by PuckStopsHere on 03/27/09 at 03:39 AM ET
I have long maintained that the best way to build a successful NHL franchise is to hire the best hockey person you can find to run things and then get out of the way and let him run things. NHL owners are not ideal GMs. They generally lack the required skill set.
Tom Hicks, the Dallas Stars owner, seemed to understand this. He had kept Bob Gainey on as his general manager and let Gainey run things. That worked and the Dallas Stars won the 1999 Stanley Cup. However Hicks has stopped following that path with the Dallas Stars and it is beginning to affect them in the standings and likely to get worse in the future.
The biggest problem with the way the Dallas Stars are run is that they don’t have one general manager. They have two.
Last season when Doug Armstrong was fired, the Dallas Stars named Les Jackson and Brett Hull as co-GMs. This is not a workable situation. One person has to make final decisions and that one person is not clear in this situation.
Les Jackson is an intelligent hockey man who has a very good background in hockey. He has served in many different roles including scout, coach, minor league general manager and NHL assistant general manager, before getting his current job. He probably is that good hockey man who should be left in charge of an NHL team. The problem is he has Brett Hull as his “equal”. Brett Hull is a very good hockey player who seems unwilling to do the hard work to be an NHL general manager. He makes decisions “from his gut” instead of the well thought out ones Jackson would and he doesn’t have a significant off ice record of experience. It would have been an intelligent move to make Les Jackson the GM of the Dallas Stars and if Brett Hull has to be kept around, he can be some sort of assistant to Jackson.
One problem that came from the GM pair was the signing of Sean Avery. Sean Avery signed a four year $15.5 million free agent contract with the Dallas Stars last summer. This deal was largely attributed to Brett Hull. Hull felt the Stars needed the grit that Avery would provide. The problem was that Avery did not fit in with the Dallas Stars. The Stars had a very poor start this season and Sean Avery was scapegoated for their start. The move worked and Dallas made an improbable comeback into the playoff race, which has been derailed by several injuries. The Dallas Stars used an Avery suspension for some pre-game comments as a vehicle to exile him from the team and send him to the minors. Eventually he was claimed on re-entry waivers by the New York Rangers.
Avery has been a success with the Rangers. He has eight points in his ten games so far. This compares to ten points in his 23 games as a Dallas Star. Most importantly, the Rangers have a winning record with Avery in the line-up and Dallas had a very poor one. This clearly shows that Sean Avery is a useful player and the Dallas Stars did not use him properly. His signing could have been a good move if treated differently by the organization.
Tom Hicks is getting involved to prevent any more Sean Avery signings. He has mandated that the Stars will do psychological evaluations before any future free agent signings. Basically he has created an onerous policy to prevent the signings of future Sean Averys. Anybody with a reasonable level of hockey knowledge could have told you what to expect from Avery before Dallas signed him. Avery is an agitator. His game is built upon “getting under the skin” of his opponents. When he is successful he is a valuable player. When he is unsuccessful he often “gets under the skin” of his teammates. Brett Hull could have told you this before he pushed for Avery to be signed. Psychological testing is unnecessary to determine this.
The effect of this decision from Hicks is that the Dallas Stars have effectively placed a hurdle in the way of their future free agent signings. If a top free agent is considering signing with Dallas, he will likely have several offers on the table to consider. In the free agent signing period, he will only have a limited time to consider these offers before he has to make a decision. If the Dallas Stars offer comes with a psychological profile before it can be signed, he is far more likely to choose a competing offer.
The Dallas Stars have made it much harder for them to sign top free agents. They will still sign some free agents. There will be lesser players with fewer options who accept the Stars offers and psychological evaluation, but the more options a player has, the worse the Dallas offer will look.
Tom Hicks is showing us how not to be an NHL owner. In order to solve a problem he perceives existing (too many potential free agent signings might be Sean Avery and there is no way to prevent this without psychological testing), he has voluntarily set a barrier to his team signing free agents. This barrier addresses an imaginary problem because everybody knew what to expect from Avery before Dallas signed him and there is no herd of Sean Avery-like players waiting to be signed. The best solution to the “problem” would be to make Les Jackson the sole GM of the Dallas Stars and get out of the way and let him run the team. Remove Brett Hull from his co-GM position. Another solution would be to win with Avery in the line-up. The New York Rangers can do this. Why couldn’t Dallas? The solution is not to voluntarily slow free agent signings for psychological profiling. That will only prevent the Stars from signing key free agents. If the Stars are voluntarily weakening their position in the free agent market, let’s hope they can draft well.
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