It's a busy time for Dallas Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. His team is looking to bounce back on the ice after a tough weekend, he should be working for a new boss by week's end as the Stars ownership saga appears to be heading for an official end within a week, he has to keep track of Sean Avery's complicated cap situation hourly, and oh yeah... He's being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame tonight along with former teammate Ed Belfour.
They'll join Brett Hull (already in), Mike Modano (will be soon enough), and players like Sergei Zubov and Jere Lehtinen (who may not get in ultimately but are of the same quality) in underlining the special qualities and talents the Dallas Stars possessed in the late nineties and early aughts. As fans we may not have known it at the time or appreciated it as much as should have, but those teams were built on the backs of not one or two, but many hall of fame players.
Tonight's ceremony serves as a reminder of that, an opportunity to reflect fondly and be thankful, and also an interesting back drop for a time of transition in this organization as it attempts to maneuver itself back to where these men took it and kept it for years.
Mark Howe and Doug Gilmour round out this years class. Belfour brings with him his 1999 Cup, 484 regular season wins (3rd all time), 88 playoff wins (4th all time), and a career GAA of 2.50 and a save percentage of .906. Joe Nieuwendyk, of course, brings a Calder Trophy, 1,126 points in 1,257 games, the 1999 Conn Smythe trophy, and three Stanley Cups with three different teams, which is certainly no coincidence.
The proceedings will be carried on NHL Network tonight starting at 6:30pm CST.
Continued after the jump...
The two enter, in our eyes, as a pair of Dallas Stars and a part of this city's sports history that will never be forgotten, and yet their off-ice personas couldn't have been more different.
They call one "crazy," and the other doesn't appear to have a crazy bone in his body. His former coach Terry Crisp told NHL.com that he might not have many humorous bones in his body even, at least not when it's time to work.
"Whenever you talked to him, whether it was at a practice, in your office, or just off-handed, he was always on top of what he was doing," Crisp told NHL.com. "You never saw Joe being frivolous. He had a good sense of humor, but he was always focused. You just knew Nieuwy was on the ball. He always had it together."
Then there is Ed Belfour, who hasn't received the same love that Nieuwendyk has from us leading up to this day, so let's talk about him.
One need only look at the picture attached to this post to get Eddie The Eagle in a nutshell. There's Joe Nieuwendyk in a suit and tie. There's Doug Gilmour in a suit and tie. There's Mark Howe in a suit and tie, and then there's Eddie...in jeans. "Slightly off", "eccentric, "a bit of a character"; He's been described in many such ways over the years and no matter how much he fought the media or how much trouble he got in off the ice (famously offering a police officer a billion dollars once, allegedly, for his release), he was focused on one thing and one thing only: Winning hockey games. That's what got him to tonight's ceremony.
Both were defined by winning. Belfour's individual performances and numbers were staggering at times. He sits third all time in regular season wins with 484, but for me it's the battles with other legendary keepers in the post-season that resonate. A quick look at the all-time NHL leaders in wins reminds you instantly of who he battled: Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Grant Fuhr, Chris Osgood, Dominik Hasek...He distinguished himself against those men (while wearing a Stars uniform, btw) in what now looks like a golden age of netminding, and that's as big of a reason as any he's being honored tonight.
As deserving as Joe Nieuwendyk AND Ed Belfour were of Conn Smythe consideration in the cup run of 1999 (in the moments leading to the announcement some thought Belfour could get it), Ken Hitchcock thinks Belfour in particular was even better the next year; A year Hitch recently called (at the Alumni season ticket holder game) more impressive when he looks back because of how hard it is to go that far two years in a row.
"I've never seen a person so oblivious to what's going on," Hitch recently told the Toronto Star. "If you ever want to see goaltending alone win a playoffs, look at us in 2000. Eddie won two series all by himself...our team had nothing left, we were banged up and just done."
"As good as he was in the Cup year (1999), he was better the next year in the finals," continued Hitchcock. "Just check out the shot totals against New Jersey - we'd have something like 18 or 19 a night, and they were always over 40. We had no business being there but for him." [Toronto Star]
As engraved in Stars lore as these two men are, fans in Dallas often forget the ties they have with so many other franchises. Ed Belfour spent just five seasons with the Dallas Stars and thirteen more spread amongst the Blackhawks, Maple Leafs, Sharks, and Florida Panthers. Joe Nieuwendyk spent fourteen years outside of Dallas with the Calgary Flames, the Devils, the Leafs and the Panthers. To a great many people he will be remembered as a Calgary Flame, winning a Stanley Cup there in 1989 and the Calder Trophy the year before. Ed Belfour will be a Chicago Blackhawk to many after playing his first seven seasons in the red and black.
They belong to everyone, and hockey players don't go into the hall of fame as a "INSERT TEAM NAME HERE" like other sports, but Stars fans can't be blamed in believing that both were in their prime with the Star on their chests.
Tonight we celebrate them and their contributions to this franchise, helping to build it into one of the most respected in the league for an extended period of time. Joe Nieuwendyk continues those efforts even today in the front office, hoping to return it to it's former glory, but his accomplishments on the ice stand alone, and very tall.