"The key to change... is to let go of fear."
- Rosanne Cash
Since the arrival of general manager Jim Nill, fearless is indeed what the Stars have been all offseason long.
“The bar is set high. I didn’t come here to be in the playoffs one year, lose another year, be in the playoffs two years, lose two years. That’s not why I came here. I came here to restore this franchise to what it was in Mike Modano’s years, Derian Hatcher’s years. We want to win here. The bar is going to be set high. We’re going to change the culture a little bit.” - Jim Nill
Culture change. What's that exactly?
While Joe Nieuwendyk's tenure as general manager will go down as one of the most significant stages in the Stars long-term development, Nill came into Dallas prepared to make big changes for the present future.
Just how big?
Saying farewell to familiar faces such as F Loui Eriksson (pretty big).
Serving as one of the alternate captains for the majority of his career, Loui was a fan favorite and true gentleman on and off the ice. From the years 2009-2012, he recorded no less than 71 points and has appeared in 370 of a possible 373 regular-season games for the Dallas Stars in the last five seasons.
Eriksson, 27, was the prime factor in a trade that brought in C Tyler Seguin, F Rich Peverley and D Ryan Button to Dallas in exchange for high-end prospects such as F Matt Fraser, F Reilly Smith and D Joe Morrow along with him.
With this trade, not to mention the acquisition of C Shawn Horcoff - Nill instantly turned the center position from a weakness, into a new strength in Dallas.
So, what else has changed since the 48th and final game of the 2013 season, you ask?
(It seems like years ago.)
While the shorter list would be what hasn't changed. Thankfully, Stars color-analyst Daryl Reaugh was awesome enough to completely fill us in via his blog titled 'Razor With an Edge'.
Major Makeover…So lets take a little early July inventory. Since losing to the Detroit Red Wings in game 48 to end the 2013 season the Dallas Stars have a:
- New logo
- New jersey design
- New colors
- New General Manager
- New Assistant General Manager
- New Head Coach
- New Assistant Coach (TBA)
- New Head of Amateur Scouting
- New Amateur Scout
- Four new Top 6 Forwards
- New Marketing Director
- New PR Director
- New Director of The Dallas Stars Foundation
- New Division
Interesting, but did you catch what's not taken care of just yet?
Yes, the captain. Arguably the most prominent role in Dallas Stars history. A phrase Stars fans have come to love to hear during the starting lineup introduction followed by the names 'Brenden Morrow', 'Mike Modano', or 'Derian Hatcher' with Bill Ollerman's voice on the loud speaker (chills).
But this season, things are going to be a bit different to say the least.
When the 27 year-old Brenden Morrow came on the scene as the new captain of the Dallas Stars in 2006, a brand new attitude of hockey was born and will never be forgotten. After 835 regular-season and 78 postseason appearances for the Stars, Morrow will go down as one of the most captivating icons in franchise history. Despite being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins before the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline, Morrow is everything the Stars still want to see in a captain for the next era of hockey in Dallas. While a 'C' will be stitched onto a brand new uniform, Morrow's legacy could never be replaced. But who's to fill such a highly coveted role?
The Stars have a lot of options to choose from, but yet, somehow still limited in terms of players who are locked in long-term. While the "Who's gonna be here awhile?" factor is highly in play - It's only natural to begin the conversation with the long-time veterans within:
What about Stephane Robidas or Trevor Daley?
Robidas, currently an alternate captain and stands as the longest tenured player on the Stars roster if you ignore his brief 45 game stint with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2004 (everybody does). At age 36, he's missed just eight games in the past four seasons despite being known for playing a hard-nosed style of hockey. Meanwhile, Trevor Daley has spent the last ten years in a Stars uniform. He's also served as an alternate captain for the past five years and has shown tremendous durability by missing just seven games in the last three NHL seasons.
Seems like an easy decision between just two players, right?
Shall we flip a coin?
Not so fast.
While Stephane Robidas may indeed be the toughest player on the Stars roster, he enters the final year on his contract and will turn 37-years old in March. That being said, unless the Stars want to go through this exact same conversation a year from now - Robidas will more than likely remain the first alternate captain for at least one more season.
Daley, 29, has also paid his dues to earn a 'C' on his chest in a Stars uniform. While he's a very important piece to the Stars top-6 defensive core, his name has floated around as a potential trade asset if the Stars needed to unleash cap space ($3.1M/year) in the near future. I can't picture a scenario where Daley becomes the next Stars captain, simply due to the uncertainty of his future in Dallas.
So, I'm saying the two longest tenured players on the roster are considered out of the question to be captain.
It's a fascinating decision to make, but it's also filled with tons of uncertainty regardless of who is chosen.
Let one of the kids lead the way? Or play it safe and hand it over to an established veteran?
For instance, why not 41-year old Ray Whitney for just one season?
He's appeared in over 1,250 career NHL games while recording 1,032 total points. Not to mention, he's the oldest player on the Stars roster by over 24 months (Sergei Gonchar). Pretty established choice, right?
Again, if the Stars are looking for stability in their decision - I don't see it happening. Like Robidas, there's a lot higher chance of him not returning next season than otherwise. Although, if they do go with the 'one and done' captain decision - Whitney would be the most likely to get the 'C' in my opinion.
While I believe management and head coach Lindy Ruff have an idea of the direction they want to go, I think they'll patiently await preseason's end to make the final call. Ray Whitney, Stephane Robidas, and Trevor Daley may indeed be the front-runners if nobody steps up - Like many things in hockey, it's going to be a process.
It gets narrowed down to three possible scenario's and a decision will come by the end of September.
The Stars will select a captain, along with five alternates that will be subject to rotate throughout the season:
'C': Brenden Dillon
'A': Stephane Robidas
'A': Ray Whitney
'A': Jamie Benn
I know what you're thinking.
"What a hypocrite! Dillon also has just one-year left on his contract before he's a restricted free agent. Not to mention, he's only played one season!"
These are facts, but hear me out.
In his 2013 rookie season, Dillon gave Dallas a physical boost on defense that caught the attention of the entire NHL. Appearing in all 48 games for the Stars, he recorded eight points and finished fourth on the team with a plus-1 overall rating. Dillon's also paid his dues within the organization by appearing in 123 games over the past three seasons for the Texas Stars in the American Hockey League.
At age 22, Brenden Dillon is expected to be in Dallas a very long time, and Jim Nill will make sure of it. He's arguably already the face of the Stars defensive core and showcases a style of play they want to highlight for the next generation in Dallas. Dillon has also impressed the organization with class and maturity beyond his age. He'll likely at least be given a shot to be an assistant captain in his sophomore campaign, if not named captain beforehand.
'C': Shawn Horcoff
'A': Stephane Robidas
'A': Ray Whitney
'A': Jamie Benn
How could a player just waltz into a locker room and become a true leader?
It's not a common or popular idea, that's for sure.
As a matter of fact, the last time I can remember a player named captain immediately after a signing was back in July of 2008 when Bill Guerin joined the New York Islanders via free agency.
How did that turn out?
Not so great. For the Islanders, that is.
Guerin appeared in 61 games before being shipped out to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline. Three months later, he'd go on to hoist the Stanley Cup with the Penguins after defeating the Detroit Red Wings.
Granted, the Stars are not anywhere close to being as broken as the 2008 Islanders were at the time - Guerin was essentially their only choice.
While Horcoff is not the Stars only choice by any means, he still enters the lineup as a sure potential candidate.
"It's so exciting to hear Shawn talk. I just love his passion. He just does everything right." - Jim Nill
Spending the last 13 seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, he recorded 447 points in 796 career NHL games. He's appeared in 35 postseason games including seven Stanley Cup Final appearances in 2006 against Ray Whitney and the Carolina Hurricanes. In 2010, he was named the Oilers 13th captain in franchise history. Currently at age 34, despite just two remaining years on his contract - Horcoff's locker room presence brings a set of leadership skills that simply doesn't come around very often. He joins the Stars as the fourth oldest player on the roster and only active Star to previously serve as a captain in the NHL.
'C': Jamie Benn
'A': Stephane Robidas
'A': Ray Whitney
Big surprise, right?
Maybe not, but you can't tell me it doesn't make sense.
Benn has become the Stars premier player and the main focus for opposing team's every time he's on the ice. To the fans that don't know much about the Dallas Stars, they know Jamie Benn.
Despite being just 23-years of age, Benn has played in over 260 NHL games and recorded 193 career points in four seasons with the Stars. While he's not the most vocal person, he's the ideal 'lead by example' type of player. Showing tremendous professional conduct on and off the ice, he's the ideal image of what the Stars want to have representing their team long-term. With four remaining years on his contract, why not?
I became a true believer that it was Benn's time on February 23 this season against the San Jose Sharks.
The Stars appeared to be having a bit of an off night. Seemingly on their heels in the opening frame, it was a game they had to win after losing two consecutive contests at home against the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames. After a scoreless and frustrating first period, eight minutes into the second - Benn drops the gloves and goes toe-to-toe with Sharks captain Joe Thornton.
While Thornton stands at 6-4 and weighing in at over 230 pounds, he definitely had his shots. I still believe a majority ruling would said Benn got the best of the fight (maybe I'm biased) - But whatever the verdict may be, it changed the entire aspect of the game.
Eight minutes later, Benn assists on the tie-breaking goal giving the Stars a 1-0 lead heading into the third period. The Stars would go up 2-1 in the third and needed an insurance goal. Can you guess what happens next? Benn receives a pass from Alex Goligoski and beats Antti Niemi - Sealing the Gordie Howe Hat-Trick and a 3-1 victory on home ice.
Now, don't get me wrong. Just because a player fights, doesn't mean he's a proven leader. Scoring big goals? That's expected.
To me, It's about the ripple effect.
The way Benn anchored the entire building to almost single handedly lead Stars past a tough divisional opponent is what made me become a firm believer he was the face of the Dallas Stars from here on out.
Would I love to see it happen? Absolutely.
Do I think it will? I'm not too sure.
I will say if the Stars were truly convinced he was the man, some sort of announcement would of already been made. Benn is likely the ultimate front-runner to be named captain. Though it's only right to see how he conducts himself with the extra responsibility before they jump the gun.
Like I said, it's going to be a process.