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Stars CEO’s ire should be directed at GM, not Benn, Seguin

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Things sound awfully rotten deep in the heart of Texas.

With the Dallas Stars stumbling along to yet another mediocre and completely pointless season, tensions are running high and fingers are being pointed.

Those fingers are going squarely in the direction of the team’s best and highest paid players, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.

This is nothing new in the world of professional sports, and especially the NHL, where the people at the top of the payroll will always take the fall when things go poorly, whether they are the ones most responsible for it or not.

But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill criticism from fans or the local press. This is over-the-top, extremely vicious, and irrational ranting from, of all people, the team’s very own CEO, Jim Lites.

Not only was it all of that, but Lites specifically went to local members of the Dallas media with the intention of going on the record to rip his team’s star players.

In an interview with Sean Shapiro of The Athletic, Lites used several expletives to describe the play of Seguin and Benn this season, saying they have been “f—— horse s—” and that team’s owner Tom Gaglardi is “pissed.”

He did not stop there.

From The Athletic:

“We are a stars-driven league, and our stars aren’t getting it done,” Lites said. “It’s embarrassing, and no one writes it. Write it!”

“These guys are not good enough. They’re not good enough for me, they’re not good enough for the owner, and they’re certainly not good enough for the general manager, who I can’t speak for, but it’s not good enough for the job he’s done,” Lites added. “But we’ve had meeting after meeting after meeting. The accountability on the ice is not there. These guys were signed to big contracts because they were the third- and sixth-leading scorers in the National Hockey League over the past five years. They get their money, we expect them to not be outplayed every game we play in. And if they were as good as they’ve been in the past we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

There was more, via Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News:

“But for me, it’s pissed me off, what nobody says is what is completely obvious to me: We are getting terrible play from our top two players,”

And later…

“If 14 and 91 don’t lead, we will not be successful,” Lites said. “I think this is the most talented and deep team we’ve had in years here. Certainly, this is the best team that we’ve put together from a talent perspective since Tom Gaglardi’s owned the franchise. Tom has allowed us to do everything we needed to do to be successful. Whatever it’s taken, he’s done. And I am tired of getting emails from him saying ‘What the hell is going on with our best players?'”

This type of candid, on-the-record criticism is almost completely unheard of in the NHL, and makes the rant from Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford from earlier in the season look relatively tame, if for no other reason than he had the good sense to not make his star players the focal points of his anger.

It certainly makes for great print and is highly entertaining to everyone outside of Dallas (especially everyone outside of the Stars’ dressing room), but it’s also completely idiotic and a far better representation of why they’re are almost totally irrelevant as an organization than anything Seguin and Benn are not doing this season.

Yes, it’s true that Seguin and Benn have seen their production slip this season. Yes, it’s also true that they are making a ton of money after signing new long-term contracts in recent years to remain with the franchise and are taking up a significant portion of their salary cap space. And yes, it’s also true that their current level of play is probably worth some criticism (especially most recently), if only because it is not up to the standard that they have set for themselves during their time in Dallas.

But to point the finger entirely at them, and to do so in such an outrageous way is completely baffling.

The thing about tossing out blame in the NHL is that whenever you think it’s your best players that are the problem, they are probably not the problem.

Star players take more blame because they have a more difficult job than, say, your bottom-six forwards. It’s easy to look at a third-or fourth-liner skating around with energy and praise him for always doing his job because his job, within the context of the NHL, isn’t that hard. It’s a lower expectation and is easier to reach and is something they can do on most nights. So it looks like they’re doing their jobs and carrying their weight, even if what they do isn’t always going to make a difference. Your top-line players, the ones that have to score the goals and carry the offense, have a far higher ceiling to reach and no matter how good they are and no matter how well they play they are not always going to reach it. And when they don’t, it looks like they’re playing worse than the fourth-line energy guy even though they are still probably doing more.

Seguin and Benn are having down years for them, but they are still producing more than a significant portion of the NHL, and more than anybody else on the Dallas roster.

That brings us back to Lites’ comment about this being “the best team we’ve put together from a talent perspective since Tom Gaglardi’s owned the franchise.”

How can anyone possibly say that with a straight face when there is not a single player on the roster outside of the top-line that has topped 20 points this season? A season where goal-scoring is once again up across the league.

(Alexander Radulov is third on the team in scoring with 29 points in 28 games, but he mostly plays on the Benn-Seguin line when he is healthy.)

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.

This is your deepest and most talented team? No, sir. That is a freaking lottery team.

How can you absolve your GM (Jim Nill) of any responsibility in that mess?

Lites talked about how Seguin and Benn were given the big contracts because they were the third-and sixth-leading scorers in the league over the previous five seasons. It was at that point that a rational sports team executive would have looked at that and come to the reasonable conclusion that maybe, just maybe, his general manager wasn’t doing a good job.

While Seguin and Benn were among the top-six scorers in the league between 2013-14 and 2017-18, they were making a combined total of $11.3 million per season.

Combined.

The Stars had two of the league’s best and most elite scorers on their roster for roughly the cost of one Jonathan Toews. That was a steal. It was such a steal that it should have made them the focal point of a championship contending team with even remotely competent work from the front office. Do you know what the Stars surrounded them with during those years? They surrounded them with a team that made the playoffs twice in five years, only once made it past the first round, and was never a serious threat to win a Stanley Cup because they either never had the goaltending, or the defense, or the depth (and sometimes none of the three) to complement their two superstars.

Superstars that were being paid like second-liners.

The Stars surrounded them with a team where the third and fourth best players after them were a young John Klingberg and a mid-30s, past-his-prime, Jason Spezza. You want to talk about accountability? How do the people responsible for that sort of roster construction get a pass?

Can you imagine what Lites or Gaglardi would have said if Seguin or Benn had spoken out during those years and ripped the team’s management because they weren’t getting enough help and their peak years in the NHL were being wasted? Because that’s what happened, the Stars wasted the prime years of two of the league’s best offensive players and other than former coach Lindy Ruff nobody in a position of power paid the price for it.

Successful organizations start at the top, and it seems awfully difficult to be a successful organization when the people at the top sound like angry fans on the post-game call-in show.

Especially when those same people at the top refuse to look in the right places for who to blame.

They should start by looking in a mirror.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

LA Kings set Guinness World Record for ‘Largest Laser Show’

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The Los Angeles Kings may have dropped their third in a row Thursday night and fell to 2-5-0 on the season, but they set a world record during the first intermission.

The Kings’ game presentation department used 642 lasers as part of the Guinness Book of World Records “Largest Laser Show” at STAPLES Center. So, yeah, they were shutout, but they made history.

For the record, the first-period goals by Casey Mittelstadt and Conor Sheary did not, in fact, count toward the final laser total.

With Thursday being the 20th anniversary of the opening of the arena, which featured a Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band concert back in 1999, the Kings wanted to do something special, so they went and shattered the previous record of 342, per the team.

Now, if only one of those lasers could have destroyed the “cursed” Taylor Swift banner

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kempny returns to Capitals’ blue line for first time since March

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Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer doing the ceremonial puck drop honors won’t be the only thing Capitals fans can look forward to Friday night. Defenseman Michal Kempny will make his long-awaited return to the ice against the Rangers after tearing his hamstring in March.

Kempny, who was paired with Radko Gudas during Friday’s morning skate, was given a four-to-six month timeline after undergoing surgery right before the end of last season.

“Yeah, I’m playing tonight. It’s been a long time. I’m very excited,” Kempny said. “There was a lot of hard days, especially from the beginning of the rehab, small steps make me happy. I think it’s part of rehab and all the bad is behind me and I’m just focusing now [on] today’s game.”

Kempny knows he won’t be logging heavy minutes just yet and wants to focus on getting back into the normal routine of a regular player. How his ice time is managed will be something his head coach has to worry about.

“We have a range we’d like to have him in and we’ll see how the game goes,” said Todd Reirden. “Obviously he’s fresh, he’s skating really well, he’s in unbelievable condition, so now it’s just to see how it transfers into game action and how his wind is and his conditioning.”

Braden Holtby is back between the pipes are being given a one game “reset,” as Reirden put it. How he fares against the Rangers will either pause the goalie controversy talk with Ilya Samsonov for now or only add more fuel to the fire.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Goaltending ‘legend’ Tre White tests hockey knowledge of Bills’ teammates

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Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White was bit by the hockey bug after attending a Sabres game last season. He became a big fan of goaltender Carter Hutton, who he mistakenly called “Sutton” at first, and Tweeted out support for the team.

White tried to test the level of his Bills teammates’ hockey knowledge during this week’s episode of “Chill with the Bills.” It features White quizzing his teammates, who weren’t quite up to par. Though, Ed Oliver nailing the butterfly technique after failing at the rest of the test was quite the twist.

A “Louisiana hockey legend”, White was a “hockey All-American” and the “best player in Louisiana history” after not allowing a goal during his high school career, and he was an “inspiration” for Hutton, as the Bills documented earlier this month. White’s love of hockey was first promoted last December when the Bills created a video showcasing his goaltending abilities with a spoof ad for “The Tre’Davious White Goalie Academy of Louisiana at Buffalo.”

It’s quite good.

A Shreveport, La native, White’s hometown team, the Tier II junior Mudbugs, honored him last season during a February game.

Following back-to-back shutouts for Hutton this week and a 5-0-0 record to start the year, White surely has to be proud of his former goaltending protege.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

What’s wrong with the Dallas Stars?

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The Dallas Stars were an overtime goal away from playing in the Western Conference Final last year. Unfortunately for them, the St. Louis Blues got a goal from Patrick Maroon in double OT during their second-round matchup last spring and the Stars were sent packing.

But heading into this season, expectations were sky-high for Dallas partly because they managed to sign Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry in free agency. Let’s just say they haven’t lived up to the hype so far.

Through eight games, the Stars have gone 1-6-1. Only the Minnesota Wild have collected fewer points (two) than Dallas (three) so far this season.

Look, it’s early enough that head coach Jim Montgomery could get this figured out, but they have to at least be concerned about where this season is heading.

“As frustrated as we are right now, there’s 90 percent of the season left,” goalie Ben Bishop told NHL.com after Wednesday’s loss to Columbus. “There’s still time to fix this ship, but there’s got to be more urgency from everybody from start to end. We’ve got to find ways to get [wins], no matter how it is.”

So what’s gone wrong for Dallas through eight games? What can they correct?

• Where are the Stars’ stars?

Alexander Radulov (four points in eight games), Tyler Seguin (four points in eight games) and Jamie Benn (two points in eight games) simply aren’t producing enough right now. Again, the sample size is small, but it’s hard for teams to win when their three most important offensive players aren’t putting the puck in the net.

That trio has spent a good amount of time together and it should be the best line the team has. There’s no way the Stars can have success if the all three players don’t produce at a 70-plus point clip. Even though it’s encouraging to see a youngster like Roope Hintz take the next step in his development, they still need their three veterans to come through for them.

The Stars are averaging less than two goals per game (they have 15 goals in eight contests) and their 4.2 percent power play isn’t striking fear in anybody. Is the power play being bad tied to their stars’ lack of production? Probably. No matter what the reason is, everyone involved has to get this figured out as soon as possible.

• Where are the new guys? 

The Stars invested big money in Pavelski and smaller dollars on Perry. Let’s just say that the return on investment hasn’t been there for them yet. In Perry’s case, it’s not really his fault. He was forced to miss the first seven games of the year because of a foot injury, but he was finally able to make his season debut on Wednesday night. The 34-year-old finished the game with an even rating and one shot on goal in just under 14 minutes of ice time. He was a nice addition, but not one the Stars were counting on to dominate offensively.

Pavelski is in a different boat. The 35-year-old changed teams for the first time in his career and he’s clearly not as effective as he was as a member of the San Jose Sharks. Pavelski scored his first goal as a Star late in Wednesday’s game against the Blue Jackets. Is that something he can build on? We’re about to find out. But they brought him in to be a secondary scorer behind Benn, Seguin and Radulov. Not only are those three not scoring, but Pavelski is also failing to do his part in that department.

They better hope the veteran figures it out because there’s still another two years left on the free-agent contract he signed in July.

The encouraging thing for Dallas, is that they rank ninth is high danger chances for percentage and they’re 13th in expected goals for percentage. Does that guarantee that the offense is coming? Probably not. But it’s something positive. (Stats provided by Natural Stat Trick)

• Bishop needs to get back to Vezina form

Bishop didn’t necessarily have the heaviest work load last season, but he managed to put himself in the Vezina Trophy discussion thanks to a solid season. Yes, the Stars did a great job of limiting high-quality scoring chances, but he still managed to step up when called upon.

Blaming him for the early-season struggles his team is having isn’t necessarily fair. It’s not so much that it’s Bishop’s fault, it’s more that he has to take his game to another level while the offense in front of him is struggling. It’s hard to imagine Dallas winning many games when they score less than two goals per game. The only way they can do that is if their goalie stands on his head.

The 32-year-old has a 1-4-1 record with a 2.84 goals-against-average and a .899 save percentage this season.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.