When I was a kid I used to watch “The Galloping Gourmet” with Graham Kerr. It was a cooking show. He was a quick-witted, flamboyant wine-drinking conjurer who could tell a joke and turn out a mean soufflé with equal aplomb. The bit was he’d prepare the dish for most of the show, stick it in the oven, and then pull out a finished copy from the adjacent oven and invite a hottie from the audience down to share a bite of the finished masterpiece.
When we were in Detroit a couple of weeks ago, I got to thinking about Kerr and the show. Actually – a guy thinks about a lot when he’s locked in his hotel room in downtown Detroit but let’s stay on track here.
During the game it hit me – The Stars are like the start of the dish; the raw ingredients that are going into the oven – and the Red Wings are the finished dish. And yes – that makes Jim Nill Graham Kerr.
Stars GM Jim Nill, and Stars Director of Amateur Scouting Joe McDonnell (with Nill since 1999) were together in Detroit and played significant roles in building the Red Wings into a consistent contender that didn’t miss the playoffs for 20 seasons and collected 4 Stanley Cups over their employment there.
And on the night the Stars played them – make no mistake – Nill and McDonnell’s finished dish looked spectacular. Consider this; 20 of the 23 Wings on the roster that night were either Red Wings draft picks (17) or undrafted free agents the Wings signed (3). Some of their top players, including Datsyuk and Zetterberg were mined about 200 picks into their respective drafts. They never pick high because they’re always playing late, they let everyone marinate in the minors or in Europe, their 4 Cups were won by 3 different goaltenders, and they look like they’ll be a threat in the East again this season.
But – that’s the FINISHED dish – the one that’s already been mixed and cooked properly. The Stars – is Nill and McDonnell’s new offering, and it takes time.
Nobody – nobody – I mean NOBODY in hockey saw this coming for the Stars. That they’d be 9 points back before the holiday break this season. But – that’s the game. Pekka Rinne is back in Nashville and they’re retooled and interested, Vancouver was ripe to get back in the race, and there are a lot of contending teams in the conference and the division from a year ago. And by the way – nobody takes Dallas lightly any more.
Maybe the stars were a little ahead of schedule last season, and without much of a challenge under them for 8th – they overachieved. Maybe two camp holdouts and some sneaky crippling injuries get some of the blame for this season too. Maybe they’re starting to come out of it.
But that’s just the noise from the vent fan above the stove.
Because in every conversation I’ve had with Jim Nill, and everything I’ve heard from him – he’s building something that will be really good and for a long time.
And after watching the Red Wings for the last 20 years, and seeing them the other night, and watching him sort things out early here, I’m pretty sure I can smell what they’re cooking in there.