Budget hamstrings hockey in Dallas, and maybe Cedar Park
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.
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.