for four years has been a decline in Benn’s overall play culminating with what appeared to be a one year hit last year, but maybe isn’t.. A few areas are major red flags, including SCB%. This is the percentage of on ice shots a player contributes towards. Four years ago Benn was in the 97th percentile. Benn held steady in the 87th percentile in 2016 and 2017 before falling off a cliff in 2018 down to the 47th percentile.

This is an indicator that Benn was less involved in the offense. I still wonder how much of that has to do with playing with Alexander Radulov since Radulov is best with the puck on his stick, but whatever the reason that drop is alarming.

ixA60 has steadily dropped from a superstar 99th percentile down to the 78th percentile last season. This is assists expected based on how the puck is moving prior to a shot. The puck isn’t coming off of Benn’s stick prior to shots enough for him to have maximum impact.

In transition in 2018 Benn was a borderline useless player down in the 33rd percentile after previously being good. Trans60 is shots and shot assists off of passes from the neutral zone. If the puck isn’t on Benn’s stick he can’t make that impact.

Shot contributions are where the biggest red flags are. I pulled the percentiles per year into a pretty little table to further drive the point home.

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PSC60 is primary shot contributions per hour, so shots plus shot assists. SA60 is shot assists per hour, or passes that lead to a shot. Shots60 is shots taken per hour. Jamie Benn has fallen from clearly elite and arguably one of the top 5 offensive players in the game to merely being good with seven years left on the contract as we creep up on his 29th birthday.

If you want to call this the problem or a symptom of the problem I can’t argue against you one way or the other, but those last three rows are telling. 1T60 is shots taken off one timers per hour and iDZ60 is shots taken after a pass across the slot or from behind the net per hour. Benn went from never taking a shot off of a one timer to being one of the more frequent one time shooters in the league while simultaneously falling from taking an elite number of shots off of cross slot/behind the net passes. As Benn has progressively taken more and more one timers his expected goals (ixG60) continue to drop.

The data seems to suggest that Benn isn’t getting to the net the way he used to, and a higher and higher percentage of his shots are coming off of one timers from further out. If that’s the case that’s either a decision by Benn, a systemic issues, or an inability to get to the net as his body starts to show signs of the physical game he’s played for years.

Whatever the reason, there’s a clear trend down in Benn’s game that needs to level off so he can continue to be a difference maker for years to come.

6/17/2018 – The Texas Hockey History Center is awesome and you should go immediately

I’m writing up a visit to the soon-to-open Texas Hockey History Center for the Dallas Morning News, but it would be impossible to show off all of the neat things they have on display in a short post for the Morning News. I’ve collected all of the pictures I took here with some of the fascinating stories behind the items on display.

 

ApollosJersey

This jersey is so clean that it looks like a reproduction, but it was in fact used in a game for the Houston Apollos who, for some reason, used a missile to represent the Saturn V rocket. The goalie who used it played in exactly one game and allowed four goals before he was pulled.

AerosSticker

Even the hockey team was talking shit to the other Houston sports teams. The Houston Aeros original look was fantastic and would rank with the top modern uniforms in hockey had the NHL allowed them to join the league. They were the only WHA champion not to enter. The story of the NHL keeping the Aeros out is bullshit, and hopefully the league rectifies it soon.

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This jersey is actually the jersey of Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau from his time with the Dallas Blackhawks. The trophy is the Dallas-Fort Worth Challenge Trophy, a forerunner of the Silver Boot I suppose.

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They engraved the winners into it, but obviously due to a lack of space not the names of the players.

When you enter the center on the second floor you’re greeted with a timeline of hockey in Texas marked with engraved sticks. I. Love. This.

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The stairs leading up to the center have character too.

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Look at the wee baby Gordie Howe playing his first game in Texas in 1945.

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The first official game was played in San Antonio. Who knew?

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These two murals greet you as you walk upstairs to get into the center. I would totally buy prints if they were for sale.

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Number two.

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On the wall inside the center proper the members of the Hockey Hall of Fame who practiced their craft in Texas are enshrined. Shout out to Mark Messier of the Houston Apollos.TexasTrail.jpg

Proof that the Dallas Morning News has been covering hockey in some form since 1895.

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This is Eric Nadel’s 8 track. He made 8 copies of this. This is him covering the Fort Worth Texans’ Adams Cup championship win. The audio has been copied and will have a special section in the center. Visitors will be able to come up and hear the legendary Texas Rangers broadcaster call a championship.

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This graphic just outside the center lays out how the center is set up. It’s broken into three eras. Bonus fun fact: Texas is the only state or province to win all of those professional hockey trophies.

Trophies.jpgAnd of course, the Stars stuff is there.

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These two trophies were essentially lost before turning up in the Big Texan Steakhouse office in Amarillo.

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This Dallas Blackhawks jacket is on loan to the museum. It belonged to the late Roger Neilson.

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I’m in love with this jersey. The former affiliate of the New York Islanders made a gorgeous Texas representation of the Islanders famous logo.

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The amount of Fort Worth Fire items really hit home, and I’m going to focus on that for the Morning News so I’m just including them here for now.

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That stick triggered me.

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The center has more Aeros stuff than it knows what to do with. It’s almost like the Aeros were popular, people supported them, and they would be a successful NHL team.

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You should go as soon as it opens. There will be events out there during the draft. Make it a point to go. It’s awesome. Also click on the Morning News story when I publish it tomorrow so I can get those sweet clicks. I just wanted to share these pictures here.

6/8/18 – I think I know why I like Phil Kessel

I vividly remember all of the events that have triggered the most severe bouts of depression I’ve ever gone through.

I dealt with depression to a minor degree growing up, but the most traumatic events I dealt with as a kid didn’t hit me much until I was an adult. My parents divorce, my hospital stay, the indifference of my family to me after I left young childhood, and even the financially crippling events I dealt with as a new college graduate made little visible impact on me.

When my wife left me with very little morning at 11:30 pm on a week night late in May of 2016 I broke. I’m still broken, and honestly I know I’ll never be fixed. Every triggering event I vividly remember stems from that.

I remember her telling me then I remember going into convulsions and throwing up in the bathroom because I cried so hard every fiber of my body hurt.

I remember walking into the bedroom a few days later and seeing her looking at iTunes on this very computer listening to a song I would have never expected her to listen to. These are the lyrics:

DPlaces

They aren’t complex or even necessarily good, but they stuck with me. I think I had listened to it once or twice before that. Now? Number two.

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I remember going into HEB and losing my composure the weekend after she moved out. I went to buy shampoo, and it occurred to me that I had never purchased shampoo on my own before. I wandered around the aisle aimlessly looking. The makeup lady asked if I needed help and I told her that story for some reason.

The most recent one might be the worst, but it could be recency bias. Facebook decided I should see her latest post, a list of ten things she reminds herself. It isn’t her fault I saw it, but I read it.

KillMe

I’ve been in a very bad place since.

I saw the news about Anthony Bourdain, and I felt so bad for him. This was a man trying to do his best to cope, survive, and thrive. His passing and the responses to his passing on Twitter made an impact on me.

I see people trying to be understanding tweeting messages of support and I’m torn. They’re trying to be supportive, but I don’t think many know what it’s like to truly battle depression. The equating of being sad with the overwhelming feelings of depression is tough to read. Many times battling depression isn’t even a battle. Often, at least in my case, I simply don’t give a shit.

I know for myself that I do try my best, even if most of the time it isn’t close to good enough. When I see Phil Kessel I see a man doing his best to function in a culture not made for his personality. I see a cancer survivor putting points on the board while coaches have dick measuring contests with him despite the fact that he’s going to win the battle every time.

Phil isn’t right every time. He does things to ruffle feathers, but he’s doing his best. His best results in high quality production. I see a man fighting off bullshit to live to the best of his abilities in a culture where sexual predators and racists keep getting promotions and raises.

I think I like Phil Kessel for being himself despite everything. I probably always will.

6/3/18 – Dragging Steve Ott

I thought this might happen, but then it occured to me that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. I like Steve Ott, even if he wasn’t particularly good. He’s been retired for a year now. Why do that to him? You can probably search through the archives I’m putting together if you really want to find that info.

No, I wanted to say something about the state of this website. I’ve been asked to write things for Sports Day DFW, the Dallas Morning News’ online wing. It will inevitably make an impact on this place. Mooterati isn’t going anywhere though.

The reality is I’m going to make just as much money from the Morning News as I am from here, but the Morning News gives the prospect of a more immediate wider audience. I don’t expect them to be into me for the long haul either way, so for now I’m going to put my best foot forward and try to give the most interesting coverage of the Stars I can there. Maybe something good will come of it.

I appreciate the Pateron contributions. I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking the WordPress Business package is a guaranteed item at this point. I don’t really know. If you would like any money you’ve contributed back let me know and I will make every effort to get it back to you. Otherwise I’ll plan on sending all of it to the Dallas Stars Foundation down the road.

With all of that being said, here’s a roundup of everything I posted for the Morning News this week with headlines I would have prefered:

Bird Dogging Phil Kessel

Miro Heiskanen is Jesus Christ in the flesh

Seriously though, he’s really good.

Recap of game one of the Calder Cup Final

Brooks Orpik stole Craig Ludwig’s bit

Subversively sneaking in Fancy Stats into the MSM

 

 

 

5/21/18 – Finding Offense Within: Valeri Nichushkin

The Dallas Stars need to find some of that sweet offense for 2019. They’re going to have to look under every rock and put on the heavy gloves to dig in every dirty couch they come across looking for spare offensive change. Today we dive into the Soviet Couch and look at old friend Valeri Nichushkin.

The first draft pick of Jim Nill as the Stars General Manager is only two months past his 23rd birthday. He’s coming back from Russia for the 2019 season so he should provide some offense down the lineup. How much he’s going to provide is where the problem comes in.

Val came out of the gates with 34 points as a rookie in 2014 before missing virtually all of 2015 due to injury. In 2016 he had another 29 points. Over his last 86 games in the KHL Nichushkin has 51 points which translates to roughly 30 points in the NHL.

Any number of reasons for this low total can be justified if you are so inclined, but I’m not. If you can score, you can score in the KHL. Ilya Kovalchuk has 285 points in 262 games the last five seasons. Pavel Datsyuk has 69 in 81 over the last two years.

And they’re old.

So if you’re looking for Nichushkin to come back and be a dynamic offensive player you’re probably barking up the wrong tree. He always looks dynamic though which is where the expectations and frustration come from. Look at him dice up the KHL before setting up a tap in goal.

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Nichushkin has some slick hands. He can stickhandle, he can bulldoze his way to the net, and everything he does looks smooth. The slickness masks a lot of warts. Nichushkin looks the part of a dominant offensive forward, but mostly plays the game of a power forward with limited finishing ability.

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Razor pointed this out with Nichushkin early on and I’ve never been able to shake it. Val can’t elevate the puck. This is purely anecdotal, but it seems like almost every one of his goals is nearly flat on the ice or a deflection. He can’t, or at least hasn’t been able to, shoot.

As a rookie Nichushkin produced at the rate of a third liner at even strength with third line minutes. The images are from hockeyviz.com.

Val1

After a lost season Val came back for the 2016 season and took a step back to perform at the level of a fourth liner. He was beyond useless on the powerplay in both seasons.

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I pulled a bunch of data from Corsica to further illustrate the point.

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I took the even strength data collected for Nichushkin’s two full seasons. 21 forwards got into more than ten games in those two seasons. If you rolled 12 forwards to fill out a lineup from those two years Nichushkin might make the lineup.

Val5.

Maybe.

Those are his rankings in all of the aforementioned stats among the group of forwards.

I ran this poll for a reason.

There likely isn’t much difference production wise between Antoine Roussel and Nichushkin. The difference is in perceived potential or banking on youth. I would bank on youth too if the options are basically split though, honestly, spending legitimate money on either player is probably foolish.

I’m falling into the trap of focusing on what he can’t do. What can Nichushkin do that can help the Stars depth scoring issue? He can crash the hell out of the net and set up his linemates. Nichushkin needs to be on the ice with guys who can follow him to the net and accept passes from him in prime scoring areas. He’s best when the puck is on his stick. Let him have it.

The problem is he’s going to have to earn time with the guys who can do that, and the Stars don’t have many of them. Nichushkin isn’t taking Alexander Radulov‘s place in the lineup, but speaking of Radulov, that’s who Nichushkin needs to study endlessly.

At his absolute best that is who Nichushkin should strive to be: a big playmaking winger with some sand paper. At his worst Nichushkin is a bottom six forward who will drive the play to the other end of the rink which is absolutely valuable. You need guys like that to be successful. You just don’t want to pay them a ton of money when they are apparently relatively easy to acquire (hi Vegas).