The front office of any NHL franchise can make or break a team. They are tasked with acquiring a group of athletes with the ultimate goal of taking home Lord Stanley’s Cup each season. A front office makes the necessary moves for the better of the team whether it be for financial gain or not.
In no way would a front office publicly insult their two biggest pieces, right?
Unfortunately for Dallas Stars fans, that was just the case Dec. 28, 2018, as Stars CEO Jim Lites publicly bashed Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. “They are f—— horses—, I don’t know how else to put it,” Lites said. “The team was OK. But Seguin and Benn were terrible.” (from ‘Stars ownership, management go on expletive-laden tirade,’ The Athletic, 12/28/2018).
It doesn’t make a difference, but these comments came after a win against the Nashville Predators. At the time, the Stars sat in fourth in the Western Conference. This was also just days before NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the 2020 Winter Classic was to be held in Dallas. Bettman made an NHL-friendly comment about the situation while the NHLPA had a more stern reply.
“The comments Jim Lites made regarding Tyler and Jamie are both reckless and insulting,” the NHLPA said in a statement. “If players directed such comments towards management, how would those be regarded? To say that Jim Lites’ conduct is unprofessional would be a gross understatement. In professional sports, all individual players and teams go through highs and lows, but this is not how professionals handle adversity.”
Seguin and Benn’s Response
“Jamie and I hear the message,” Seguin said. “I think the whole team hears it. We know that we have to play better and we understand that.”
“I don’t play for him,” Benn said. “I play for every player in this room [and] the coaching staff. I come to the rink and, like I said, I am proud to be a Dallas Star and I am proud to go out every night and battle with these guys.”
The next night the Stars answered in a big way, defeating the Red Wings 5-1 in Detroit.
Nill, the Stars Whisperer
The key to keeping this team together lied in another Jim. The team’s general manager (GM), Jim Nill. Nill acted like the calming and wise grandfather that told you everything would blow over and be just fine. He strolled into the trade deadline and made casual acquisitions of blueliners Ben Lovejoy and Jamie Oleksiak, but the real splash came days later.
The usually soft-spoken GM made a screaming declaration that the Stars were serious in trading multiple draft picks to the New York Rangers for Mats Zuccarello. Nill calmed the Lites storm by creating another storm on his own. That storm would see the Stars take the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues to a double-overtime Game 7.
Did Lites’ Comments Work?
The question that must be answered. When you do the math, the Stars’ record after the comments was 23-16-4. Meaning they would go on to have the same amount of losses post controversy. What about Benn and Seguin?
Seguin went on to lead the team with 80 points (33 goals, 47 assists). Benn was third in points with 53 points (27 goals, 26 assists), trailing Alexander Radulov in second.
Statistically, it’s difficult to say. I think the best implication is the free-agent signings this summer.
Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry, and Andrej Sekera all signed with Dallas after July 1. While Perry and Sekera may not have been the proverbial big fish in free agency, Pavelski had other suitors. The former Sharks captain fielded offers from San Jose and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Even after the comments, free agents still saw a viable front office group.
It’s hard to sit behind a laptop and tell you that the comments Lites made on that fateful December night caused the postseason surge. But it seems that the storm has calmed in Dallas and the Stars are ready to make a run for the Cup.