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Will all this drama derail the Stars?

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The drama just never seems to stop for the Dallas Stars, although things do get kind of boring when this team actually tries to score goals. Worse yet, the Stars aren’t piling up PR losses alone any longer, as Dallas is now mired in a four-game losing streak.

The latest drama

Thursday presented the latest episode of “As the Stars Turn,” with embattled Stars coach Jim Montgomery deciding to bench Alexander Radulov – one of the team’s precious few actual scorers – for the remainder of the first period after an argument.

Such a tactic clearly isn’t about X’s and O’s, but instead about sending a message. If the message was sent, perhaps it was taken by carrier pigeon, as the results weren’t immediate. The Stars dropped a sad 2-1 loss to the lowly Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. During this span (all regulation losses), the Stars have scored a measly three goals. Total.

As Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News and others report, Radulov was able to cool off from his argument with Montgomery, eventually saying that his benching was “the right decision.”

Plenty of other people in the hockey world aren’t so easily convinced, and judging by Montgomery’s comments, even the coach might (deep down) have some second thoughts.

“Every decision we make is what’s best for the Dallas Stars, and at that moment, I thought that was best for the Dallas Stars,” Montgomery said. “When you’re struggling to score goals, it’s hard to do with a player of that caliber.”

In isolation, maybe Radulov did need to be reprimanded. The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro (sub. required) and others point out that Radulov had been drawing criticism for mental errors, including taking too-long shifts.

The questionable decisions and self-inflicted wounds really pile up when you look at the bigger picture, though. And that picture isn’t pretty.

Passing the buck

Ever since Stars CEO Jim Lites absolutely trashed Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn before the end of 2018, the Stars have suffered an almost unending run of embarrassing moments, and most of management’s wounds seem resoundingly self-inflicted.

After all, Lites went out of his way to throw Seguin and Benn under the bus, chiding bloggers to “write this!”

Since then, there’s been a steady stream of mistakes, and it doesn’t really seem like management is ever turning the discussion inward, at least on the record. Honestly, I almost picture Stars management transforming into Principal Skinner at some point.

Back in November, Montgomery discussed the Stars’ challenges in depth during a PHT Q&A, and it’s difficult to tell if anything’s changed for the better.

“Where we’ve got to get consistent is valuing our details that allow us to have success on nights when we don’t have legs. That’s where we have, I think, not embraced the process enough.”

All of the messaging seems to be about effort or “character.” Montgomery recently railed against a “culture of mediocrity,” but the thing is, that culture of mediocrity might just be plaguing the Stars’ front office more than the locker room.

This is a franchise that’s frequently failed when it comes to drafting, even whiffing on some crucial first-round picks. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn aren’t the ones who have bungled their way through a procession of three different head coaches in three seasons. GM Jim Nill and his staff were the ones who made mistakes like crossing their fingers that Martin Hanzal would somehow become a healthier player as he got older.

Maybe all of this bluster is an attempt to create a smokescreen around something that’s pretty obvious: management has failed to surround Benn, Seguin, Radulov, John Klingberg, and a few others with the proper supporting cast to succeed when they “don’t have their legs.”

Not hopeless yet

All things considered, it’s actually pretty amusing that the Stars would land in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began today.

In fact, the Stars aren’t so far off from the Colorado Avalanche, who currently rest as the third seed in the Central Division (27-18-8 for 50 points in 47 games played, 21 regulation/overtime wins).

Sure, the West’s wild card races are starting to feel like that year in the NFC where the Seattle Seahawks made the NFL playoffs with a 7-9 record, but if the Stars can stumble their way into a playoff berth, maybe they should start to take a more positive approach?

After all, it sure doesn’t seem like anyone’s having fun. From a per-game perspective, the Stars are the third weakest scoring team in the NHL, but they’ve been able to grind out wins thanks to fantastic goaltending and pretty solid special teams work.

Walking such a tight rope can lead to frayed nerves, yet failing to support the players doing the balancing act may throw everything out of whack.

A four-game losing streak, and a tiny margin for error to maintain a playoff spot, sends a message. While management seems to believe that they need to push and humiliate their players, maybe they should instead provide them support with an upgrade in trades — and a pat on the back?

After all, their competition might be just as much of a mess, but they seem to get that memo.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Trade: Ducks get younger, ship Cogliano to Stars for Shore

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The Anaheim Ducks, losers of 11 in a row, and the Dallas Stars, who have dropped three of their last four, made a good ol’ hockey trade Monday morning by swapping forwards Andrew Cogliano and Devin Shore.

On Sunday night Ducks general manager Bob Murray released a statement following yet another defeat stating he was sticking with head coach Randy Carlyle and he would be focused “on our players, specifically with who is going to step up in this situation.” A goal by Cogliano Sunday night was apparently not enough to keep him in Orange County.

“In acquiring Andrew, we are able to add a conscientious player who brings a veteran-presence to our room,” said Stars GM Nill in a statement. “His explosive speed, 200-foot game and iron-man mentality will help our team both on and off the ice.”

The Stars have their own issues this season, as have been documented, and while this move to acquire a veteran in Cogliano (3-8—11 pts.) will give them an upgrade in their bottom-six, he also carries some cap implications. He’ll turn 32 in June and his contract, which carries a $3.25M cap hit, expires after the 2020-21 NHL season. As someone who’s missed only two games in his entire 12-year career — and only due to suspension — he’ll be a veteran presence who will allow Jim Montgomery to re-jigger his lines and free up someone like Radek Faksa, who can provide more offense than he has this season.

Shore (5-2—17 pts.) will be 25 in July and carries a $2.3M cap hit through the end of next season. He’ll bring a bit of a two-way presence and help the penalty kill and, more importantly for the Ducks, is younger, cheaper and not signed as long as Cogliano.

The Ducks are in the midst of a big losing streak and the Stars were called out by their head coach on Saturday for having a “culture of mediocrity”. Both Murray and Nill may be seeking bigger trades to shake their teams out of their respective funks, but those deals aren’t always out there or beneficial to one side.

We’ll see if this move is a precursor to more wheeling and dealing from each GM, but for the time being it’s an upgrade with speed for the Stars, and for the Ducks it’s youth plus cap help in the future, as well as an attempt to wake-up his team.

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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.

How have Seguin, Benn responded since being called out?

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Less than two weeks ago, Dallas Stars president Jim Lites called out superstar forwards Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn because they weren’t “getting it done.” The hockey community was stunned when those comments came to light. Why take a shot at your franchise players when your team depth has been a serious issue for years? Even the NHLPA jumped in to stick up for two of their own.

Immediately, many began to speculate that this was going to be the end of one or both players in Dallas. The Stars have said that they won’t be trading either player, so a divorce probably isn’t imminent. So Seguin and Benn had to find a way to get through all the noise.

How have they responded since being called out by their president on Dec. 28? Let’s take a look.

Benn played only 15:07 in a huge, 5-1, win over the Detroit Red Wings. He had just two shots on net and didn’t collect a point in the victory. But he followed that up by scoring in back-to-back games against Montreal and New Jersey. Unfortunately for him, he was knocked out of the game against the Devils after he took a questionable hit from forward Miles Wood.

The 29-year-old missed the following game against the Washington Capitals, but he was able to return the following game against Winnipeg. He finished minus-2 but didn’t register a shot on goal. He was plus-2 in last night’s win over St. Louis but, again, no points and just one shot on goal.

Benn’s possession numbers haven’t been good at all since he came back to the lineup. His CF% was a team-low 31.82 during the game against the Jets. The possession numbers were worse last night (27.59), as he and the rest of the Stars were outshot by the Blues.

The injury clearly came at an unfortunate time, but most of the Stars haven’t posted good numbers over the last two contests.

As for Seguin, he’s managed to be incredibly productive since being called out. He started out by picking up an assist in back-to-back games against the Wings and Habs. In that game against the Canadiens though, he managed to fire eight shots on goal. He took another eight shots on net against the Devils and scored twice.

With Benn out of the lineup against Washington, Seguin managed to put together another two-goal effort in a 2-1 win against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The 26-year-old registered an assist on Dallas’ only goal against Winnipeg, and he followed that up with a three-point effort (two goals, one assist) versus the Blues last night. So overall, he’s picked up six goals and 10 points in his last six outings.

“It’s good to get him on a roll because scoring has been a problem for us and he’s our best natural scorer,” head coach Jim Montgomery said of Seguin after last night’s win.

Prior to the team’s poor possession numbers in the last two games, Seguin managed to put together CF% performances of 53.85, 59.52 and 44.44 (he scored both of Dallas’ goals in that game).

All-in-all, even though the possession stats don’t necessarily show improvement, Seguin’s put up some positive offensive numbers.

And in six games since Lites’ comments, the Stars have gone 4-1-1. Those nine points have allowed them to climb into third place in the Central Division. They’re two points up on Colorado, five points up on Minnesota.

Whether or not this is sustainable remains to be seen, but it appears as though the comments have given the Stars a short-term boost.

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.

Stars’ Benn forced from game after questionable hit

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Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn was forced out of Wednesday’s game against the New Jersey Devils after taking what appeared to be a late hit from New Jersey forward Miles Wood in the second period.

Benn had tried to dump a pass off the boards to Tyler Seguin moments before he was crushed. Woods lined up Benn, who had his head turned, and drilled him.

Isolated, the hit itself appeared to be of the clean, shoulder-to-sternum variety. But add in the fact that Benn had already passed the puck away and the hit becomes questionable at best.

Here it is:

Wood was assessed a five-minute major for interference on the play.

The hit also sparked a melee between several players. Esa Lindell of the Stars and New Jersey’s Stefan Noesen each got roughing minors for extracurriculars. John Klingberg was also given a cross-checking penalty for going after Wood.

The Stars announced later in the period that Benn would not return because of an upper-body injury.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

NHLPA comes to defense of Seguin, Benn in statement

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The NHLPA has come to the aid of two of its players, labeling comments from the mouth of Dallas Stars CEO Jim Lites toward forwards Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn both “reckless and insulting.”

In a written statement released to the media on Sunday, the players’ union said that saying Lites’ conduct is unprofessional would be a “gross understatement.”

The full statement can be read here:

The NHLPA’s defense of two of its own stems from comments that emerged out of Dallas on Thursday.

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

The comments have been the talk of the league since.

As surprising as they were to hear on Thursday, it’s not surprising at all to see the NHLPA stand up for its players. Regardless of who’s right here, the NHLPA was always going to take the side of those they represent.

The debate surrounding the public nature of the outburst will rage on, but it’s hard to argue that the comments were not unprofessional. It’s almost unprecedented to hear something like that coming from the top of the food chain in any sport.

That being said, it sure seemed like it worked, with the message getting across to the lackluster Stars, who won 5-1 against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday in their first game since the tirade.

It’s not the next couple of games that will determine whether or not Lites’ words were heard though, but rather the next few weeks and the coming months.

That’s the real test.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck