An Outburst the Stars Could Regret

The state known as “The Lone Star” state is about to get very lonely for a couple of Dallas Stars’ players after being singled out publicly by none other than the team President. In an public outburst leaving the entire NHL world scratching its head, Jim Lites decided to rip apart the team’s best two players, captain Jamie Benn and his assistant Tyler Seguin… and everyone around the league has taken notes. What remains to be seen is what grade they gave Lites who, according to many, crossed the line.

First and foremost, if you were living under a rock over the last few days, let’s take a look at what Lites had to say.

“They are fucking horse-shit, I don’t know how else to put it,” Lites said. The team was ok. But Seguin and Benn were terrible.” (quote from Sean Shapiro of The Athletic)

The quotes were taken from Sportsday – The Dallas News. For your convenience, I’ll post them here:

“It’s pissed me off,” Lites said. “What nobody says is what is completely obvious to me: We are getting terrible play from our top two players.”
“We pay these players to be the best players on our team and they are consistently out-efforted and outperformed by everybody else’s best players.”
“If 14 and 91 don’t lead, we will not be successful. 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?'”
“He’s (Seguin) playing on the periphery. I’ve been in the business forever. I’ve been with Steve Yzerman in bad seasons, and what you’ll find is goal-scoring is a dirty business. You’ve got to go to hard places. And Tyler, last year, I saw him really perform and get into the difficult spots. This year, I’ve seen him as a weak forechecker, slow to the action and not getting it done.
“And he’s hit a lot of posts. He’s had some bad puck luck. But he’s not getting dirty. I don’t know what it is. I’m not accusing him of being without character, but we’re not getting it done.”
“Jamie Benn hasn’t scored a goal from longer than 5 feet all year. He makes plays in the neutral zone that if my kid had done it in squirts, he’d be benched. Am I wrong? He turned the puck over three times yesterday on plays if Denis Gurianov had done that, he wouldn’t have seen the light of day.”
“The owner and I see this the same way. We expect our best players to perform like other team’s best players, to be accountable, to have attention to detail, to have responsibility on the ice and off and get the job done for us. And it’s not getting done. Game in, game out, the best players on other teams are outplaying the best players on our team.”
“The coach has to, the GM has to, the owner has to, the CEO has to. I have to fricken hold these guys accountable and be part of the process of getting these guys to play to their best. … We don’t question their desire to win, but they think it’s easy, and that’s what bothers me. There’s just too much complacency in their games. Lack of attention to detail, and that’s what we need. Accountability and attention to detail and hard work.”
“The frustration I have is there were times where I think ‘Geez, we’re not getting any secondary scoring.'” Lites said. “But we’re not getting any primary scoring.”
“This team shouldn’t even be thinking about missing the playoffs. It shouldn’t even be an issue. We are too talented, too good, too strong to be performing this poorly.”

My first reaction after reading those comments was one of surprise. It’s not every day that you see a professional athlete get nailed to the wall like that. It’s even less common when it comes from the team President. And when he does it to his best two players, it’s unheard of.

Then I got thinking that maybe, he had talked to them in the past and saw no signs of improvement or willingness to improve. If that were the case, it could be a last ditch effort to get them motivated and if that failed, they would then consider moving one of them, or both.

I don’t play for him

“I don’t play for him,” Benn said. “I play for every player in this room and the coaching staff. I come to the rink and, like I said, I’m proud to be a Dallas Star and proud to go out there every night and battle with these guys in games. I’ve really put my teammates first.”
“Obviously, I read the article, and it is what it is,” Benn said. “People have their opinions on the outside. All it really is is noise. I think knowing there’s a situation within the organization, I try to keep it within the organization and deal with it face to face. With that being said, I come to the rink every day and wear the Dallas Stars jersey proudly and play hard for the fans and my teammates in here.”

“A little bit of a surprise there, because I didn’t know how he felt,” Seguin said. “It came as a bit of a surprise. I said it yesterday at practice. I understand I need to be better. Jamie understands he needs to be better. We need this team to be better, the organization to be better. I think everyone is frustrated over the last few years, and it came out yesterday.”

That was until I read the questions to Benn and Seguin, and subsequently, their answers. It was the first time they had heard that the President and the owner were not happy with their performances. Never were they approached with the exception of talks with head coach Jim Montgomery. Now I’m worried that with this outing, Lites has done some irreparable damages not only to Benn and Seguin, but to the Dallas Stars’ franchise. Who in their right mind will want to sign there as a UFA with a loose cannon at the helm?

Further, Lites might have tied his team’s hands in the even of a trade, by painting his players as ones who aren’t professional in not paying attention to details. Yes, there is a chance that Benn and Seguin will up their play but there’s also a huge chance that the players in the dressing room range behind their teammates and not care anymore.

In the only game the Stars have played since the comment, a 5-1 Dallas win over the Detroit Red Wings, Benn (39GP, 15G-15A-30Pts) played 15:07, with only two shots on goal to show for. Seguin (39GP, 11G-22A-33Pts) had 17:59 minutes of ice time, only managing one shot on goal although recording an assist on the powerplay.

In my humble opinion, Lites’ outing is a huge risk, one that no President or owner should take. Can you imagine had Geoff Molson come out that way against Carey Price when his play wasn’t up to par earlier this season? My oh my… Go Habs Go!

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Top Candidates – Centre Position

Centres2018

Amongst many other things, a NHL General Manager’s Spring and Summer job is to analyse his team, his assets, and determine and draw a plan of action to improve on the season that just ended. At the end of the 2016-17 season, the Canadiens showed a great need for offense, particularly at the centre position, and there were serious question marks as to who exactly could fill in on the top-4 on defense, particularly when it was clear that Andrei Markov wasn’t coming back, choosing to go to the KHL. Unfortunately, Marc Bergevin was unable to fulfill the needs and in combination with a few key injuries and unforeseen departures, the results speak for themselves.

This summer, the Canadiens’ GM cannot afford another miss and as we recently touched on the Habs’ needs and top candidates on defense, it’s now time to see what kind of options might be available to Bergevin and the Canadiens to fill a much needed need up the middle, in hope to return Jonathan Drouin to his natural position on left wing. While there might be a few others available through trade, let’s have a look at five of the options that could buy time until Ryan Poehling, the team’s best prospect at that position, is ready to step in and be a contributor on the top lines in Montreal.

5- Joe Thornton – San Jose Sharks

AGE: 38Thornton
HEIGHT: 6’4″
WEIGHT: 220 lbs
GP: 47
G: 13
A: 23
PTS: 36
TOI/G: 18:20
+/-: -9
FO %: 52.0
STATUS: UFA

Old… slow… but still very effective. Great in the faceoffs’ dots, he is a leader with tons of experience. Once catalogued as a playoffs’ no-show, he has stepped it up in recent years for his team. In a league now known for speed, Thornton still shows that one can slow the pace down and find ways to be very effective. One of the best passers in the league in the last decade, he is extremely dangerous, particularly on the powerplay. Unfortunately however, two serious knee injuries (to the same knee) might have taken its toll on him. If San Jose doesn’t want him back, he’s a possibility. Definitely an improvement over what the Canadiens already have.

4- Tyler Bozak – Toronto Maple Leafs

AGE: 32Bozak
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 199 lbs
GP: 81
G: 11
A: 32
PTS: 43
TOI/G: 15:39
+/-: +6
FO %: 53.6
STATUS: UFA

As Tomas Plekanec wore the ‘ugly blue’, Bozak could lend a hand to the Leafs’ arch rivals. Not a true number one centre, he is good on draws and he is responsible at both ends of the ice. Being a right-handed draw is something that the Canadiens could use, particularly in the defensive zone. At this stage in their respective career, Bozak would be an improvement over Plekanec.

3- Paul Stastny – Winnipeg Jets

AGE: 32Stastny
HEIGHT: 6’0″
WEIGHT: 193 lbs
GP: 82
G: 16
A: 37
PTS: 53
TOI/G: 17:02 (WIN), 18:41 (STL)
+/-: +6 (WIN), -5 (STL)
FO %: 53.8 (WIN), 55.2 (STL)
STATUS: UFA

Son of former Nordiques’ Peter Stastny, Paul was born in Quebec and his father was once quoted saying that he would like his son to play in Montreal. Well Paul, here’s your chance. But with the success he’s had with the Jets, the two sides might be tempted to make the experience last longer, depending if Stastny wants to test the market or not. At 32, he still has a few good seasons in him and would be an improvement for the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.

2- Ryan O’Reilly – Buffalo Sabres

AGE: 27NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 216 lbs
GP: 82
G: 24
A: 37
PTS: 61
TOI/G: 20:49
+/-: -23
FO %: 60.0
STATUS: $7,5M until 2022-23

In my opinion, this is a very viable option for the Canadiens. O’Reilly is a complete hockey player who hustles at both ends of the ice. He can score, he can defend, he can hit, he can grind it out. Vocal against the Sabres’ frame of mind in his post-season press conference, what he was saying wasn’t much different than what Bergevin was saying about his own team. So when you look at attitude and character, this guy oozes just that. Further, the Canadiens can afford his salary.

1- John Tavares – New York Islanders

AGE: 27Tavares
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 208 lbs
GP: 82
G: 37
A: 47
PTS: 84
TOI/G: 19:56
+/-: -12
FO %: 52.9
STATUS: UFA

Pipe dream or reality? Either way, there is no doubt that if Tavares hits the free agency market, he will be the Canadiens’ centre of attention. They will throw everything at him, and while Team Canada teammates Carey Price and Shea Weber will be crucial in trying to convince him, Bergevin and team owner Geoff Molson will have to put forth the sales’ pitch of their life if they hope to convince him to play in Montreal. Yes, it is a wonderful place to win but when you don’t, it can be hell in a hurry, just ask Pacioretty and others before him. Will he and his spouse be negatively influenced by the fact that Angela Price had to come out publicly to deny senseless rumours? We shall see. But the Canadiens have the cap space to make it happen.

Honorable Mentions

– Tomas Plekanec

Is there something that hasn’t been said about the Turtleneck? He’s a true pro. He’s only two games away from reaching the 1,000 games plateau in the NHL, with most of them played with the Habs’ number 14 on his back. He’s still fast and very responsible defensively, but his offense has all but disappeared. He was making $6 million but at the right price, I am convinced that Claude Julien would like to have him back. Many fans have mixed feelings about this.

– Vincent Trochek, Alexander Barkov or Nick Bjugstad

Watch Pacioretty. The Florida Panthers were apparently very hot on the Canadiens’ captain but Bergevin was asking for Trochek and more. While this deal was not consumed by the trade deadline, it is very much possible that the talks have kept going and the Panthers would be trading in a position of strength here, being very deep at the centre position.

– Sam Bennett or Mark Jankowski

Call it a gut feeling, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if the Flames were interested in the 3rd overall pick to draft Matthew Tkachuk‘s younger brother Brady. What do they have to offer? There’s no way that they will trade Sean Monahan, they would rather pass on Tkachuk but is there a deal possible, perhaps a bigger one involving Charlie Lindgren to help Mike Smith? What plays against the Flames is that they don’t have a first, second or even third round pick this year. In order to make something happen, a third team picking between 5 and 9 might have to get involved in a three-way and we know how rare those are.

– Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

For the longest time, a Max Pacioretty for RNH deal, with spare parts here and there, was the most logical deal to not be completed. The Oilers were deep at centre and paying Nugent-Hopkins $6 million to play on the third line didn’t make much sense, when they needed a speedy winger who could keep up with Connor McDavid. But guess what? Todd McLellan decided to try RNH with McDavid and they formed immediate chemistry. Now, it’s very unlikely that Peter Chiarelli will trade him as not only does he produce with McDavid, but he gives the team options in the event of injuries. So maybe earlier last year, but as it stands today, this ship has likely sailed.

– Jonathan Toews

In the most unlikely rumours flying out there, the one about the Habs and Blackhawks trying to work something out for the one nicknamed ‘Captain Serious’ is way out there. While definitely a good player and a strong leader, Toews’ contract is too long and for too much for the Canadiens to bite… or is it? Sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures. Let’s just hope not.

As we can see, there are some options out there but when it comes to UFA’s, the price is often way too steep. Marc Bergevin has always rightfully claimed that you don’t build a winner on July 1st. But at the NHL draft is when most of the trades occur, as every team has cap space and many have holes to fill and changes to make, whether it’s to put them over the top after a disappointing loss in the playoffs, or a rebuild/retool process. Regardless, it promisses to be a very interesting month ahead for Habs’ fans. Go Habs Go!