"Root for the laundry," it's often said of professional sports. Players come and go, but your favorite team (well, most people's favorite teams) will still be there. Following the retirements of Modano, Lehtinen, Zubov and others, Dallas Stars fans know this better than many.
Yesterday the Stars added Steve Ott's name to that list of recently departed favorites, and though he achieved little of the sort those other names did, it's without a doubt similarly painful.
Unlike Mike Ribeiro, also recently departed to the Eastern Conference, Steve Ott leaves a wake of heart-break and adulation virtually untainted by dissenting opinion. Revisionist histories of inconsistencies or lamentations of "stupid penalties at inopportune times" will be short lived. The #29 jerseys and "Otter" t-shirts will live on at the AAC. He will be universally lauded by Stars fans for a very long time, and remembered with a fondness reserved for a very small group.
Joe Nieuwendyk knows this. Jim Lites knows it. Tom Gaglardi knows it. The people trying to sell season tickets in Frisco will certainly know it when they get back to the phones after the holiday. So this was not a move that anyone should think was made hastily, or lightly. It reportedly took months to come to this decision, and it's one piece of a large puzzle they hope will mean wins and playoff games down the line. How far down one cannot say.
While Steve Ott helped put rear-ends in the seats and smiles on faces, playoff runs in the coming years would help do considerably more.
Today though, as it did yesterday in particular, it just flat out hurts... (Continued after the jump)
Ultimately Steve Ott's place in Dallas Stars lore might go down as a misfortune of timing. Like Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, Stephane Robidas, and even Marty Turco to a lesser extent, he came into his prime when the franchise was heading in the wrong direction. As the Stars find themselves making the long journey back to relevance these names are disappearing from the scene with rapidity.
Ott and company showed their quality in 2008, the last time the team boasted a roster talented enough to make noise in the playoffs. That individuals like Ott never got a chance to show it in the post-season again is lamentable. Joe Nieuwendyk, Bob Gainey, Jim Lites and Tom Gaglardi see path that they must take, and they know who's going to be around for the long haul. It was thought that Ott might be young enough to make the journey with them, but the message is clear - And it's time to move forward.
He'll be remembered as a source of joy and fun in what were largely joyless times. A bright spot in the darkness left by the collapse of the Hicks Sports Group empire.
In losing him the fans lose much more than face-off prowess, penalty killing (and drawing), his 40~ point contribution, and his flexibility to move up and down the lineup. The fans lose his courage. His toughness. His willingness to fight for his teammates. Most of all - His ability to single handedly ignite a building that was otherwise too quiet on too many nights.
That's a lot to say about a guy who is a third line player on a team that hasn't been particularly good for an extended period of time, but consider what's gone on in Dallas. Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen and Marty Turco moved out of town. Brenden Morrow has been injured, under-performing in the eyes of fans, or both for the last few seasons. Brad Richards was lost to the ownership problems. James Neal was traded. Jamie Benn is slowly coming into his own from a PR perspective, but he and Loui Eriksson are as quiet as hockey players come.
As a result Steve Ott became the common fan's champion at the AAC, and maybe even the single most recognizable player to families and children on a Sunday afternoon. He's featured in the commercials. He takes the picture with the "Dr Pepper Stick Kid" before the games. He's tossing the pucks over the glass to fans at warm-up. He's on the radio every Friday with Bob and Dan, darned near the only place anyone can go to for hockey talk in the main stream media in Dallas. He's been identified by countless in recent months as "the heart and soul of this team."
He's a third to second-line player with the celebrity status in the hockey community here, such that it is, of a top-line contributor. That's to his credit, but it's also a sign what's befallen this franchise.
In all these ways the loss actually might be very similar to that of Mike Ribeiro, because it's the loss of another true, vibrant personality in a sport that sorely lacks them, and in a city that badly needs them to hold it's interest.
These trades and the goings-on of the last several days give hope that the Stars will be a more well rounded, competitive team that's, more importantly, positioned itself to continue improving in the seasons ahead as a new plan takes shape under Tom Gaglardi. For all of us who call the American Airlines Center home during the season, however, a return there this fall will be tinged with considerable sadness knowing that the "Master of Irritainment" isn't going to be present.
It was often joked than Ott wore #29 because that was the number of teams in the league that hated his guts. It wasn't really, of course, but if it were the case moving forward then perhaps #28 might be a more apt choice in Buffalo. Even during the two yearly contests these teams will play against one another it will be hard for anyone around these parts to do anything but smile where the exploits of Steve Ott are concerned.
Thank you, Steve Ott.
Now go terrorize that Northeast Division, and please remember not to use the hallway between the benches to go that visiting locker room at the AAC. You have to walk around.