Bud­get ham­strings hockey in Dal­las, and maybe Cedar Park

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS BRIEFING -

DAL­LAS — The dif­fer­ence be­tween the Mav­er­icks and the Stars’ ap­proaches to free agency is as strik­ing as their places in the Western Con­fer­ence stand­ings of the NBA and the NHL.

The Mav­er­icks, hav­ing se­cured Dirk Now­itzki, may fire and miss at the big­ger tar­gets.

The Stars aren’t even shoot­ing.

The Mav­er­icks, a reg­u­lar 50-game win­ner, are search­ing for that piece that el­e­vates them to the level of the Lak­ers.

The Stars won’t start wor­ry­ing about catch­ing up with the pow­er­ful Black­hawks and Sharks un­til they can fig­ure out how to get the medi­ocre Preda­tors or Coy­otes back into their sights.

As much has been said and writ­ten about the Texas Rangers’ in­abil­ity to drag them­selves free from Tom Hicks’ clutches, that’s rel­e­vant (for now) only in their pur­suit of a pitcher at the trade dead­line. The Rangers al­ready are a good team, at least ca­pa­ble of com­pet­ing in the play­offs as presently con­fig­ured.

The Stars are the team truly hand­i­capped by Hicks’ fin­ger­prints to­day. They are a bad team that has missed the play­offs the last two years and have no ob­vi­ous blue­print for im­prove­ment.

The club’s farm team in Cedar Park, the Texas Stars, did reach the Amer­i­can Hockey League fi­nals in June. Some of the top young play­ers from that team will work their way into the NHL next sea­son.

Mostly for the Phoenix Coy­otes, who signed three of them, in­clud­ing goalie Mike Climie, over the week­end.

It was Climie’s im­pend­ing de­par­ture that caused the Stars to plunge into the freeagency game late last week to sign An­drew Ray­croft, backup goal­tender to Roberto Luongo in Van­cou­ver last sea­son.

His con­tract to play for Dal­las next sea­son can be re­duced by $600,000 if he finds him­self with the Texas Stars.

En­joy Cedar Park, Mr. Ray­croft.

In part be­cause he is stuck with a bud­get that falls mil­lions be­low the league’s salary cap, gen­eral man­ager Joe Nieuwendyk made the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions to part with vet­er­ans Mike Mo­dano, Jere Le­hti­nen and Marty Turco. Those de­ci­sions are un­der­stand­able, al­though it’s clear most Stars fans would wel­come Mo­dano’s re­turn. Mo­dano would pre­fer to fin­ish his ca­reer in Dal­las. Yes, even at 40, he’s cer­tainly got more in his tank than some of the play­ers that will in­habit ros­ter spots in Oc­to­ber.

But this team isn’t a con­tender with him. It’s not even close.

Mo­dano’s bet­ter served by fin­ish­ing his ca­reer else­where, even if that means com­ing to town as a vis­i­tor in Red Wing red for the home opener.

That’s painful to think about. Con­sider the num­ber of Detroit fans that show up for Wings-Stars games in the best of times in Dal­las. Put Mo­dano on the other side, and Wings coach Mike Bab­cock might as well get fi­nal say on Stars line changes.

Hockey was a tough sell when the fran­chise moved here 17 years ago. Mo­dano’s pres­ence and a win­ning team made it Gary Bettman’s model for ex­pan­sion of the sport into foot­ball coun­try.

The Stars have never had to sell a prod­uct that had gone two years with­out a play­off ap­pear­ance. They have never had to sell a prod­uct with­out Mo­dano. That’s the real curse of life at the end of the Tom Hicks regime, and it’s far more dev­as­tat­ing than what the Rangers must en­dure.

Tony Gu­tier­rez 2009 AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In part be­cause he is stuck with a bud­get that falls mil­lions be­low the league’s salary cap, Dal­las Stars gen­eral man­ager Joe Nieuwendyk de­cided to part with vet­eran play­ers Mike Mo­dano (above), Jere Le­hti­nen and Marty Turco.

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