Today marks the culmination of two-plus years of pain and torment for the Dallas Stars and its fans, as Tom Gaglardi will officially be announced as the new owner of a proud franchise. Two coaching changes and three straight seasons without a postseason appearance has thrown the fanbase into upheaval, along with an ownership situation that took all hope and joy out of any thought of a bright future for this team.
Watching Joe Nieuwendyk struggle to maintain the competitive level of this team has been painful at times, especially considering how the Brad Richards situation worked itself out, with the team incapable of taking action thanks to an uncertain ownership situation. The Stars have fought to maintain relevancy in a town that only embraces a winning team, all the while fighting for the postseason with some incredibly tight financial restrictions placed upon them.
Most of all, today is the final day we will have to think about Tom Hicks and what his decisions did to this franchise. For all of the talk about how he was dedicated to winning, it was all thrown out the window with business decisions that put the immediate future of this franchise in doubt. Tom Hicks was great to this team for a number of years but it's all about what happens at the end that everyone will remember.
Perhaps what was most frustrating was the way in which Tom Hicks treated and referred to this franchise publicly after Hicks Sports Group lost control of the team. A man who once was dedicated to doing whatever it took to win, no matter the cost, suddenly found it prudent to bash not only the business of the NHL, but the future of this franchise as well as the fans themselves.
It was an incredibly poor showing of an owner whose business practices, no matter what the intentions might have been, put three sports franchises into a tailspin and put their futures in jeopardy. There was basically a fan revolt in Liverpool, where the faithful of the football club there succeeded in being able to actually force the ownership to change. Texas Rangers fans watched a team with incredible promise and immediate future suddenly be put into a near-untenable situation financially, which threatened their chances of taking the next step and contending for a championship.
Fortunately for the Rangers and their fans, relief came just in time. While the process to complete the sale to Rangers Baseball Express was long and incredibly arduous, the sale was completed through the bankruptcy courts in August of last year -- just in time for a magical run to the World Series.
For Dallas Stars fans, the road to this moment has been much longer and much more painful. The ramifications on this franchise will be felt for years to come and the recovery from the financial tailspin will be nowhere near as swift as what was seen with the Texas Rangers.
For two years now there were times where the employees of this organization were uncertain of whether the next paycheck would arrive or where the money would be coming from. The future was so in doubt that people involved with this team were hesitant to make long-reaching decisions for fear that either they wouldn't matter or they wouldn't actually remain with the franchise long enough to see those decisions through.
Until the start of this current season, when it was clear the ownership situation was close to being resolved, the Dallas Stars are an organization were stuck in a stasis -- frozen in place and unable to progress forward while other teams around them continued to improve. That the Stars have been able to maintain their competitive level and still push for the postseason has been astounding, especially considering the restrictions placed on Joe Nieuwendyk and his ability to add to this team.
The Stars have had the one of the lowest payrolls in the NHL for two straight seasons and this year had to make a creative move via trade just to get back over the salary cap floor after Sean Avery was sent to the AHL by the NY Rangers. That the Stars were affected so much by the roster decisions of a completely different franchise speaks exactly to what sort of situation this franchise has been in since Tom Hicks' empire collapsed.
For three seasons now it's felt as if this team was just one or two players away from really getting back to the level of success they enjoyed in the 2008 postseason. A defensive signing or a smart trade, adding salary and more importantly talent, would have been enough to allow a team with budding young stars to keep up with the rest of the teams in the Pacific Division.
Instead, any talk about adding significant payroll was useless. Any talks of trades or free agent signings had to be met with talk about whether the salary would be equal for both sides, since adding salary to the current payroll was out of the question. Imagine what this team would look like right now if the Stars had been able to not only keep Brad Richards but to continue to build around him -- especially on the blue line. I know we all love the veteran additions that were made with the money meant for Richards, but there is no doubt that this franchise needed to not only keep Richards but to build around him.
All of this, on top of the effect the ownership situation has had on the fanbase. The fact that the Stars were missing the postseason isn't the only reason that the fanbase has shrunk and the attendance has taken a significant dive. In this town, a sports team without strong ownership or the hope for the future is going to have a very hard time convincing North Texas sports fans to spend money on a hockey team. Season ticket holders were finding it tough to make the financial commitment to a team without an owner and we've seen the season ticket base dwindle to near catastrophic levels.
With the announcement of Tom Gaglardi as the new owner of the Dallas Stars, we can all breathe a strong sigh of relief. While the team on the ice is currently struggling, there is no doubt that the future of this team is suddenly much brighter. Gaglardi has made it clear that he is passionate about hockey and his new team and he will be dedicated to rebuilding the sport in an area that had once been insanely crazy for this incredible sport.
The fact that Gaglardi's first decision was to hire Jim Lites as the President & CEO of this franchise is testament to just how serious he is to this area and to the sport in North Texas. Lites has built this sport into a powerful and profitable business in Dallas once before and there's no doubt he has very strong ideas about how to accomplish that once again. There are also rumors that Mike Modano will be hired in some capacity within the organization, once again proof that there is a solid dedication to not only the future but to embrace what has made this team so popular in the past.
Already we are seeing a change in the mentality of this fanbase. There is suddenly a bright future for this team and we can start to talk about building and hope and all of those words associated with a sports franchise that has strong and dedicated ownership. The ticket sales are taking a -- perhaps temporary -- jump up and there's talk that tonight's game against Edmonton will have the best attendance of the season.
There isn't going to be an immediate change on the ice, but there will certainly be changes made in the franchise. The rebuilding of the front office and the marketing department is already underway and have stability in the organization around the team on the ice is what is most important in building first.
This is the first day of a new era in Dallas Stars hockey and thanks to Joe Nieuwendyk, the future on the ice is still very much bright and exciting. Tom Gaglardi and Jim Lites are here to prove that hockey is a sport that can always build a dedicated fanbase in North Texas and they will be focused on bringing back to Dallas what we've felt this team has had the potential to reach for years -- the Stanley Cup.
Most of all, I am thankful that this will be the final post ever submitted to the "Dallas Stars Sale" section on Defending Big D.