In the modern world of sports management and media, very rarely do upper executives of a team express anything but mild frustration if their team isn’t doing well. They may issue marching orders, or make sweeping changes in the front office, but almost never pick out individual players and air their grievances. Perhaps it’s something about the Texas heat that leads Dallas sports to act differently, but that market may be used to unusual outbursts given the bombastic personalities of Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA, and Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL. The Dallas Stars, who play arguably the least personality-driven of the four major sports, were getting by relatively unscathed when compared to their Texas counterparts. Until today.
In an incredible piece by Sean Shapiro of The Athletic (subscription required), Stars CEO Jim Lites goes into an on-the-record, expletive-filled rant about his best players, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. The entire piece is an absolute must-read for hockey fans thirsting for this kind of drama, but one (expletive-free) paragraph explains his thoughts on the situation:
These guys are not good enough. They’re not good enough for me, they’re not good enough for the owner, and they’re certainly not good enough for the general manager, who I can’t speak for, but it’s not good enough for the job he’s done. But we’ve had meeting after meeting after meeting. The accountability on the ice is not there. These guys were signed to big contracts because they were the third- and sixth-leading scorers in the National Hockey League over the past five years. They get their money, we expect them to not be outplayed every game we play in. And if they were as good as they’ve been in the past we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Amazingly, this tirade comes at a time in the season when the Stars are actually sitting in a playoff spot. Because of the struggles of many of the other top teams, Dallas sits in the second wild card spot with a 19-16-3 record, and are actually just three points behind the Colorado Avalanche for a divisional playoff spot. They sit just nine points behind the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Central Division, and are by no means out of the race entirely. In fact, they beat the Nashville Predators 2-0 yesterday (a game in which Seguin and Benn were both held scoreless).
Still, Lites—and apparently owner Tom Gaglardi—are not happy. The Stars signed Seguin to an eight-year, $78.8MM extension just a few months ago after the star forward publicly expressed his disappointment that they hadn’t worked out a deal yet, and are already paying Benn an average of $9.5MM per season to captain the Stars for majority of the next decade. That kind of money puts both among the very highest paid players in the league, but Lites apparently doesn’t think they’ve played up to their capacity. Seguin is on pace for just 69 points this season, which would break his streak of five consecutive seasons of at least 72 points. The 26-year old forward set a career high with 40 goals last year, but is on pace for just 23 this year thanks to a career-low shooting percentage and league leading number of posts hit. Lites clearly doesn’t buy the post excuse:
He’s hitting posts, ‘wah-wah.’ That’s what I say about hitting posts. Get a little bit closer to the action, actually go to the spot where you score goals. He doesn’t do that, he never does that anymore. He used to be a pest to play against, people hated playing against Tyler Seguin, they don’t anymore.
Benn meanwhile has 30 points in 38 games, which is also a pace that would give him his lowest total since the 2012-13 shortened season. The captain surprisingly has just one powerplay assist this year which drastically hurts his totals, but is still leading the club with 15 goals.
The fact that Benn and Seguin are still at the top of the Dallas scoring list may lead some fans to point out how weak the rest of the roster has performed this season, but Lites clearly isn’t buying it. He’s put the onus on his best players to step up their game, an done so in such a public way that they will not be able to escape questions about it for the rest of the year. The Stars are back at home tomorrow night against the Detroit Red Wings.