As we discussed ways to bring more content to DBD during the "dead" months of August and early September, it became clear that taking a look back at the past 20 years of Dallas Stars hockey was the perfect way to transition into this next season. The Dallas Stars are moving into a transition period for the franchise -- albeit a bit delayed -- and it felt like the perfect time to reflect on a momentous short history for the organization as we prepare for the future.
Part of that process was clear: ranking the top 20 players who ever played for the Dallas Stars -- in Dallas. This would be a great way to write detailed articles on players that aren't discussed much any more and a great way to take fans and our readers on a trip down memory lane during what is traditionally an exceptionally dull time in hockey news coverage.
What I didn't expect was the level of vitriol and anger expressed at the rankings we ultimately arrived at.
This is why I thought it should be important to make clear the process of this ranking and our reasoning behind where some of these players are ranked.
I thought it was going to be easy -- we all know who is going to be at the top -- but when it came down to actually coming up with a list we all found it was very difficult to nail down exactly who we wanted on our list and in what order. When we started this process I basically told our writing team "send me your rankings of the Top 20 players in team history" without any additional instructions. I thought it would be interesting to see what criteria each person used for their rankings -- believing it would create a fairer overall ranking when all votes were put together.
Let me be very clear on this: the amount of debate in the comments section over these rankings pales in comparison to the debate that raged between us writers over these rankings. It was very clear that some of us had very specific criteria that others didn't care for -- particularly when it came to amount of time on the team.
The big issue right now seems to be the fact that Brett Hull is ranked lower than Stephane Robidas. While we didn't agree on every player on our lists, every single writer but one had Hull ranked lower than Robidas. Why is this, when Hull scored the Cup-clinching goal and was such a big part of the team for three years? And why have fans reacted this way when the rankings were released?
The answer, to me, is clear. And it is directly related to how we think back and remember that Cup-winning team in 1999.
Dallas Stars fans have one season and one moment to hold onto, with three or four years completely defining two decades worth of hockey in the minds of so many. Those teams from 1998 to 2000 were truly special, perhaps the best in the NHL over that time, but as we've stepped further and further back in time from those days of glory we appear to put every player and every moment from those days up on a pedestal.
We love the old goal song because it reminds of the great times. We love the old jerseys, not just because of how sharp they look but because of what they remind us of. We hear names like Richard Matvichuk and Guy Carbonneau and we instantly think of the teams that brought us so much joy. It's understandable that we feel so strongly about those teams and those players, many times rightly so, because that was really the only time we as fans have ever been on top of the hockey world.
When you consider just how disappointing and frustrating the past four years have been, it becomes even more understandable.
When I was thinking of this list, I was thinking about which players meant more to the team over an extended period of time. It was tough for me to leave players like Pat Verbeek, Mike Keane, Shane Churla and Grant Marshall off the list, but it was also clear just how many truly great players have played for this team in just a short 20 years. It was also clear how easy it would be to put so many players from those teams on the list, just because they were Cup champions, when the Stars have had so many other great players that never had the chance to do the same with the team.
So why would I have a player like Robidas ranked lower than Hull? Here is my reasoning.
Brett Hull scored the Cup-clinching goal and had 22 game-winning goals in just three seasons with the Stars. He'd also score 95 goals across those three seasons, including 39 in 2000-2001. There's no doubting his importance to the Stars, especially considering that big goal, but it was just three seasons -- and it was on the absolute best teams this franchise has ever known.
Stephane Robidas has played eight total seasons with the Stars and parts of a ninth. He's progressed from a decent second-pairing option to the default Number One defenseman on the Stars for nearly four seasons now, going on a fifth, simply because of the circumstances on the team. He's been a warrior, a physical whipping boy who still manages to play with poise and tenacity in his own end. He hasn't ever put up exceptional numbers, but he's easily considered one of the most underrated defenseman across the NHL. When I talk to others around the league they're dumbfounded with the way that Robidas is vilified by fans here in Dallas, when they consider him to be one of the better blueliners around.
For me, it was tough to outweigh three years of greatness with eight years (going on nine) of consistency and leadership. If you don't understand just how important Robidas is to this team and in that locker room, you haven't been around the team enough. And perhaps that is why so many of us ranked him higher than Hull, because we've gotten an inside glimpse into how he's viewed by this organization and the players around him -- forget the numbers, this was a case of a player being more important to a team over a longer period of time.
Which is where there might be even more controversy on the way as get deeper into this list.
The point of all this was to create debate and discussion. This is an incredibly subjective undertaking and not everyone has the same ranking criteria that we do. In fact, I was looking forward to the debates across August and September about which player was better than who and who was more important than others. What I did not expect was the level of personal anger that we've seen, directed at myself and others, here on the site, on Twitter and through email.
So as we get deeper into the rankings remember: this is only opinion, this is not fact. Let's not take it so personally and try to enjoy the debates as we continue to count down the Top 20 Players in Dallas Stars history -- with Richard Matvichuk next on the list.