Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill made it clear that CEO Jim Lites said what needed to be said when he criticized forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in the media on Friday but added that Lites went too far in the in the language he used.
Nill met with the media in Frisco Sunday afternoon to talk about the comments from Lites, who had some harsh words for Benn and Seguin in articles published by The Dallas Morning News and The Athletic.
"First of all, the hockey message by Jim was dead on. I think that message had to get out there," Nill said. "We've all got to be better, from management to the coaches to players, all the way down, we've got to be better. So, the message was right.
"I've talked to Jim; I don't condone the language or the tone. He's emotional; he wears the star on his heart. He got emotional, and understandably so I don't condone that. But the message that was sent from him and management was dead on and correct. I agree with all that."
Nill said that he was aware that Lites was going to the media to share the organization's frustrations with the performances of Benn and Seguin, whose offensive production has dipped this season.
"Yes, I did. We've been talking daily," Nill said. "I am talking with ownership and upper management all the time. I am talking with coaches all the time. I am speaking with players all the time. So, this isn't something that just came about yesterday. This has been talked about before."
As for the timing, Nill said the Stars are at a crucial part of the season, almost to the midpoint. Through Saturday, they were in the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, one point up on ninth place and four points up on 10th but only two points out of third in the Central Division and three points out of second. In other words, things can still go either way.
Video: Benn, Seguin meet with reporters after morning skate
"Why did this come about? We are 40 games in. Last year we were in this spot, our goaltending got hurt, and it cost us the playoffs. We're not going to let it slip this year," Nill said. "It starts at the top. Ownership made it clear -- 'I don't want it slipping.' It came out, and we're not going to let it slip. We're in a good spot, but we can get better."
Nill rattled off a lot of positives so far: the team fourth in goals against, ninth on the penalty kill, the goaltending has been strong.
"We've played the majority of the year with four of our top six defensemen out, including John Klingberg, and in spite of the injuries we are third in the league in defense scoring," he said. "We're one of the top teams with man-games lost to injury. We've played the third-most road games in the league. And I get back to we are two points out of third and three points out of second, so there have been a lot of good things going on.
"Now, where can we improve? The power play has not been good enough. The goal scoring has not been good enough. That's where we need to improve."
And then Nill echoed some of the points Lites was trying to make.
"Part of that is Tyler Seguin, as we sit today, is 60th in the league in scoring and Jamie Benn is 78th. And I've talked to them. They know it. We've talked about it. They know they've got to be better," Nill said. "Where would we be if they were in the top 30 in scoring? Would we have two, three, four more wins? We wouldn't be standing here right now. That's part of them getting better. They are the leaders of the team. We are looking for them to lead us. With the rest of the team, they've got to get better."
As for possibly damaging the team's relationship with Benn and Seguin, Nill said he wasn't worried. He talked to both players on Sunday and said they were moving forward. He was also asked by members of the Montreal media, who are in town for Monday's game between the Stars and Canadiens, if there were concerns about the team's reputation taking a hit.
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"I've been in Montreal before. I've been in the business for 40 years. In Montreal, I'd probably be doing damage control with you guys (the media) because you guys would be talking about the players," Nill said. "This is something we thought it was time to put an end to it. We've had multiple meetings. The ownership isn't happy, and so it came out. This happens in other markets; it just happened in reverse order."
Nill stressed several times that this isn't all on Benn and Seguin. That was a sentiment expressed by Stars players after Saturday night's 5-1 win over Detroit at American Airlines Center. Jason Spezza, Blake Comeau, and Alexander Radulov all made that clear in postgame comments to the media.
"I think it was a message for everyone," said Radulov. "We are a team, and we don't leave the guys by themselves. That's how we responded. They say whatever they want. They are allowed. So basically they weren't happy with us, so it's time to change. I think we took a small step today."
And Nill liked the response in Saturday's win.
"What impressed me last night is maybe this has become a little too much about Jamie and Tyler, and that's because they are stars and it's going to happen, but I loved the response of the team," he said. "The team said we are part of this too. Why should they be taking all this heat? We're part of this too. I thought last night they did that."
And the hope is that it continues.
"This isn't the end of the world. We're in a good spot. Let's grab more," Nill said. "No complacency. We've got high expectations, which everybody does in this league. Don't let it slip."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for DallasStars.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.