Editor's note: We're very proud today to welcome Dallas Stars legend and play-by-play broadcaster Ralph Strangis to the DBD family with this post. Ralph will provide commentary throughout the season from time to time. Please give him your warmest of welcomes... -BG
To be great at something for a very long time is quite a thing. For most - real success comes in fits and spurts, taunting pursuers by floating precariously just away from their desperate grasps. For too many - sleight of hand is employed to adjust the bar and tales are spun to dismiss shortcomings and outright failures.
Those precious few who find a way are not troubled by changes in the rules or in the landscape, they do not fear what happens next because they know surely there will be something that happens next. They remind themselves every day that others are conspiring to catch up and knock them off their perch, and they have to get better because what they have now will not last.
Being one of them isn't a game for the meek or uncommitted. Words like leadership and trust and loyalty and support are not just volleyed about or painted on walls - they are stitched into the fabric of their collective soul, demonstrated by every decision, reinforced by every act.
In our sport the Detroit Red Wings carry the mantle. In this era they are unquestionably the gold standard.
And it is not without obvious irony that Detroit is a city long on shortcomings and stained by outright failures. It is the punch line of cruel but all-too-telling jokes and none of them are remotely funny. Outside the NHL world no one looks to Detroit for the answer.
The Red Wings are housed in a dilapidated nest that at first blush does not reflect the unparalleled success hatched within. But Joe Louis Arena is how they roll; perhaps short on form but long on function and the very embodiment of consistency and dependability.
Always it begins and ends with ownership and in Detroit, Mike Ilitch has hired the very best and given them unconditional support. The Wings have perpetually been ahead of the curve. They were the ones who went where no one else would go and land assets no one else would consider. The ‘cloak-and-dagger' stories of Detroit smuggling players from behind the iron curtain are legendary, and the reminders of the rewards for these high stakes gambits hang from the rafters at "The Joe".
General Manager Ken Holland has the unflinching, albeit sometimes begrudging respect of every hockey person in the game. He trusts his advisors implicitly and despite conditions that would cause others to panic, knee-jerk is a reaction for the other guy.
Under Holland's watch superstars have been mined in late rounds, castoffs have been reborn, records have been lapped and trophies accumulated, and people inside the organization have blossomed. And very few over the last two decades have left.
In Dallas a once proud franchise found itself in disrepair, an all too common casualty of era and circumstance. But with a new owner came renewed hope, and then hope became promise when Tom Gaglardi lured Jim Nill away from the Red Wings and into the GM chair in Dallas with the Stars. For Tom Gaglardi this was a coup and speaks volumes about what he is wanting and willing to do here.
Nill has the quiet confidence that comes from unique experience, he does not court respect, he freely gives it, and it is by this gesture, repeated often that respect is returned and loyalty commanded. He is not a man to beat his chest despite all he has to beat his chest about. Stories from Jim Nill about successes in Detroit have to be pried out, they do not freely flow, and then with a nod to others who were a part of it and claims of good fortune he hopes to move the talk from past to present and what is now on his plate.
Do not mistake his humble countenance and deferential respect for those around him for anything other than strength. He is a stern and serious man. Those closest to him tell you they've witnessed issues tackled head on. Under Nill's brief tenure in Dallas, the team has already begun a transformation. And boils have not been allowed to fester - he has assessed quickly and has given them the lance.
He is a pragmatic man with a plan who has empowered those around him to advise him and then to participate in the decision. He has put his arm around long and short-timers here, and without putting words in his mouth so to speak, behaves as man who believes that rarely does one learn much with his mouth open.
On Friday night I spent the evening with Jim Nill and his staff in their box in San Antonio watching the Stars pre-season win over the Florida Panthers. I have come to be a fan of the Detroit Red Wings - put me then in the category of those who begrudgingly found the light. Because we did not broadcast the game I was generously allowed a rare opportunity and had to restrain myself from asking too many questions, although he did not seem put out in the least. I wanted to know how they did it there and how we were going to do it here.
I found him on the tarmac in Dallas after we had landed and shook his hand and thanked him for the time. He smiled and said anytime - anything I needed. And then he said "I'll see you tomorrow".
Because if you're Jim Nill what's next is all that matters.
You can find more about Ralph at his new website www.ralphstrangis.com
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