“If the NHL and the Players’ Association are dumb enough to have a lockout, and cancel part of the season, then I’m done with them. Two lockouts in seven years is inexcusable.”
One of the wisest, most knowledgeable, and best looking hockey fans I’ve ever known said that about five months ago. (It was me. I said that.) Since that time, I don’t really think my feelings about the lockout have changed all that much. It was infuriating having to sit idly by and watch the unplayed hockey season slip away from us. It was frustrating watching the two sides propose absolutely ridiculous offers that they know would never be accepted, while they stormed out and refused to talk at all for weeks at a time. Also, as a general rule, I don’t enjoy seeing two people stand there and argue about how to best divvy up my hard earned money that I gave to them.
From the ’99 Stanley Cup run through the first lockout, I had missed all of 2 regular season games. All of the others, I went to, watched on tv, or caught the radio broadcast. I was beyond dedicated. I was obsessed. Now that I’m living in Tennessee, I still manage to come down to Dallas now and catch five or so games in person each year. If there’s ever a hockey game on my birthday, there’s nothing that I would rather do than sit down and watch the game while celebrating in a game day thread. And yet, after all that, I was about to quit the NHL because I felt so used by them.
I know I’m not alone, either. Many of you are just as dedicated and passionate as I am. Many of you have poured thousands more dollars into the NHL with season tickets than I will ever have the privilege of doing. (Though, the day they put an NHL team in Knoxville, TN, I reserve the right to change this statement.) Many of you are just as hurt and betrayed as I am. We each took our turn talking about this as the lockout progressed, and debated whether this was the last straw for us. I know that, for a number of you, it won’t matter what I say here, and that you really are done with the NHL for good.
However, for those of you that are still undecided on whether or not you want to walk away, I’m asking you to hear me out.
I was like you. During the lockout, I wrestled on a daily basis whether or not I was done. Some days it was a resounding “yes,” while I was not so sure. I had lengthy discussions with a number of people on what we were going to do, and why. Ultimately, I decided that I will be coming back the second I can. The reason I came to this decision? The Dallas Stars. From the top down, it was the organization itself that convinced me to come back.
For representing 1/30th of the entire NHL business, the Stars were about as uninvolved in the negotiations as you can get. Tom Gaglardi mentioned on a radio interview that he was not really involved in the details of the negotiations. I also doubt that, having just purchased the Stars, he was really looking forward to missing out on a lot of those revenues from the cancelled games. Alex Goligoski, the Stars Players’ representative for NHLPA was never really involved either. The Stars, as a whole, were stuck in the middle of this giant mess, just like the fans.
Tom Gaglardi also chose not to let any of the Dallas Stars employees go due to budgetary reasons during the lockout. I don’t think the same can be said for all of the other clubs out there. It’s an additional expense that he had to pay without receiving any real benefit while we were all waiting for this deal to be done. Now, though, the entire Stars staff is pumped up and ready to go. The sales and marketing team were calling people as early as Sunday afternoon to let the fans know what was going on and what to expect. I’m glad to know that, not only do we have an incredibly motivated group ready to help us bring hockey back to Dallas, but that we have an owner that will support the staff 110% through good times and bad. It shows to me just how seriously he takes building this organization into something special.
Another thing I’m excited about is getting a chance to see what the Stars PR group can do now that they actually have a budget. For years, with the banks and lenders in control, the PR team had no money whatsoever to work with. I think it may have been somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Without a budget to work with, they were forced to get creative. They became extremely active in social media, using Facebook and Twitter however they could to interact with fans. With a budget in place, I’m expecting to see some incredible things across Dallas that will have the entire city (and state?) buzzing about the team.
Shifting focus away from the people behind the curtain, just pause for a moment, and take a look at the product that is going to be on the ice this season. Jagr, Roy, Lehtonen, Whitney, Morrow… all will benefit greatly from a shortened season. Joe Nieuwendyk managed to put together a pretty formidable looking team based on a half season schedule. If this team can really gel, I think they can go pretty far this season.
Beyond that, I’m incredibly excited about the youth in place in Austin. If you are like me, and have started following the drafts more closely since Defending Big D has been around, you can finally start to recognize nearly every single name down in Austin. There’s an amazing number of great finds that the Stars have playing in NCAA, OHL, and other leagues as well. For the first time in what seems to be ages, the Dallas Stars are on their way up in the hockey world, and I would dearly love to get in on the ground floor of it while I can. I want to be able to look back and say “I was there. I was there when Oleksiak first leveled a guy so hard, he went through the ice and cracked the cement. I was there when Brett Ritchie scored his first hat trick. I was there from the beginning.”
For all those reasons and more, I will be coming back to the Dallas Stars. Now, if you disagree, and you still want to boycott the NHL – I don’t blame you. I really don’t. I understand your hurt and pain, and I won’t fault you one bit. Just know that, whenever you’re ready to come back, these Dallas Stars will be here waiting for you. And we’d love for you to join us.