Hockey Day in America: Observations from the Lone Star State

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Today is Hockey Day in America, an all-day celebration of the sport throughout the United States. NBC will air nine hours of live coverage across its networks; here at PHT, we’re taking a look at stories of hockey’s impact across the country.

As a transplant from the Northeast, I’ve spent 15 years in the Dallas area as a curious observer rather than a hardcore Stars fan.

I didn’t live or die with every win, loss and foot in the crease. Still, I remember many of the highlights (and low moments, like Ed Belfour leaving a hotel in handcuffs and a FUBU sweater).

Perhaps that distance provides a nuanced view of the team, which I’ll try to summarize in this post.

Early riches

It’s difficult for me to shake the parallels between the Colorado Avalanche and the Stars. Both teams moved from hockey hotbeds to somewhat unexpected locales — the Stars moved from Minnesota in 1993-94; the Avs moved from Quebec City in 1995-96 — and each city inherited huge names and experienced quick success.

And, to some extent, that probably made both markets look a little too strong right out of the gate. In a way, they’re both going through the awkward community-building and transitional stages* they initially leapfrogged because they had great teams without the wait.

But even armed with a strong team, the Stars front office still had to appeal to a “non-traditional” market. The Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika was most impressed by a charity pick-up game that former coach Ken Hitchcock concocted:

“ … The Charity Challenge on Ice was eventually played at Reunion Arena to more than 10,000 fans with Daryl Reaugh acting as a coach on one bench dressed as Herb Brooks,” Heika wrote in an e-mail. “For a few years in Dallas, the coolest thing you could be was a Stars fan. Then, the team started losing and slipped into bankruptcy, and management decided there would be no promotion and no freebies. That resulted in several crowds under 8,000 people last season.

“Basically, the organization didn’t care about the fans, so the fans stopped caring about the organization. In November 2011, Tom Gaglardi bought the team, and put Lites back in charge, and they are trying to use the old model to fill the building again.

“We’ll see if there is another wild card like Hitchcock out there to push them over the top.”

(Reaugh as Brooks? Yeah, that’s pretty cool.)

Winning and Fun

Ultimately, as Heika notes, Dallas is “a winners town” so a playoff berth – and ideally, a deep run – is what will get people coming in higher numbers.

In the meantime, the Stars would be wise to follow other teams when it comes to marketing their team with humor. Personally, I’d love to see them employ the lighthearted approach of the Brett Hull “Ambassador of Fun” ads … even if that era isn’t really associated with on-ice success:

That being said, running family-friendly and dirt-cheap ticket promotions is important, too.

The Future

Overall, the Stars are a work in progress with a much-needed new owner. Forwards Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson (plus some solid young blueliners and a great-if-fragile goalie) represent the future while Jaromir Jagr and Brenden Morrow are a bridge to the past.

The franchise needs to keep building, but it’s uncertain if it will enjoy the amazing luck of its early golden era.

* – According to ESPN’s attendance numbers, the Stars went from being ranked 12th among NHL teams in attendance in 2007 to 28th last season.

Flames ‘likely’ to leave Brouwer unprotected: Calgary Herald

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He turns 32 in August, and he’s got three years left on his contract with a sizable cap hit of $4.5 million.

He didn’t have a great playoffs either.

So we shouldn’t be too surprised to read that the Calgary Flames are “likely” to leave winger Troy Brouwer unprotected in the expansion draft.

From the Calgary Herald:

The acquisition of Curtis Lazar at the trade deadline for a second round pick came with a public assurance from GM Brad Treliving that Lazar was a reclamation project he planned to protect.

Thus, the list of seven forwards protected will likely include Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Micheal Ferland, Sam Bennett and Lazar. First and second-year players like Matthew Tkachuk are exempt.

Brouwer had just 13 goals in 74 games for the Flames this season. He signed in Calgary on July 1, leaving the St. Louis Blues as an unrestricted free agent.

As the Herald notes, there’s no guarantee that Vegas will select him. But certainly, his old general manager from their days together in Washington, George McPhee, will give it some consideration.

McPhee gave Brouwer a three-year extension in 2012, calling him “a physical and versatile power forward who can play both wings. … He is a Stanley Cup winner and a great leader.”

Seguin undergoes surgery for torn labrum

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By all accounts, Tyler Seguin and new head coach Ken Hitchcock can’t wait to start working together in Dallas.

But now, they’ll have to.

On Wednesday, Stars GM Jim Nill announced Seguin had undergone shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, per the Morning-News.

The Stars announced the procedure is followed by a four-month recovery period. Nill said that Seguin is expected to be healthy and ready for September’s training camp.

It’s a bit surprising to learn the 25-year-old had an injury of this significance. Seguin didn’t miss a single contest last year, marking the first time in his career he played a full 82-game campaign.

Related: Hitch wants Seguin thinking, playing like a No. 1 center

It’s a battle of red-hot goalies in Preds-Blues series

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) No goaltender has played better this postseason than Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, though Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues came closest in the first round.

Now their teammates have to figure out how to score on these two stingy goalies if they want to advance to the Western Conference finals. (Watch tonight at 8 pm ET on NBCSN or the NBC Sports app)

“We have to try to solve Jake Allen and make life difficult for him,” Rinne said . “It comes down to me trying to maintain and try to be at my best. At the same time, of course, you’re going to look at the other side of the rink and the guy who you play against, you try to outplay him.”

Rinne allowed only three goals on 126 shots faced in helping Nashville to its first postseason sweep in franchise history. He shut out top-seeded Chicago twice on the Blackhawks’ own ice, becoming just the fourth goalie to win four postseason games with a goals-against average of 0.70 or less.

Related: Five impressive stats from the first round

When the Blues open their conference semifinal Wednesday night in St. Louis, they hope to take advantage of some inside information to solve Rinne. Carter Hutton backed up Rinne the past three seasons in Nashville, and the two remain close friends. That friendship is about to take a timeout for the duration of this series.

“He’s one of those guys that he’s a streaky goalie at the same time, so I think we have to do a good job of getting traffic and getting in there,” Hutton said. “But it’s going to be a battle of the goalies. We’ve got two of the best going at it here.”

Allen ranks just behind Rinne this postseason with a 1.47 goals-against average and .956 save percentage in leading the Blues over Minnesota in five games in the first round.

“He’s been our playoff MVP so far,” Hutton said of Allen.

Read more: A remarkable turnaround for Jake Allen

Longtime Habs assistant coach Jodoin resigns

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There was a changing of the guard in Montreal on Wednesday, as veteran assistant bench boss Clement Jodoin resigned from the club.

“Marc Bergevin and I regretfully accepted the resignation of assistant coach Clement Jodoin, who made the decision to end his long-time association with the Montreal Canadiens,” head coach Claude Julien said in a release. “At our post-season meeting, we offered Clement to remain on our coaching staff, but he indicated to us that at this stage in his career, he would be looking for a change and would like to explore other challenges.”

Jodoin, 65, first caught on with the Canadiens in 1997 as an assistant under then-head coach Alain Vigneault. He spent six years with the club until returning to coach junior hockey in the Quebec League.

In 2011, he returned to the Habs organization as the head coach of their AHL affiliate in Hamilton. One year later, he was back in the bigs in a familiar role — as Montreal’s assistant coach, working alongside Michel Therrien.

Montreal had no immediate word on who will replace Jodoin on Julien’s staff.