Ever since news broke that Mike Modano was being courted by the Detroit Red Wings, I knew this day would come. The situation was too perfect for Modano, to be able to spend one last year playing hockey in his hometown. Sure, he wanted to wait until August to make his decision, but as soon as I heard him say he knew how Brett Favre felt I knew he'd be back in 2010.
Unfortunately it just won't be with the Dallas Stars.
All summer long, we've engaged in debate over the merits of Joe Nieuwendyk as the general manager of the Dallas Stars. Before the news that the Stars would be moving on with Modano, there was already a rage building against Nieuwendyk -- one that seemed predicated on the apparent lack of a plan or vision for building the Stars and the inability to move them forward and improve the team. After Nieuwendyk's announcement that the Stars would not be offering Modano a contract, that growing sentiment instantly turned into outright rage.
The Stars were going to let the best player in the history of the franchise walk away and for that alone Nieuwendyk deserves to be fired. Of course, many of you have many other reasons but this certainly seemed to be the straw on the proverbial camel's back.
Personally, I'm a bit perplexed at the vehemence shown toward Nieuwendyk and the impatience I'm seeing amongst Stars fans. I've said several times (and it's in my signature) that I'm one of Joe Nieuwendyk's last remaining supporters and it seems that is ringing more true today than ever before.
I am not a blind follower, however. I don't believe every move Nieuwendyk makes is the right one. I don't agree with his decision to not draft any defensemen last year, I don't think the Stephane Robidas contract was exceptionally smart, I certainly didn't agree with the Krys Barch contract and while I love Jack Campbell's abilities and potential I still winced at passing up Cam Fowler this past summer. Yet I also believe that Nieuwendyk deserves more than a year and more than a pair of handcuffs on his budget before I truly lay judgement.
This summer has been perhaps the hardest summer for Stars fans to get through, and it's something I warned about last fall. I knew this was coming, perhaps didn't know it would be this bad, but with the impending sale, the imminent departure of Modano, Lehtinen and like Turco and the small budget I could just feel that there would be rough times ahead.
Well, here we are. It seems we're on the verge of full fledged revolt.
I'm not here to say that those who feel ill against Joe Nieuwendyk are wrong, nor that their point of view is "dumb" just because it's contrary to mine. If those that are rallying against Nieuwendyk have a logical and legitimate reason for their discontent, them I'm more than happy to debate and argue the merits of each side. Last night I was enjoying one such debate with two regular readers.
Still, after thinking things through today and hearing/reading reaction to the Modano news -- especially after the Marty Turco news -- I felt I needed to address certain key points as it relates to Nieuwendyk and the Stars. I'm not here to tell you that my opinion is the only right one, but I do believe that I'm doing as good a job as possible at keeping my emotions away from my thinking in all this.
Follow the jump.
The decision to let Marty Turco go via free agency, and move forward with Kari Lehtonen in goal.
As soon as the Dallas Stars traded for Kari Lehtonen, this was the writing on the wall. Sure, the Stars wanted to wait and see how Lehtonen would play once healthy but it was apparent since February that Marty Turco would not be returning to the Dallas Stars next season.
Since the beginning of the season, Stars fans knew there was a good chance Turco would be gone and immediately speculation began to spread over what sort of return the Stars could get via trade for Turco. If the Stars lost Turco to free agency and didn't get anything in return, then that would be a failure on the Stars part.
Not only did the Stars not trade Turco, but they traded away the team's top prospect in order to acquire his replacement in Kari Lehtonen. What's even more frustrating was that in the end, Turco signed in Chicago for half of what Lehtonen will be making next season. When part of the reason for moving on was that Turco's asking price would be too high for the Stars, the final figures are very tough for Stars fans to take.
Except, like the other issues I'll cover, this wasn't just about the finances.
First of all, Turco was not going to settle for $1.35 million to stay in Dallas. Not going to happen. Second of all, it took an incredible set of circumstances for Turco to finally sign as a free agent in Chicago -- and his contract was one of the relatively expensive contracts handed out to goaltenders this summer.
The Stars did attempt to trade Turco; there just wasn't a market for a 34-year old goaltender making his salary. The times of the expensive, superstar free agent netminder appear to be over and what happened this summer with Turco and Evgeni Nabokov is a perfect example of what's happening in the NHL right now. Turco turned down a lucrative offer from the Flyers, a multi-year deal, thinking he'd get more on the open market. He was way, way wrong.
Looking back on all this, it was obvious that the Stars weren't going to get anything for Turco via trade nor would they be able to keep him. Judging by what he's said this summer, it also seems that Turco was ready to leave anyways. Whether you like it or not, Turco just isn't the sort of goaltender who can carry a mediocre hockey team on his back. For all the good he's done, for all the wins and for all the great play -- he proved these past two years he's just not that kind of goaltender.
Kari Lehtonen is. That's what the Stars are gambling on, that Lehtonen can take his level of play to the next level, carry this team and hopefully steal some wins for a team that is going to be clawing it's way towards a playoff spot this season.
More on that later.
The decision to not offer Mike Modano a contract and to let him walk, should he choose to keep playing.
This is the tough one, and I've heard it all.
The Dallas Stars should have offered Modano a contract, for whatever he wanted, just because "he's Modano".
The Stars were wrong to not let Modano finish his career in Dallas, and should have done anything possible to get him to stay.
The Dallas Stars basically "ran Modano out of town".
The way Joe Nieuwendyk handled the release of Modano was "classless".
For all of these above, Joe Nieuwendyk should be fired. That Mike Modano would go on and sign with the hated Detroit Red Wings just made things even worse.
For me, I have to look at this logically. So I'll break it down.
Mike Modano is 40 years old and has not been an above average player for over two years. Because, from time to time, he still flashes his signature speed and his incredible slap shot we like to pretend that he's still the Mike Modano we'd all come to love. That is not reality.
Reality is that Modano, while still relatively healthy, was a shell of his former self last season. He has a string of great games in the beginning of the season, then completely disappeared for just about the rest of it. In 59 games he had 14 goals and 30 points, after scoring just 15 goals in 2008-2009.
If the Dallas Stars were going to be fighting for a Pacific Division title next season, I have to think the Stars would have strongly considered asking Modano to return. If the Dallas Stars were expected to be Western Conference contenders, there's a strong chance Modano returns.
As it is, the Stars are trying to move forward and rebuild a bit on the fly with younger players. The Stars aren't likely to be contending for anything but 8th place next season, and having Modano on the team and slowing the progress and development of several young players on the roster is not anywhere near good for the long-term future of the Stars.
If the Stars kept Modano next season, he wouldn't have taken six to eight minutes per game on the fourth line, with limited time on the power play. He was already upset with the limited minutes he had last season on the third line. Forget the finances of the situation -- there was nothing that Modano could bring to the Stars next season that Jamie Benn or Tom Wandell couldn't provide themselves.
I take it back. There is one thing. Mike Modano would continue to be the face of the franchise, the aging superstar who reminds fans of the glory we all enjoyed over a decade ago. To some, that matter more than the development of players the Stars will be relying on in three years.
Let's be realistic here, Mike Modano is very likely not going to play hockey after this season. This is his swan song, supposedly. Would having Modano return for one more season, a lost season where he effectively blocks the continuing growth of young players, be worth it? Not at all.
Joe Nieuwendyk has a plan. I hope.
Fans get lost in the nostalgia, and unfortunately at times forget to see the big picture.
Joe Nieuwendyk inherited an aging, overpaid team last summer. Since then, he's had the very difficult task of turning the Stars into a younger, faster and more skilled roster that resembles the vision he has for the team he wants to build around. For too long, the Stars have used veteran free agents and older players to plug the holes while attempting to maintain the same nucleus of the defensive system under Dave Tippett.
Nieuwendyk wants faster, more aggressive. He also wants a team that is younger and built for the future. It always seemed like the Dallas Stars were banking on winning here and now, gambling on the current season.
We are now feeling those effects.
Nieuwendyk isn't putting the team into complete rebuild mode, but he is making the very hard decisions of moving on from the older veterans that don't have a future in his system. It would be nice if he had the money to be able to make moves that also improve the team now, but to me it seems he's gearing up for the future as well.
He wants his young players to gain experience and to development and realize their potential. This season may not look too promising, but a key trade or a key free agency acquisition (once the budgetary restrictions are lifted) could be the key to setting the Stars back on the path towards the top.
Imagine a team with James Neal, Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Tom Wandell and Steve Ott that is more experienced and more dangerous, that Nieuwendyk has placed select skilled, veteran defensemen and several young and skilled forwards. In front of a revitalized Lehtonen, that team could be dangerous.
I know that fans are angry now. I know that fans are upset that Modano will be in Detroit this season, and are likely upset over how his release was handled. Looking down the road, it's easy to see why this was the right decision to be made.
I never wanted to see Modano play for another team, ever. It pains me to know he'll be wearing red next season. Yet I can't allow those emotions to cloud my judgment on what the future might have in store.