Dallas Stars Chief Executive Officer Jim Lites set the news cycle on fire Friday afternoon as he leveled a profanity-laced tirade at a small number of local media members as detailed by Sean Shapiro of The Athletic here. The subject of his ire? Captain Jaime Benn and star center Tyler Seguin.
Personally, I’ve never seen a manager publicly humiliate an employee and have that employee’s performance actually improve. Usually, the manager or the employee (or both) find a new position for themselves relatively soon after the incident. It’s something that is very difficult to move past, even if the criticism is warranted.
Don’t get me wrong — the criticism of Benn and Seguin is warranted.
Benn’s managing some points — his 30 in 38 games played is a point-per-game average of 0.79, slightly lower than his career average of 0.94 he’s been at since his rookie season. But he has not dominated games this season the way Stars fans are used to, and that is worth discussion.
Seguin has hit more posts and crossbars than anyone in the league it seems, and his shooting percentage is on track to be the lowest of his career to date. That is not sustainable, and a bit of luck would definitely change the optics on his season. Whether that means he needs to better adjust his spacing on the ice to get more of those shots to go in is worth discussion.
But it’s not like the two are single-handedly dragging this team into mediocrity. Quite the opposite, in fact, as laid out by NBCSports:
“When Seguin and Benn are on the ice this season during 5-on-5 play the Stars are outscoring their opponents by a 24-11 margin. They are controlling 52 percent of the shot attempts. More than 53 percent of the scoring chances. More than 58 percent of the high-danger chances. When you add Radulov to that line it becomes even more dominant.
When neither Seguin or Benn is on the ice, the Stars have been outscored 34-48. Their shot attempt share drops down to 45 percent and their scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance shares drop down to below 47 percent.”
Benn and Seguin may be having down years compared to what fans have seen from them in years past, but they are most definitely not the main issue with the team — who, by the way, sit in the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference and are just three points out of third place at the time of this writing. (This is also the team that at one point was playing a defensive unit that consisted of three top-six blueliners from game one of the season and three guys from the 9-12 range of the organizational’s depth chart.)
Without Benn and Seguin, this team would probably be one of the bottom in the league.
That’s because what has been assembled around them personnel-wise is not that of a true Stanley Cup contender. New head coach Jim Montgomery’s system could be successful at this level, but it feels like it lacks the speedy forwards needed to make it work well. He wants the team to play with pace and with puck possession, but the execution has not been there.
The bottom nine of the Stars has been a position of weakness for two seasons running. Secondary scoring has been a consistent problem. Players like Valeri Nichuskin, Mattias Janmark, and Brett Ritchie were expected to take the next step in development to provide consistent secondary scoring. General Manager Jim Nill trusted that they would be the solution.
That plan did not work last season, and it has not worked this season either.
Instead of the front office seeking out and acquiring players to improve the speed and scoring in the bottom nine, CEO Jim Lites decided to place the onus of the team’s inconsistent performance this season squarely on his slightly-underperforming top two players — exactly where the bulk of the issue does not reside.
Criticism is definitely warranted about where this team is relative to where they should be with so much talent in their core players (Benn, Seguin, John Klingberg, et al.) But the front office needs to take a look in that mirror and heavily consider that this roster, as constructed, is not good enough, and improved play by Benn and Seguin does not fix the fact that nobody beyond the top line seems to be scoring at any pace this season.
The 2015-2016 team that ran roughshod over the Western Conference, attacking with speed and scoring at will, should have been the blueprint for success and roster construction. However, free agency acquisitions and personnel decisions since then have taken the team further from that ideal.
And for that, the front office is solely responsible.
The issue I have with Lites’ comments is twofold: it ignores any culpability the front office has and is a tone of message that had some comparing the Stars’ front office to that of the trainwreck of crises the Ottawa Senators have had all year. The message itself is fine, after all Benn and Seguin do need to improve their play (and that list continues down the roster depth), but the way in which it was delivered leaves something to be desired.
Will the result be a galvanization of the team to prove that they are not what has been said about them? Or will it drive them further into mediocrity, a knife’s edge they’re already walking? Instead of focusing on the on-ice performance and getting that into the place it needs to be, the focus now is on the off-ice drama and what impact this will have on the team.
Exactly where fans would much rather it not be.