Monday, July 08, 2013

Bag Of Pucks - July 8

I don't really know how to start this post-draft, post-trade, post-free agency, and post-vacation update on the Dallas Stars offseason as it develops, so let's just dive right in and make the very exciting public declaration:

After several years of not being sure if the Stars were serious, it appears that we now have a hockey organization that is trying to do everything in its power to compete and to use its resources to work its way up the ladder in the NHL game of thrones.

This is most exciting.

Now, before we get carried away, that shift in posture does make me want to defend the work of the predecessors of Jim Nill and his new staff.  It is a completely different job description that he is being given than that of Joe Nieuwendyk or even Les Jackson/Brett Hull.  Those guys were running a franchise that was either bankrupt, close to bankrupt, or trying to emerge from being bankrupt for most or all of their runs in the post-Doug Armstrong era.  They were seldom given the ability to make bold strokes, almost never players in free agency (at least for those that teams actually desired), and if they ever made one poor move (Sean Avery, James Neal) than they were never able to fix it with subsequent moves because they had no more resources to serve as an eraser.

You simply must understand that any personnel man in any sport is not going to be perfect, or even close.  The gold standard for perfection these days in Dallas-Fort Worth is clearly Jon Daniels.  Daniels, as many will confirm, had his hands dirtied with a number of poor deals with San Diego (the Adam Eaton deal), Chicago (Danks for McCarthy), and Washington (Brad Wilkerson) before finally starting to get things when Mark Teixeira set everything in the right direction.  But, it was trial and error.  It was swing and miss.  It was a guy given the leeway to make a mistake and then fix it.  The Stars brass has not been given the benefit of the doubt in a long, long time.  That was the way it was and that time appears to be over (we think).  But, let's not allow our common sense to be overruled by the knee jerk idea that Nieuwendyk just didn't know what he was doing.  He had no resources and really, no chance.  I believe that he will recover from this situation and have a fine career moving forward.

Thankfully, when he was fired, new owner Tom Gaglardi had to decide if the time had arrived to pour resources into the situation, hire "his guy", and get serious about winning rather than surviving.  He went and got Jim Nill, and now we are seeing the full flex of that muscle early on.  The Stars are trying to do exactly what I thought was the primary issue with the franchise when I wrote about this 2 weeks ago:

Looking at the Stars cupboards, they have a wonderful collection of players that seem to be talented and capable of playing in the NHL between the ages of 18-24.  They seem rather stacked in "solid" NHL talent and youth, thanks to the way the Nieuwendyk regime was able to flip assets for futures in the last two years.  
But, is there "elite" talent here?  Is there a Toews or a Kane or a Hossa or a Keith? I believe Jamie Benn has a chance to be that player and on many nights is already there.  
What else?  I am still holding out hope that Jamie Oleksiak can be a dominant top pairing defensemen when he has had enough time in the oven.  Brenden Dillon took such strides these last 3 years that I wonder if we are foolish to act like we know his ceiling.  Brett Ritchie has been described as a player with fantastic upside and there are other kids in the system that could be better than "solid".  But, as it stands, the bin marked "solid" appears to be full and in great shape.  But, the bin that allows a team to compete for Cups is marked "elite" and while there might be some potential in that bin, for the most part it is where much of the league sits normally - close to empty.  
They know this.  They know that they have lots of 6's and 7's, but they need a 9 or a 10 to make this thing really sing.  Of course, that is like a football team saying that they are a Tom Brady away from being a great team.  That is both obvious and ridiculous - so is pretty much everyone.  But, it is often true. 
Elite talent generally requires that you pick #1 or #2 or certainly in the Top 5 picks of a draft to get someone like that.  In Chicago's case, Kane was #1, Toews was #3 overall.  Like Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, and many of the best of the best, they are all gone very early at the top of the draft.  If you never pick up top, then, like many other sports, you have to either get lucky or try to win with a collection of solid pieces, but never have the very best players in the game.  In can be done, but it surely is not very likely.  
Which leaves the Stars with some interesting questions in a year where they have lots of money, lots of picks, and lots of holes on their squad.  Do they combine these resources to go for a bold strike up the draft board?  
And here we sit, 14 days later, and the Stars have put 2 potentially elite talents in the middle of the roster.  Wow.  I cannot stress how awesome this makes me feel about the future here.

First, at the draft, they were able to navigate around a number of issues and concerns to nab what many agree is a top 3-5 talent in the 2013 NHL Draft and take Valeri Nichushkin with the 10th pick.  As you know from reading my draft preview, he was my #1 hope going into the weekend, so much so that I would have happily entertained trading up to go get him.  But, the Stars and Nill held their ground and did not panic.  They knew that KHL threats made him less desirable for teams up the board and if they were lucky he might fall right into their laps.  He did, they have already signed him, and there have been some who have nabbed him as a prime candidate to win the Calder Trophy for NHL rookie of the year.  Imagine that in a Stars uniform.

Then, a few days later, after rumors had flown on draft weekend that the #10 pick might be able to be the pick to go get Tyler Seguin from Boston, the Stars landed the 21-year old talent without parting with that #10 pick at all.  In fact, Seguin and Rich Peverley arrive with the ability to be 2 of the top 3 centers for the Stars when the season opens in the same trade.  Yes, parting with Loui Eriksson hurts, as does Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, and Joe Morrow (we hardly knew ye), but in effect, they flipped Brenden Morrow for Peverley, and Loui Eriksson and 2 kids for Seguin - a guy who everyone who follows hockey agrees that he possesses elite ability and just needs a chance to be a center with tons of ice to work it all out.

You want elite?  How about a 18 year old winger who looks as fast and strong as Rick Nash?  How about a 21-year old center who is locked up for 6 years and can instantly allow you to slide Jamie Benn to his left for the next half-dozen years?  This is amazing.

Make no mistake - there are no sure things here.  Boston is telling us that Seguin is an underachieving party animal who should not be allowed to Tweet.  Russian stars do use the KHL leverage as a tremendous crowbar when contract time arrives and they can certainly go into a dark place where nobody can deal with them.  This could go horribly wrong.

But, the Stars now have 2 world class players who might be the two most talented youngsters they have had in their group since....they played in Minnesota?  I don't mean to get carried away, but let's remember this isn't a franchise that has ever had nor wanted to have players this young carry the franchise since the days of Mike Modano and Derian Hatcher could barely grow whiskers.

But now, joining the old man, soon to be 24-year old Benn, the Stars have the makings of a team that can roll out fantastic forwards with world class skill - potentially all on the same line and power play.

They have to grow them right and slowly, but they finally have the pieces in place.  They also have a top 10 payroll for the 2013-14 season with some other acquisitions that will prove helpful, including Edmonton's Shawn Horcoff and Dan Ellis to backup Kari Lehtonen.

We can visit about their impact sometime soon.

But for today, please understand that while many people are squawking about the relative merits of a twitter account that Seguin operates with varying levels of effectiveness, I am celebrating the on-ice impacts of Valeri and Tyler and that the Stars now have a new day dawning.

They have found more "elite".  And apparently are looking for even more.

This is most exciting.

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