DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 21: Owner, Tom Gaglardi of the Dallas Stars with Jim Lites and Joe Nieuwendyk at American Airlines Center on November 21, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
[Editor's note: You can listen to full audio of the post here, courtesy of the Dallas Stars.]
Dallas Stars owner Tom Gaglardi -- isn't it great just to say that - jumped on the post-game show with Bob Sturm after last night's loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It's been just about six weeks since the sale to Tom Gaglardi was finalized and Jim Lites was named the team's President and CEO and already we're starting to see a change in the atmosphere of the fanbase and the team, especially as we start to look to the future.
The first major change was the big drop in ticket prices just before the holidays, especially significant considering that the Stars already had the cheapest tickets in the NHL. With the Stars focused on getting the AAC filled up again, it's obvious that Lites and Gaglardi felt that lowering prices and maintaining at least some value -- instead of giving them away -- was the best route to bringing more fans to home games and in turn building the season ticket holder base back up.
While there's certainly a long road ahead to get the fan base built completely back up, it's been good to see the AAC not only having more and more fans each night -- but having a sense of hope about the future and what's to come.
We're starting to get a good sense of just who Tom Gaglardi is, who is already becoming known for his trademarked ruffled shirts and dark sports coat. He's got an energetic personality and smile and while he's one of the wealthiest individuals around, he is as personable and low key as they come.
After the purchase of the team was complete, Gaglardi appeared on nearly every radio show and television station in the area -- talking about how excited he was to have the sale complete and how he's dedicated to building this team into a winning franchise. What we didn't know at the time is just what sort of owner Gaglardi would actually be, along with CEO Jim Lites, and after going through the mess that Tom Hicks created it's understandable that fans have been wary about what's to come.
On Tuesday night, talking to Bob Sturm of The Ticket, Gaglardi helped to explain just what sort of direction he sees for this franchise moving forward. In case you missed it, and I'm assuming most fans did, it was exactly the sort of interview that this fanbase needed in order to get a good feeling for just how Gaglardi will be as an owner -- and it's a great thing.
"I know there's a passionate group of people that follow the Dallas Stars and we've alienated a bunch of those people over the years," Gaglardi said in the interview. "Already since the ownership change and we've announced the ticket price changes our attendance is up over 5,000 per game. That's remarkable. We're certainly ahead of where I thought we'd be. I just think the market is responding well to the story here."
The biggest worry for fans as we approached the completion of the sale was that the Stars would maintain a rock-bottom payroll, especially after it was made public just what sort of financial difficulties had beset this franchise the past few years. Without a big television contract, Chuck Greenberg found it impossible to make a big on the team because of the amount of losses he'd be facing the next few seasons.
Tom Hicks, on his way out the door, slammed the business model of the NHL and said the Stars would never make money if they don't maintain an incredibly low payroll. With the Stars struggling to fill the seats and having missed the postseason for three straight seasons, it's understandable that fans were concerned about a new owner keeping the payroll low as he tried to absorb the big losses the team was facing this season.
Tom Gaglardi says not to worry.
Stating that he makes his money elsewhere and that he purchased the Stars because he wanted to win, Gaglardi made it known that the Dallas Stars will not be a bottom barrel team and they certainly won't have the lowest payroll in the NHL for much longer.
"We know we need to get better, I've said it since the day I got here that I don't see the Dallas Stars are being a floor payroll team," Gaglardi said, when asked about the possibility of adding payroll to the team. "I think we need to be at least in the middle of the pack and then grow out of that as we continue to evolve as a team. The flexibility is there to do it but it has to be a fit, it has to be a fit with who we are and our identity and the type of players we have and the chemistry we have in the room.
"It's going to be challenging to add guys and it's tougher and tougher to do things with the trade deadline. If the opportunity is there and Joe feels strongly about it, then we'll pull the trigger."
Gaglardi is focused on not only turning this franchise around on the business side but also knows the Stars need to start winning again consistently and making the postseason, especially if they want to rebuild the fanbase. Making the playoffs is paramount to getting the AAC rocking again and while fans are certainly encouraged by the stability brought by the new ownership -- the best way to turn things around again is to win.
Gaglardi has made it known that while he believes in building through the draft and knows just how important system depth is, he also knows the Stars are going to have to spend money to add talent to this team. It's a luxury that Joe Nieuwendyk has yet to have as the general manager of the team and it's unknown just how good a job he'll do if given more money to work with. Yet the prospect of actually having the ability to add to the team is enough to make any fan instantly start to remember just how good this team was not too long ago.
There is a fine line to walk, however, when talking about adding payroll to the team. The Stars got into trouble a few years back because of overspending and signing aging, veteran players who did little for the long-term stability of the team.
Right after making a promise that the Stars won't be a rock-bottom payroll team for much longer, Gaglardi emphasized that the Stars aren't in the business of "short term fixes or buying players" stating that "the time has passed" when the Stars were such a franchise. While Gaglardi knows that this team needs an infusion of talent -- and he stated they're in the process of seriously evaluating which players are part of the long-term plans -- he made it known that just throwing money at the roster doesn't exactly lead to success.
"I know the type of team...I understand where Joe is going," said Gaglardi. "Joe is adamant that he likes this group. When we play the way we're capable of playing we can beat anybody, we've proven that. I think right now it's a search for consistency.
"The general feeling is we really believe in this group, there are some guys we have our eyes on. Whether that happens in free agency or before, I think it's going to be interesting to see what the prices are for some guys. There's a little tinkering that might be available to us although it's a little to early to say as we don't know what the prices are. The problem and the challenge in the NHL right now is we really only have three teams out of the playoffs."
This is a perfect example of just how smart Gaglardi is, not as a businessman, but as a sports owner. Tom Hicks had an open checkbook for the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars and it did little for the actual success of those teams. Gaglardi has seen how there is no guarantee that overspending on a roster will lead to winning and he's also seen how building primarily through the draft isn't exactly a recipe for success either, as he pointed directly to the Edmonton Oilers as an example.
Instead, he understands there's a balance in how to build a team and that each move is risky and must be approached as smartly as possible.
Gaglardi won't be as hands on as an owner as Jerry Jones or Mark Cuban, but he's so much more than Tom Hicks ever hoped to be. Gaglardi is a hockey fan first and foremost and it shows whenever he talks publicly about the team. Having an owner that not only understands the business of hockey but also how the sport actually works is beyond valuable, and having Jim Lites rebuilding the business side is an incredible asset as well.
It's obvious that Gaglardi didn't buy the Stars to make a profit and he's a fan just like everyone else. He says "we" when talking about the team and the fans and he's quickly becoming the exact sort of owner this team and this fanbase has needed for a long time now.
There are many, many obstacles ahead in order to get the Stars back where they deserve to be. The good news is that the first -- getting an owner who is passionate about the team and the sport -- is already taken care of.