Thursday, November 8, 2012
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - The Dallas Stars Post-Lockout Winners and Losers
When you think about it, this lockout is awesome.
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we helpfully filled out Sergei Zubov's eHarmony profile. This week, since the NHL and NHLPA appear to actually be closing in on a deal, we're going to totally jinx it by jumping the gun and talking about the post-lockout 2012.9-2013 Dallas Stars.
What can we expect from a shortened 42, 54 or 66 game season? Who benefits the most? The least? Somewhere in the middle?
Here's a quick breakdown of precisely what to expect from a shortened season.
Winner: The Really Old Guys - Forget for a minute the proverbial line of booshiz that keeps saying "this is X player's last chance to play/earn millions/win a Cup." For the really old guys, and by that I mean our two offseason, short-term stopgaps Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney, a shortened season is a garysend. Their careers will not be defined by this last season or two, nor will it have a make-or-break effect on their financial situation when they're 65 (which is coming up, by the way). In reality, a shortened season means just one thing for these guys: a significantly reduced chance of injury and fatigue. Who wants to play just 30-45 games in their final season because their body finally broke down? No, much better to play 30-45 games in their final season because there were only 30-45 games to begin with. It's good for their self-confidence, which, considering they're about to hit mid-life crisis stage, can only be a good thing.
Loser: Glen Gulutzan - Gulutzan was quite the coaching surprise in his rookie season as head coach, keeping the team with the lowest payroll in hockey in play for the Pacific Division lead until the final week of the season. He made mistakes, particularly with line-matching and in-game adjustments, but you'd figure a bright young coach would use the offseason to learn from his mistakes and start his sophomore season with some fresh ideas (like putting Jamie Benn on the #1 PP unit, maybe?) Unfortunately, the lockout slicing his next season in half stunts that growth. You can only study so much tape for so long; at some point, you need game-time experience in telling 23 quasi-millionaires what to do if you plan on getting to the next level as a coach.
Winner: Kari Lehtonen - Lehtonen had the best season of his NHL career last season but, like the year before, he began to show real signs of slowing down towards the end of the season. His primary knock is his prone-osity to injury; with a shortened season, Lehtonen could thrive and dominate in a way Stars fans haven't seen since Marty Turco in 2008.
Loser: Stephane Robidas - Unlike the Really Old Guys mentioned earlier, Robidas was never a star, never scored 1000+ points, never followed up one big-money contract with an even bigger one. Robidas has had to scrap and claw for every dollar and playing-minute he's ever gotten, and with his career clearly winding down, it's a shame he'll be denied half a season to prove himself for 25 more shifts a night.
Winner: Derek Roy - As if getting traded for the #1 fan favorite Steve Ott wasn't enough, Roy went and had major surgery after he signed, putting his recovery on schedule for early November at the earliest. Well, it's early November now, and the Nieuwendyk detractors haven't said s**t in months.
Loser: Tom Gaglardi - For much of last season, the Stars couldn't draw five-digit crowds and had all but completely disappeared from the public eye, with zero media coverage, marketing and/or "buzz." When Gaglardi bought the team, all that changed instantly. The Stars began to sell out games, to the point where they broke franchise attendance records (in games in which they were thoroughly blown out, but still). Stars-related billboards and bus-ads started popping up all over the city. And with those ridiculously underpriced $10 seats (read that and weep, my Canadian friends) the Stars became the hot ticket in town. With the lockout, however, all of that momentum was lost. It can be rebuilt, but sports momentum is like a gravel truck with a diesel engine: it's going to take a lot for fans to come back, especially with the Dirk-less Mavs off to an unexpectedly hot start and the Cowboys facing just one team with a winning record in their final eight games. The season was ripe for a popular explosion, and Gags --presuming he really is one of the biggest supporters of the lockout-- blew it.
Winner: Joe Nieuwendyk - Unlike Gaglardi, Newy doesn't have to obsess over ticket and jersey sales: all he needs to do is put a winning product on the ice. Most of his offseason moves were one-year, short-term stopgaps intended to ease the transition from this current team to a far, far, younger and more talented one --with so much NHL-almost-ready talent in the AHL, Newy could theoretically replace half the team with call-ups that the Stars have drafted under his stewardship. A lot of those kids needed at least one year in the minors before stepping up to the big leagues: with the lockout shortening the season, Newy's Evil Plan can come to fruition that much sooner. All his AHL/OHL kids are getting prime minutes in a North American professional league, even as his expensive new veterans sit on the sidelines (or in the Czech Republic, whichever, same thing). Stars fans won't have to suffer through an entire season before the young guys like Faksa, Smith, Dillon, Oleksiak, Nemeth, Campbell and Fraser (and maybe even Glennie) step up and become the next generation of Dallas Stars. Having Cody Eakin and Tomas Vincour tear it up for 20 minutes a night doesn't hurt either.
Loser: Steve Ott - I'm sure Ott would love nothing more than to chirp at his old teammates; after all, he knows all their deepest secrets. But with a shortened season, the likelihood of playing the Sabres gets smaller and smaller, particularly since they're in a vastly inferior conference and divisional games will take a much bigger precedence in whatever schedules the teams end up playing. Ott will have to wait until next year, when he might not even know half the guys he's skating against. Truly a lost opportunity.
Winner: Jamie Benn - Salary rollback or not, who's the budding superstar who suddenly looks good for not signing a last-second deal before the CBA expired? He's also been putzing around in Germany, scoring goals like the one about two minutes into this.
Loser: Casual Fans - But they were losers to begin with. Moving on.
Winner: Hardcore Fans - Despite the loss of 20-40 games, the result will be absolutely, unquestionably awesome for the real, hardcore hockey fans. A 55-game season ensures that no team other than Columbus will be out of it at the trade deadline, and that every divisional race will come down to the wire. Even teams that are traditionally not competitive, like the Ducks and Maple Leafs, will probably end the season just two or three games out of the final playoff spot. It might be a slow-moving first half of the remaining half of the season, but the final 15 or so regular season games will be Stanley Cup playoff-esque in their desperation and intensity.
That's it for this week's Cupcheck. Tune in next week when we slightly re-write parts of this column to reflect the league's decision to cancel the next three seasons unless they get their way.