Or why I am considering not renewing my season tickets. This has been building for a while, so this is lengthy, so you can chose to read it or not. Despite what someone suggested last night, this is not something that can just be condensed into bullet points. This was e-mailed to my former ticket rep, who is now the director over the other ticket reps. I bypassed my ticket rep because, for reasons I touch upon in the letter, I have requested a new ticket rep, assuming that I renew my tickets. This will also be printed out and snail-mailed to the Stars' office. They can chose to read it or not, but that will be their problem. It will just make my decision easier.
So here's the letter.....
I cannot trust the Dallas Stars right now. If the Stars as an organization don’t know where they going from day to day or what they’re doing, how can I, as a fan, trust that “the man signing the checks has a plan” (this is a quote from an e-mail from my ticket representative)?
I became a fan of this team when I first moved to Dallas in January 2000, when the team was in the middle of their second straight run to the Stanley Cup finals. I was not a fan who jumped on the bandwagon and then deserted the team when the going got rough, first in 2002 when the team missed the playoffs in what would be Eddie Belfour’s last season with the team and then beginning in 2009 with the first of four, soon to be five, playoff-less seasons. In fact, my first year as a season ticket holder was 2009-2010, when three of the best players this franchise has seen were all told their services would no longer be required.
I defended the organization – and still do to this day – when James Neal and Matt Niskanen were traded to Pittsburgh for Alex Goligoski. While Neal was a good player, it seemed that his development had stagnated here and that he needed that famous “change of scenery”. And the Stars needed a puck-moving defenseman and power play quarterback who had been lacking since Sergei Zubov left to go back to Russia when the Stars wouldn’t resign him at the end of the 2008-2009 season. Oops, I guess you can make that four of the best players this franchise has seen gone in two seasons.
Anyway, back to the Neal/Goligoski trade. Stars fans, in general, seemed to be pretty happy the first couple of months after the trade when Goligoski was racking up points while Neal was struggling in Pittsburgh. The next season, things seemed to reverse themselves, where Goligoski seemed to struggle and Neal put up 40 goals. You know what? Neal lighting it up in Pittsburgh did not bother me, or make me feel the trade was wrong. Neal was not going to put up 40 goals here in Dallas since he wouldn’t be playing with Evgeni Malkin and Sydney Crosby. Some fans seem down on Goligoski this season, as he was slow to start – but that’s understandable with no training camp and pre-season. Goligoski is now leading this team in assists, is third on the team in points and has an even plus/minus. The next highest defenseman in scoring has nine fewer points (Robidas). Looks to me like Goligoski is doing the job he was brought in to do, at least from the puck-moving side. The power play is another issue, but that’s a systemic team issue, not an issue with a single player.
I had no problem with the Mike Ribeiro for Cody Eakin trade. Yes, Ribeiro put up points, but he also overstayed shifts, preventing other players from spending as much time on the ice, particularly on the power play (Jamie Benn, in particular). When you’re promoting Jamie Benn as the future face of the franchise, get him the ice time to prove that he will be. Ribeiro has fit in well in Washington (in fact, has been one of their few bright spots for most of the season) and I love what I’ve seen so far from Cody Eakin. He is currently tied with Goligoski for third on the team in points and is tied with Ray Whitney for the team lead in power play goals. I look forward to seeing more of this kid in the future. He needs a little work on the face-offs - but who doesn’t on the Stars – but he’s just barely under 50% (49.1%) and is second on the team behind Vern Fiddler.
I had issues with the Steve Ott for Derek Roy trade, but I could live with the trade because I understood (or thought I did until yesterday) why it was made. Even though he had a contract expiring at the end of this season, Derek Roy seemed to be that second line center that the Stars desperately needed, especially since Ribeiro had been traded and Jamie Benn was being moved up to the first line center role. The Stars even paid for Roy to have shoulder surgery, meaning the team was on the hook for his salary during the lockout. The idea seemed to be the Stars would show their commitment to Roy and he would reward the team by signing a new contract. Yeah, *that* really worked out well, didn’t it? More on that later.
Now let’s talk about the trade that wasn’t made – Brad Richards at the trade deadline in 2011. I place 100% of the blame on what didn’t happen on Brad Richards. The Stars were in an impossible situation with a player with an expiring contract, a concussion, a no-trade clause, and no desire to waive that NTC because he did not want to handicap the team he would eventually be signing with. The writing was on the wall that Brad Richards wanted out of Dallas, had no intention of even considering resigning in Dallas because of the ownership situation. The Stars’ hands were tied by the player himself, while he laughed all the way to his big payday with the New York Rangers with a contract term in years that he is probably never going to play out – especially since there is talk among the Rangers’ faithful that Richards should be bought out by the team using their second amnesty buyout under the new CBA.
Would I have liked to have seen the Stars get something for Richards? Of course. Maybe the Stars could have gotten some of those assets that the Rangers eventually sent to the Blue Jackets for Rick Nash. But there was *nothing* the Stars could do in this situation – the Stars were not going to resign Richards and he refused to waive his NTC. I refuse to blame them for a situation they had no control over. And since I never really cared for Richards anyway (even before he decided to screw over the Stars), I have to say I am laughing at his cap hit and point production (or lack thereof) in New York. I don’t blame the Rangers if they eventually do ask for mercy and use that amnesty buyout on Richards, even if it was a situation of their own making.
Over the summer, before half the season got blown to hell, I was cautiously optimistic. The Stars made some interesting free agent signings over the summer in Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, supposedly to help mentor the now-younger Stars (yes, national media, even though the team signed two 40-year-olds, the Stars overall became a younger team during the offseason). I’m not going to get into Aaron Rome because I’m still scratching my head over that one. That signing isn’t really germane to this discussion because very few people are going to feel strongly one way or the other over a #6/7 defenseman. I certainly don’t. We’ve seen those come and go and will probably continue to do so.
I certainly wasn’t expecting playoffs this season. With all the youth, even with a few older guys to guide them who have been there and done that, I expected this team to be about what it has been the last four seasons, a team traveling the middle of the road, almost good enough but not quite there yet. Even if this turned into a fifth year without playoffs, it seemed that the season would still be an interesting one to watch.
Of course, then there was the lockout. Most people would probably say they knew it was coming. Personally, I knew it was a certainty when Donald Fehr was brought in a year earlier as the new head of the NHLPA. Been there, done that back in 1994 with Major League Baseball. Most people who are fans of both sports knew that was the final nail in the coffin. It was inevitable, especially when the NHLPA refused to even *begin* negotiations until after the 2011-2012 season ended. You’re going to negotiate a new CBA between mid-June and September 15th? Yeah, right.
To put today’s feelings in perspective, we need to start with the lockout. Dallas Stars, you came THISCLOSE to losing me then. Knowing that a lockout was probably coming, I thought *long* and *hard* about whether or not to renew my tickets last March/April. I wasn’t a season ticket holder back then but I remember the 2004-2005 lockout and the season that never was. I wasn’t going to hold my breath waiting for hockey to be played any time this season. I fully expected there to be another engraving on the Stanley Cup as there was after the 2004-2005 season – “Season Not Played”.
That was a hard decision, especially since I had been (and still am) suffering through several health issues, going back to a bout with cancer in 2009 from which I am still suffering complications. With cancer, the complications associated with it and four surgeries in 2 ½ years (and maybe facing a fifth), going to Dallas Stars games with my best friends has been one of the few bright spots in my life recently (along with the occasional Texas Rangers game). Obviously, there are other things that this money can be put towards, such as medical bills.
By the time the lockout rolled around, my tickets had been fully paid for, but there was an option offered where I could get refunded the money paid for games not played or get a measly 5% credit if I left the money with the Stars and let them credit the money towards either playoffs (HA!) or tickets next season. 5%? Seriously, Stars? You have a new owner with deep pockets, are trying to not only hold on the few season ticket holders you have left, but attract new ones in a southern market where the fans are notoriously fickle. The Minnesota Wild offered 10% - you know, from the “State of Hockey” where attracting and keeping fans isn’t exactly one of their overwhelming issues.
Finally, it was announced in early January that an agreement in principle had been reached on a new CBA, although it took another week for the memorandum of understanding to actually be signed, officially ending the lockout. The MOU was actually signed late on my birthday, so I guess happy birthday to me. So now we have a shortened season with a 48-game schedule beginning on January 19th.
This season has gone pretty much as I expected. The team played some good games. The team played some bad games. They hung in there against teams which probably should have beaten the Stars like a drum (the first game against Chicago on January 24th) and have gotten chopped up against teams they should have easily beaten (the two games in Calgary). They still seemed unable to remember how to play during the second period, a problem that goes back several years. Half the team’s blue line is in the first or second NHL season and it showed. Backup goaltending became a question mark again when Kari Lehtonen was out for a few games with an injury.
In other words, it was pretty much the same old, same old with the Stars. I know some fans were very optimistic and expected the team to be able to put it all together in order to sneak into a playoff spot, I wasn’t expecting it. I was just enjoying – most of the time – watching the team play hockey.
Then came the first rumblings that something was wrong behind the scenes, concerning Derek Roy and his hoped-for (at least by the Stars) contract extension. Word was that negotiations had broken down and Roy intended to test the free agency waters. It’s hard to know what exactly was happening, given the standard line from the Stars – “The Dallas Stars have a policy to refrain from commenting on any on-going contract negotiations, whether they may or may not be taking place.” Whatever was going on, it looked to fans like Roy was going to walk at the end of the season if he wasn’t traded first.
The Stars traded Steve Ott, huge fan favorite and a player who could step up when necessary and fill in on the first or second line when needed, for this? Steve Ott, aside from being a fan favorite, was also until team control for another year. Roy, who had struggled the last two years with injuries, had an expiring contract with no guarantee that he would sign a new one. Ott has 19 points so far this season with the Sabres (one of their few bright spots, actually). Roy had 22 points with the Stars through Monday. This was supposed to be an upgrade?
So Roy was shipped off to Vancouver on Tuesday for a 2nd round draft pick and a defensive prospect. I don’t have a problem with the trade itself. Roy had not endeared himself to me during his time here and certainly was no upgrade over Steve Ott. But a defensive prospect? When the team has suddenly gotten so thin at center that they are experimenting with playing Loui Eriksson at the position? Of course, the team was already weak at center, so much so that they forced Jamie Benn into the center role last season which sometimes shaky results (face-offs, mainly, which hurts since the team got rid of their best faceoff man in Ott and had previously traded Ribeiro and lost Brad Richards). No wonder the Stars are consistently outshot. You can’t shoot the puck if you don’t have the puck and the Stars often find themselves behind the 8-ball in possession because they don’t win face-offs.
Overall, ignoring the fact that Connauton is a defenseman, the trade seems pretty fair. The Canuck’s fourth-best prospect (according to Hockey Prospectus) and a 2nd rounder for a rental player whose point production has definitely declined the last three seasons? Okay, I can see that.
But taken in conjunction with the Brenden Morrow trade, taking back a defenseman in the Roy trade seems puzzling. The Stars got a defenseman in the Brenden Morrow trade as well (who was apparently the Pens’ best prospect). So what’s the sudden fascination with stockpiling defensemen when the team needs centers – and preferably centers that are in the NHL or right on the cusp of being ready.
Is this team going to move back to a defense-first strategy? We had that, three coaches ago under Dave Tippett, but he was fired and went on to turn around a struggling Phoenix franchise. Supposedly, the Stars wanted to move to a more fast-paced, high scoring strategy – because that was what fans wanted - which was supposedly why Marc Crawford was hired. However, did the Stars have the personnel to pull that off? The answer would seem to be no. Then, apparently in anticipation of the team getting younger, Glen Gulutzan was brought in. His experience bringing along the young players first in the ECHL and then the AHL was supposed be of benefit here. And now it seems obvious that Gulutzan is on his way out once this season ends.
But what is the playing strategy supposed to be now? I can’t figure it out from what I’ve seen, and honestly, at this point, I’m not sure the front office really knows either. They get rid of most of our good faceoff players, which puts the Stars at a disadvantage as faceoff wins lead to puck possession, which leads to shots (assume they don’t turn the puck over, another issue), which leads to goals. How many spins of the coaching merry-go-round does Joe Nieuwendyk get before it is decided that maybe the GM is a large part of the problem?
There are numerous on-line fans that have been on the “Fire Joe” bandwagon for quite a while (mostly going back to the Neal/Goligoski trade). I have not been one of those fans – until Tuesday.
One of the bright spots for the Stars this season has been the play of Jaromir Jagr. At 41-years-old, he was leading the team in both goals and assists. Aside from his on-ice performance, he also had an effect off the ice. Jagr jerseys were suddenly popping up everywhere at the American Airlines Center. More tickets were being sold just a season after attendance at games could charitably be characterized as anemic. Just last week, two days after they declined to comment on the situation, the Stars *did* confirmed that they were in talks with Jagr on a contract extension.
Everything the fans were told said that the Stars were happy with Jagr, Jagr was happy with the Stars. Although there was nothing said about what kind of contract terms the two sides were looking at, this was said by Joe Nieuwendyk to the Dallas Morning News.
Certainly, everything that Jaromir has done, whether that's off the ice and helping the younger players or leading the team in scoring, we're happy with it. So, naturally, we'd like to pursue an extension.
The article went on to say that Nieuwendyk said the two sides “like each other”. So how did we go from that to the Stars announcing that they were actively looking to trade Jagr just six days later?
Wait a minute. The Stars *announced* that they were actively looking to trade him? Does a team normally do that when they want to maximize their return on an asset? Common sense would seem to indicate that the answer is “no”. If other teams know that you’re actively looking to trade, are they really going to present their best offer or are they going to hold back, knowing that you are possibly desperate enough to take anything.
There is still the question of what changed in just six days. Did the Stars’ front office suddenly decide the Stars weren’t going to make the playoffs? Apparently not, judging from comments just yesterday (Wednesday) by Joe Nieuwendyk. Even if they had, based on the Stars’ performance in their last two games, that seems kind of knee jerk, doesn’t it? This team has not really changed over the course of the season, for better or worse. They’ve played good at times. They’ve played bad at times. And if the Stars have decided they aren’t making the playoffs, why is the general manager still talking like they are.
I’m not going to get too much into the return we got from Boston for Jagr except to say that I hate it. One of the prospects was a third/fourth line AHL known more for his ability to fight than to score (the fact that he scored last night in his first game in Dallas is immaterial to the point I’m trying to make). So he’s an enforcer, it sounds like. The Stars had one of those in Krys Barch, but traded him away. They also had another in Eric Godard, who was rather quickly buried in the minors and then bought out of his contract. Ott was no slouch in using his fists when warranted and could actually score, yet the Stars got rid of him too. So why is the front office suddenly deciding an enforcer is needed again? Maybe because they realize the team is easily pushed around on the ice? If that’s it, wouldn’t that make their earlier judgment suspect in getting rid of Barch, Godard and Ott? There seems to be no coherent plan for what this team is supposed to be. The second seems to project as a bottom-six forward if/when he reaches the NHL. Don’t the Stars have plenty of those? But they are now missing 1/3 of their top six and have done nothing to fill those holes.
And then there’s the draft pick. It’s a 2nd round pick again, but could turn into a 1st rounder if Boston wins two playoff rounds. But a lot of dominos have to fall into place for that to happen. It would seem to be an easy feat if Boston wins their division, because they would not meet powerhouse Pittsburgh until the Eastern Conference finals. But ask the 2010 Washington Capitals about how anything can happen in the playoffs. They ran into a suddenly hot goalie in Jaroslav Halak and got dispatched in seven games in the first round by the Montréal Canadiens in the same year the Caps won the Presidents’ Trophy. Ooops.
But that scenario assumes that that Boston wins their division. At this moment, the Canadiens are in first place in the Northeast. If that situation were to remain the same through the rest of the season, then Boston could potentially run into the Penguins in the second round, which means that the odds of making the third round just got longer. So everyone who is saying “but that 2nd round draft pick can become a 1st” needs to tamp down on expectations and don’t count their draft picks before they hatch.
Although I was upset at both seeing the Stars’ best player being shipped out and at the return the Stars got back from Boston, that is NOT the reason why I am very seriously considering retracting my season ticket renewal. That doesn’t mean I will no longer be a fan of the team, by the way. That means I will watch at home for free instead of spending money on the team.
The reason why I am considering giving up my season ticket is the open letter from Jim Lites which was released on Wednesday after all the trades had been completed. First, the fact that the Stars went so far as to issue this letter indicates that the Stars *knew* that fans were going to have problems with what went down. The optics, at least from my vantage point, appear very bad. If your moves make sense, why do you have to explain them to the fans in an open letter? Shouldn’t the fans already understand?
Then there is just the blatant inaccuracy about what exactly we got back in these trades. According to the letter, “but our future will be in the hands of our young gun players…and those we draft in June with the 3 extra draft picks we have acquired in the first two rounds.” Wait a minute? What three extra draft picks in the first two rounds?
When I asked my ticket rep about this inaccuracy, I was told that I was wrong and the Stars had gotten back TWO draft picks for Jagr and one for Roy. No, the Stars didn’t. They got back one pick for each player. Even if the pick for Jagr turns into a 1st rounder, that is one extra 1st round draft pick and one extra 2nd round draft pick. When I sent my ticket rep a link to the Stars’ own press release on the Jagr trade (which she insisted had referred to two draft picks), she then backtracked and tried to say that the letter was referring to the three *total* picks the Stars have in the 1st and 2nd rounds.
Except that isn’t accurate either. Before Tuesday, the Stars already had one pick in the first round and one pick in the second, so with the returns from the Roy and Jagr trades, the Stars now have FOUR picks in the first two rounds, whether it will be one 1st and three 2nd or two 1st and two 2nd is yet to be determined. Great, just great. No one from the CEO on down even knows how many draft picks the team has in the upcoming draft. Don’t you think that before you try to placate fans who are going to be upset over your personnel moves that you have your facts straight first? Or it was a typo, that you have someone proofread the letter before it is released to the public? Right now, it looks to me like no one at the Stars has a clue about what they’re doing.
And then there’s the paragraph about the Texas Stars. Guess what? I don’t really care about the Texas Stars. I’m not paying money to see them. I’m paying money to see the Dallas Stars. So the CEO spends a paragraph bragging about how the Texas Stars lead the AHL and have a good shot at the Calder Cup, yet “we, as management, and you as fans, will get a great look at several of our younger players at the NHL level over the last three weeks of the season.” These two would appear to be mutually exclusive. Either the Texas Stars have a good shot at the Calder Cup or their best players are going to get looked at up with the big club (because you’re not going to win fans for the big club by bringing up 3rd and 4th line AHL scrubs). So which is it?
So as I stated, I called my ticket rep because, to be frank, it was the open letter which was the final straw for me. And my season ticket rep made it even worse, as stated above. The ticket reps are your first line employees, so to speak, the ones who interact with your most devoted customers, yet there is no coherent message for them to give to the fans, aside from perpetuating inaccuracies that the club itself has put out in public.
Then there’s this head scratcher…the Stars don’t even seem to know how many draft picks they have, yet they’re smart enough to put together some kind of package of picks and prospects in order to make a run at Seth Jones or someone similar? This was in an e-mail from my ticket rep. Seriously, Stars? If I can’t trust that you know in what direction you want the club to go, can’t trust you to provide accurate information to the fans in an obviously heated situation (else, why the open letter) and you’ve gotten underwhelming returns for the Stars’ best player this season, how am I supposed to trust that you can convince someone to sell you their #1 draft pick so the Stars can draft Seth Jones (or another blue-chip prospect).
That is what this boils down to, Stars. Trust. One day you say you are working on a contract extension with your best player and both you and the player say publicly how happy you are with each other. Just a few days later, you say have no choice but to trade away said player. The open letter indicates you are looking to the future, with all the talk about the Texas Stars and building for the future, but then on Wednesday, the general manager says during his media availability that the team has NOT given up on making the players. If that is the case, why did you trade away your best player? The Stars are having a hard enough time scoring as it is, but the best point producer is no playing for Boston. I don’t know about other conversations ticket reps have had with their customers, but I definitely got the impression that my ticket rep wasn’t prepared to answer questions. Don’t you think you should have something for your front line people to tell the customers, especially if you want to keep said customers? And shouldn’t that message be a coherent one? Either the team is rebuilding or it isn’t. Either they are fighting for the playoffs or they aren’t. But at least be honest with the fans and give them accurate information. Don’t tell us you’re still shooting for the playoffs when that seems to most fans to be a pipe dream at this point. Don’t tell us you’re building for the future when you appear to be doing nothing to fill the obvious organizational needs (center, center, center – and maybe a backup goaltender who can take some of the weight off Kari Lehtonen). Know how many draft picks you have before you start telling the fans about everything you’re doing to build this team, because how can you build if you don’t even know what you do and don’t have already? Don’t try to sell fans on the dream of putting together a package to wrest away the #1 draft pick from whichever team wins the lottery when you haven’t exactly shown the ability to maximize returns on trades to this point.
Stars, right now, I can’t trust you. I trusted you when you let Modano, Lehtinen and Turco leave. It was hard (given his injury and lack of conditioning history), but I eventually trusted you on the Lehtonen trade, but that was different because I knew as a fan that the trade had to be made and why. I trust when Brad Richards walked away for nothing – and didn’t blame you as some fans did because I knew there was nothing you could do. I trusted when Ott was traded because the team was supposedly filling a need with what they got back, only that player is now gone too and the hole is still there and the team is obviously missing Ott’s gritty play, judging from their recent moves.
But no more. You lost my trust. You say one thing, then turn around and do something diametrically opposed just a few days later. You can’t be bothered to either provide the fans with accurate information or, if an honest mistake was made, to even proofread a letter so important before it is released to the fans. You say you’re still playing for the playoffs, yet we’re supposed to be excited about seeing all these unproven players in the last three weeks of the season.
The impression I’m getting is that this organization has no sense where it is going or what it is doing or what kind of team this is supposed to be. So you know what, Stars. Prove me wrong, because you know what – the money I spend on season tickets is riding on it. Give me a reason to renew, because right now I do not see the point.