Thursday, May 23, 2013
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - Stardate 2013: Captain’s Log
Please excuse our Pultizer-winning Photoshop team; they went a little crazy this week.
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we gave you an up-close look at the top coaching candidates for the Dallas Stars. This week we're going to delve deep into the Stars' latest cryptic announcement, in which they promised to unveil a surprise. What that surprise could be, considering Jamie Benn will the only current Star in attendance, is a puzzle shrouded in an enigma eating a riddle sandwich with mystery meat hidden under a huge glop of secret sauce.
Either that, or -- and humor us while we go out on a limb here -- Jamie Benn will be the next Captain of the Dallas Stars.
While this would come as a shock to precisely zero people, it is a step in a direction. What that direction is, however -- much like whether new GM Jim Nill is everything he's cracked up to be -- we'll just have to wait and see.
What is known is that if this was a decision from the players about who they respect most in the locker room, who they think best represents the franchise and who they would follow blindly into the thick of battle, it's the right choice to make. If this was a decision made from the top down and done for marketing purposes, the Stars are royally effed in the A.
Especially considering all the actual, real ca$$h money the Stars have spent on marketing Benn as The Next Modanoquestionmark.
You see, back in 2003, the Stars made franchise player and all-round offensive dynamo Mike Modano the captain, following in the wake of Derian Hatcher, the greatest captain in Stars history. Modano had several things going for him: he was our best scorer, a lethal two-way player who was called on in every critical situation, and a guy who could have won the Conn Smythe in 1999 had we not had two or three even more insanely great players on the team.
What Modano lacked was the one thing captains actually need: leadership.
Over the next two seasons sandwiched around the lockout, this ridiculously talented Stars team -- one which was just coming off a first-place finish in the Western Conference the year before -- streaked out to two excellent regular seasons under Captain Mo, including a second-overall berth in 2005-06.
Then came the playoffs, which were five-game wheezeouts against terrible Avs teams that probably should have been sweeps. The same Stars team that dominated so effortlessly in the regular season looked like the unwanted offspring of the Sharks and Canucks in the postseason, with our star Stars looking like they wanted to be absolutely anywhere else but in the playoffs and our league-leading defense surrendering easy goals in bunches to guys like Steve Konowalchuk and Andrew Brunette. More tellingly, the Stars gave up four or more goals in five of those ten games, and went a dismal 1-4 at home.
There were plenty of problems, but like with anything else, it begins and ends at the top. Modano was aloof, individualistic, and perpetually whiny. When he did talk to the press it was to passive-aggressively backstab a coach or teammate. He skated around lazily in circles in the playoffs, and the team followed his lead to a T. Basically he had become a Yashin-type captain, rather than a (pre-Canucks) Messier. It was ugly to watch, on and off the ice.
So a change was made that upset a few casual fans (and, likely, Modano himself, who quickly became a shell of his former self immediately afterward), and the team stripped Modano of the 'C' and gave it to a guy who actually played his a** off every night in those playoff series, Brenden Morrow.
Of course, Morrow's legacy as captain had its highs (the 2008 run in which he scored the second-greatest overtime goal in franchise history) and its lows (four and a half straight seasons of missing the playoffs following said goal), but at least he seemed, in the beginning, to have the ear and respect of the players.
Can the same be said of Benn?
The only real answer is: I Guess We'll Find Out Several Months From Now.
Real leadership is not easily quantifiable on the ice, like goals, assists and PIMS, although moronic sportswriters have inexplicably equated penalty minutes with leadership for decades (this is because no profession knows less about leadership than journalists). Making your highest scorer and flashiest #1 center into captain is something that occasionally works (Yzerman, Sakic, Crosby in 2008 and 2009) but far more often falls flat on its face (Modano, Yashin, Ovechkin, Thornton, Crosby in every year other than 2008 and 2009).
Strangely, the most effective captains seem to be Tall Defensemen (Hatcher, Chara, Pronger, Weber, Stevens) or Grizzled Grinders (Brindamour, Andreychuk, Carbonneau, Mike Richards (I refuse to believe that Dustin Brown has anything to do with the Kings' amazing success that started when they acquired Richards)). These are the guys that, for whatever reason, seem to elevate the games of those around them when the stakes are highest, who are always out on the ice in the final minutes of one-goal games, and who kill penalties -- possibly the most important metric of winning hockey games.
Does Benn do any of those things? With the exception, sometimes, of this last season, he certainly elevated the play of his teammates -- impressive, considering he had a revolving cast of linemates from week to week over the last four seasons. He doesn't really kill penalties anymore, and his faceoffs were league-worst terrible -- although his wrist injury probably had quite a lot to do with that.
Most importantly, it remains to be seen whether he can lead, or even understands what leadership is. Meatheads and sports fans seem to think of leadership as some John Belushi-type guy giving a Knute Rockne speech to a bunch of Bad New Bears on 4th-and-99 with one second left on the clock. Like most of our cultural symbols, however, this is 100% pure Hollywood schlock. Real leaders take their followers where they want to go. Not the other way around. If enough guys in the locker room want a Stanley Cup, they will follow Benn to the playoffs and beyond. If enough guys are more concerned about maxing out on free agency and what kind of European-made sports car they'll drive when they hit the 25-goal bonus in their contracts, then the Stars will miss the postseason for a sixth, seventh and eighth straight season.
That's just basic human nature, and will never change until we all shed our corrupt physical bodies and assume thought-based forms of pure light. But until then, Benn will have his hands full with this team. Like Jim Nill and whoever the next coach is, we'll see if they've got the stones to convince this team to do what it takes to make the playoffs.