In doing so he absolved general manager Jim Nill of any and all blame for the team’s shortcomings, and ignored the fact that even though Seguin and Benn were, at the time, having “down” years for their standards they were still by far the best and most productive players on the team.
It was an outrageous rant at the time, and it looks even more outrageous now that the Stars are sitting on fairly solid ground in the Western Conference playoff race thanks in large part to the play of their top players.
Specifically Seguin, who was one of the main targets in Lites’ off the rails rant.
Please do not misinterpret that point.
This is not a commentary about how the criticism inspired their top players to play better.
That is an insult to the motivation of professional athletes and ignores the fact that, again, they were already carrying the bulk of the weight for the Stars early in the season. It is also an insult to their ability as players. They were highly productive NHL players before that, and would have continued to be whether or not those comments were ever made.
Top-tier players have the hardest job, the highest expectations, and the most pressure. When they only fulfill even 90 percent of those expectations they are going to get criticized for underperforming, even if their 90 percent is better than most everyone else’s 100 percent. That is what was happening with the Stars through the end of December.
Seguin and Benn may not have been on their usual scoring pace, but they were still outperforming everyone else on the team by a substantial margin, while also outscoring and outplaying their opponents on a nightly basis. At the end of December when Lites sounded off, the Stars were outscoring teams 24-11 at 5-on-5 play when Seguin and Benn were on the ice together.
The Stars’ goal differential without either of them was a minus-14 (34-48).
Where was the problem again?
In the 18 games since then, Seguin, Benn, and Alexander Radulov have still been the most productive players on the team.
Even though Seguin and Benn have been split apart a lot more often and used on separate lines, they’ve still outscored opponents by an 8-4 margin when they are together at 5-on-5. Without either on the ice the goal differential suffers an eight-goal swing (minus-4 … four for, eight against) in the other direction.
Seguin alone has 22 points in the 18 games since then and has been absolutely dynamite on a line with Radulov and is now on pace to exceed his normal career average for points in a season.
Benn’s offense hasn’t quite picked up, but given how much time he’s spent away from Seguin and Radulov and has been asked to carry his own line that probably says more about the lack of depth the Stars have assembled than anything else. And that, again, falls back on the job of the GM for not assembling more talent around his two franchise players.
After all of that drama caused by the CEO the perception of the Stars immediately became that they were a dysfunctional mess of an organization and a sad-sack underachieving team going that was going nowhere instead of what they actually are. What they actually are is a team that has a handful of high-end, impact players in Seguin, Radulov, Benn, John Klingberg and an emerging star on the blue line in Miro Heiskanen that is probably actually overachieving this season.
The lesson to take away from all of this: Maybe don’t publicly put your best players on blast for ruining your season unless you have a damn good reason for it. Because those best players are probably going to be the ones that end up saving your season in the end.
If Lites was so eagerly willing to call Seguin and Benn “f—— horse s—” for what he thought was them underachieving earlier in the season, he should be just as willing to publicly thank them (and especially Seguin) for the added gate revenue his team will get for making the playoffs on their backs and saving all of their jobs.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
“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,”
“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.
The Stars had two of the league’s best and most elite scorers on their roster for roughly the cost of oneJonathan 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.
You have the power to name to the expansion NHL Seattle franchise. What are you choosing?
SEAN: Kraken is already a popular choice, and as a fan of hockey history (and their original jerseys) I’d love to see the Seattle group bring back the Metropolitans name. But do you then keep the Metropolitan Division name? The NHL is stubborn for change sometimes, so I doubt it.
Let’s get crazy in this post-Gritty world and go with Sasquatch. It’s perfect for the region (ever watch “Finding Bigfoot?”) and would allow Seattle to welcome back Squatch, the Sonics old mascot. The jerseys would be great. The plushy toys at the arena team stores would be sold out on a regular basis and he’d be a welcomed addition to the annual mascot game during All-Star Weekend.
Squatch is legendary, and with the NBA likely returning to Seattle at some point, might as well get him started before he has double duty. He was a dynamic performer, willing to take big risks to entertain the crowd, and even had his own theme song, thanks for Chris from Presidents of the United States of America:
JAMES: Deep down, my answer is the Sonics/Supersonics, but I’m aware that a ton of people from Seattle are giving me the stink-eye just for bringing that up, so I relent. Go ahead and name the Seattle team after the Kraken, or some other mystical and/or tuff beast.
For my money, the greater battle revolves around the mascot.
Allow me to introduce “Jittery,” an anthropomorphic cappuccino mug with cartoonish arms, legs, and comical googly eyes. Let’s face it; we’re in a Post-Gritty world, so you have to go big – which usually means some combination of garish, frightening, funny, and cute – or go home.
Jittery would have the potential to edge the Golden Knights’ gila monster, with the far-flung dream of at least competing with Gritty for viral potential/mindshare.
The greatest potential would be in what you could put in the Jittery’s head, which, again, is a coffee mug. Would mysterious, coffee-like liquid splash out of its head when Jittery is excitedly celebrating a goal? Would Jittery cry coffee tears upon defeat? Maybe you could fill Jittery’s head with toys/treats for the kiddos, and the young-at-heart. Just imagine Seattle winning a Stanley Cup, but drinking out of their mascot’s head, instead.
This is clearly a bullet-proof, genius concept, and I demand royalties.
ADAM: I know there is virtually no chance of it happening, and I think any reference to it has always been made in a joking manner (or maybe even a half-joking manner), but I am 100 percent on board with the Seattle Sasquatch. I think the biggest reason I like it is just for the mascot possibilities. Look at how crazy everyone went over Gritty. But I think Sasquatch seems to have just as much potential, maybe even more. Think Harry from Harry and the Hendersons.
But given that Sasquatch doesn’t seem to be a realistic option, I think I can accept Kraken. I was originally opposed to the Sockeye suggestion but I’ve even come around on that, too, and I assume Sockeye Salmon hitting the ice will be a thing at some point no matter what. I’m not on board with Metropolitans. I get the history — and I love hockey history — but we need something new, fresh, unique. Sasquatch is the answer.
JOEY: I’m going with Metropolitans. That was the team’s name when they became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup in 1917, and that’s the name they should keep. Yes, I realize that you’d have to re-name the Metropolitan Division, but I don’t care. There’s hockey history behind the name and I think it would be pretty cool if they came back with it in 2021.
SCOTT: Seattle Kraken. Scrap the skyscraper odes and all that other garbage and RELEASE THE KRAKEN!
I’m all for this shift in marketing philosophy made popular by the Philadelphia Flyers this year with Gritty. It’s opened the door to other possible ideas that are, well, not just the same old cliche, safe stuff we’re used. Seattle Kraken has so much potential. Incredible jerseys, a ridiculous number of options for a mascot, a title sponsor with the Kraken Rum brand. There’s probably some death metal band with Kraken in their name that could sing the anthems and fit right into the Seattle music scene vibe.
I’m not holding out much hope here. They’ll probably be named the Skyscrapers or something like that with the Space Needle as their logo and some type of fish as a mascot.
We talk a lot about head coaches and hot seats, but what about some general managers who could follow in Ron Hextall’s footsteps out the door?
SEAN: It’s pretty amazing that Marc Bergevin’s seat has cooled considerably when you think about all the talk last season, but the Canadiens are playing better than expected and owner Geoff Molson isn’t close to making that kind of move.
Two GMs who should be feeling the heat are Doug Armstrong and Stan Bowman. I’ve harped on Armstrong since the Mike Yeo firing and am curious how long owner Tom Stillman will wait before making a change. Another season appears to be wasting away and some big names could be out the door by the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Then what? It won’t be a complete teardown, just a retooling if that’s what happens. But does he get one more season to make it work?
The move to fire Joel Quenneville hasn’t gone as planned and Chicago could be another place where big names are dealt, whether by the trade deadline or in the summer. Bowman’s helped construct championship teams and now some of those heavy-term, big money extensions have hamstrung building around the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat. Another playoff-less season won’t make upper management happy and you wonder if the changes won’t stop with Quenneville.
JAMES: Honestly, it boggles my mind that Peter Chiarelli survived last season, so if his Hitchcock Hail Mary falls short, that Oilers era should come to a merciful end. It’s nigh-criminal to accomplish so little with Connor McDavid and a bucket of other high-profile picks (which Chiarelli’s squandered either through trades, bad picks, or stuttered development).
I like a lot of what Doug Armstrong’s managed, particularly since – beyond Alex Pietrangelo – the Blues really haven’t been built by lottery picks. Still, it’s clear that the Blues need a change of direction, and a fresh voice would be more inclined to undergo the painful, necessary surgery to right the ship … which may, in fact, come down to trading Pietrangelo.
There’s also Ken Holland, if the Red Wings truly are planning on moving to Steve Yzerman, but can’t say out loud because of tampering.
Three more who I’d say are less pertinent, but interesting to watch:
• Jim Nill – Yes, he’s made some great trades, not unlike Armstrong. But the Stars also failed to truly take advantage of Jamie Benn‘s former-bargain contract, and seem headed toward the same with Tyler Seguin‘s $5.75M expiring after 2018-19. They’ve made significant missteps in slowing down their style (baffling with Seguin & Co. as their best players), failed to find difference-making goalies despite paying huge money, and have whiffed hard on some key drafts. Nill’s been there since April 2013. It’s fair to wonder about him if Dallas can’t make big strides.
• John Chayka – The Coyotes are in a much better place than they were when Chayka took over, and it would be nice to see him get some more time to bring them to the next level.
Sometimes sports can be especially cruel, however, and there are factors that make you wonder about Chayka. For one, the Coyotes have made some bold moves to get better, yet they seem on track to miss the playoffs once again. Ownership might grow impatient.
Let’s not kid ourselves, either: the ownership situation is often in flux, and if that changes, they might want to bring in “their guy.” Hopefully Chayka gets at least a bit more time, but it’s something to watch, either way.
ADAM: My answer earlier this season was Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton, but the Oilers have gone on enough of a roll and Ken Hitchcock seems to have them doing something right (mostly playing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl until the wheels fall off) and I think that is going to buy him some time.
I think now we have to look over at the Central Division and either Doug Armstrong in St. Louis or Stan Bowman in Chicago.
The Blues spent a ton of money and gave up a ton of assets this summer after missing the playoffs a year ago, and now they stink. They already fired the coach, so that card has been played, and the next logical conclusion is the guy that built the team. Other than a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2015-16 this has been a first-or second-round team at its best (usually a first-round team) and now is on track to miss the playoffs for a second year in a row. Not a great sign for the GM who has, again, already played his “try to save the season” card by changing coaches.
This might be a controversial position to take, but I think if Stan Bowman were named Stan … Smith. Or Stan Johnson. Or anything other than Stan Bowman his seat would probably be a LOT warmer than it is now. His track record in Chicago is obviously great, but it’s been a few years now since the Blackhawks have been a Stanley Cup team, they missed the playoffs a year ago, are currently one of the worst teams in the league, and it didn’t really have to be THIS bad. I know they had salary cap constraints and they have some big contracts, but he has made a lot of questionable to bad moves over the past couple of years. Then he went and fired the most successful coach in franchise history and one of the best coaches in NHL history and the team has completely sunk after that. Not sure the Blackhawks are going to make a change now or even after this season, but if this season keeps going as it is and they do not get better next season they might consider doing something.
JOEY: You can’t mention general managers being on the hot seat without bringing up Doug Armstrong’s name. Last season, he traded Paul Stastny away because he felt his team was a year away from being a serious threat, but that hasn’t been the case in 2018-19. He pulled the trigger on a major deal for Ryan O'Reilly over the summer, and although O’Reilly’s been good, the team simply hasn’t been. Armstrong has fired a coach this season and if the Blues can’t turn it around, he’ll be next. With Jake Allen struggling for the most part over the last few seasons, Armstrong hasn’t found a solution to the problem between the pipes. This might be it.
Stars GM Jim Nill is also likely on thin ice. His team has some high-end talent, but depth has been an issue for them since he’s taken over. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov and John Klingberg can only carry the team so far. Getting contributions from the rest of the team has been an issue. As of this moment, the Stars are on the outside of the playoff picture. If they were to miss the postseason again, you’d have to think that someone will play the price. It won’t be new head coach Jim Montgomery, so who else can it be but the GM?
And you can’t forget ‘Pistol’ Pete Chiarelli. Like Armstrong, Chiarelli also made a coaching change to try to get his team going. The Oilers are currently sitting in a Wild Card spot, but if they were to fall out of the playoff picture again at the end of the season, you’d have to think that Edmonton’s decision makers will want to make a change. You can’t just keep wasting all of Connor McDavid’s great years.
SCOTT: It would seem that Peter Chiarelli has bought himself some time after bringing in Ken Hitchcock to be the team’s savior. Edmonton is in a playoff spot, which isn’t something you would have uttered a month ago.
Of course, a losing streak of four or five games would change the above narrative, so Chiarelli is still certainly in the conversation and is by no means out of the woods just yet. He’s done little to improve this team since he arrived and still probably needs a miracle to happen if he’s to be in the same position this time next year.
Sticking in the west, Doug Armstrong’s leash must be retracting a bit. There were a lot of people who believed the Blues won the summer. But as we approach Christmas, we now know that wasn’t the case.
The Blues don’t look half bad on paper, but their on-ice product has been truly poor this season. Maybe the Blues just need to head in a new direction.
The last guy I have on a hot seat is Stan Bowman. If Bowman’s last name wasn’t Bowman, he’d probably already be gone.
I suppose he bought some time firing Joel Quenneville, but it’s clear Quenneville wasn’t the problem. Jeremy Colliton has been tasked with the impossible and it hasn’t worked out so far.
Bowman did well to win the Stanley Cup three times (partly due to drafting done before he got there), but there’s little coming up through the system these days that provide any hope for better times ahead. And trades to get picks and younger assets don’t seem to be in the cards either (see: Brent Seabrook contract). All the “bad” contracts are shrouded with no-movement clauses.