We first talked with Dallas Stars owner Tom Gaglardi about the disappointing 2016-17 campaign, and the subsequent hiring of iconic head coach Ken Hitchcock, plus acquisition and signing of netminder Ben Bishop at the NHL awards and expansion draft in Las Vegas.
We caught up with Gaglardi, who bought the Stars out of bankruptcy in 2011, on the eve of training camp to catch up on the team's other significant moves, including acquiring defenseman Marc Methot from the Vegas Golden Knights, and signing top-end free agents, Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal.
Gaglardi, who worked closely through the offseason with president and CEO Jim Lites and general manager Jim Nill in undertaking a dramatic restructuring of his team, was especially candid about his disappointment with the team's performance a year ago, and his high expectations for a core group of players that includes captain Jamie Benn, top center Tyler Seguin and promising defenseman John Klingberg.
Video: Captain Jamie Benn discusses Stars busy offseason
Scott Burnside: Can you give us your perspective on what you think the organization accomplished in the offseason? What's your overview of this team as we get ready to head into camp?
Tom Gaglardi: "Well, pretty thrilled with the summer. We had really three things that we wanted to address. I'm sure you could break into more than that. But No. 1, you get better in goal, and adding Ben Bishop was a huge piece on I think a reasonable contract. He's done it before. He and Kari (Lehtonen), I think, will be a great tandem. We needed to change that position and we've done that this year. Excited about that.
"Second, on defense, we wanted to add somebody that was big and physical -- preferably a left shot and who could chew up 22-23 minutes a night. And really needed someone to come in and take away some hard minutes from some of the other guys, like a Klingberg for instance. A guy that could come in and kill penalties for us, and so, I think Methot was as good a guy as we could have possibly hoped to get and we were able to get him. I think he's the right player for us. We've got the puck-movers, but I don't know that we had enough of the hard to play against 22-23-minute-a-night guy, and Methot gives us that. In the same vein as penalty killing, we just wanted to get generally tougher to play against. So, Radulov and Hanzal up that count for us. These are not nice guys to play against, as well as addressing a weakness on, perhaps, the right wing on the right side, so Radulov helps fill that. First-line right winger and those aren't easy guys to come by.
"(Tyler) Pitlick's a tenacious player. I watched him play in junior in the Western Hockey League, and we like him. It's going to give us a different look. And then I guess, adding Ken Hitchcock, which I think will bring a different approach to the style of our game. So I'm cautiously optimistic about our team this year."
Video: Methot ready to get rolling with Stars
Burnside: The Methot deal is a good example of not giving up assets (the Golden Knights had initially proposed a deal that would have seen the Stars trade the third overall pick to Vegas for Methot and the sixth overall pick. Instead, Nill waited until after the expansion draft and acquired Methot for a second-round pick in 2020 and goaltending prospect Dylan Ferguson) but with free agents the assets come out of the owner's pocket. Was there hesitation on your part to make the commitments you did?
Gaglardi: "It was a big decision obviously. You know the nature of these contracts. A lot of them now are front-end loaded. It's a big commitment. But it just felt like it was time for us to do that. We've certainly had the opportunity in the past to look at it. Maybe the players or the timing wasn't right. I think this time around, I just felt the types of the players we were talking about -- and the contracts themselves -- the market's changed now, where the cap system is really fully-employed now. I don't think you're seeing the contracts as silly in terms of term and AAV (average annual value against the salary cap) that we saw in the past.
"You're always reticent to play in the free agent game, but the numbers seemed to be closer to real market now. It just felt like these are the types of players that we should be moving in on. The terms were reasonable and overall the architecture of our team and the way we we're built for five or six years down the road it all seemed to fit together so we decided that with the group we already had we could be as good as anyone so that's what we decided to do."
Burnside: I think it's fair to say the Western Conference is as wide open as it's been in a long time. There's a lot of optimism, and a lot of observers look at the changes in Dallas and say, why not the Dallas Stars. You never want to get ahead of yourself, but after last season, you must be really looking to seeing how this unfolds.
Gaglardi: "Well, last year was a huge disappointment. And you look at the summer we had (a year ago), and what could we have done differently. Sometimes, the timing just isn't there. Last year, we chose to stand pat in some areas, and while it turned out to maybe not be the right thing to do, I think going forward starting this summer, I'm glad that we did.
"It just seemed that the opportunities a year ago weren't there. We were coming off a 109-point season, and there was reason to believe that we didn't have to make a lot of change, and really the injury bug and a whole bunch of bad luck got to us. And the whole thing came off the rails."
Burnside: When did you first meet Ken Hitchcock?
Gaglardi: "When did I first meet Hitch? Oh, years ago in Kamloops. We've always kept in touch. You know I see him in the summer. He always goes to Kamloops in the summer, so I run into him. Like last summer, we had lunch a couple of times. Because I summer there. Just text each other, 'When are you in town?' I enjoy talking to him. I learn from him and I like to talk hockey. Here we were sitting (together) in the summer, and who would have predicted he'd be our coach a year later?"
Video: Bishop meets the media in Dallas
Burnside: When you look at what Ben Bishop, what do you think he brings to the table?
Gaglardi: "I think we're far closer to a 109-point team than we are a 79-point team. I think last year, we had a whole bunch of things go wrong. And those things, coupled with high expectations, put a lot of pressure on everybody. And sometimes, that's a very bad thing to have happen. So, it was tough on the coaches. It was tough on our best players, and our best players didn't have good starts, and didn't really have good seasons.
"I think that's the story of what happened to us last year. I think you've got to change some things. I think, obviously, we weren't happy with our goaltending last year. We weren't happy with a lot of things -- special teams. But it was time to bring a new face into the mix in goal, and we were able to get Ben Bishop, who has got a good resume, and I think will be a good goaltender for us and give our group a different level of confidence."
Burnside: What was last year like for you especially after the year before?
Gaglardi: "It was incredibly frustrating. I think I've been in Dallas 5-6 seasons now, and every year we've improved and this one we went backwards. So, it was a tough pill to swallow. We know that a lot of things went right for us the year before, but we expected to be a 100-point-plus team this year, and we didn't get anywhere close to it. So it was tough, because it was so obvious what was wrong and we just couldn't get it right. So it was incredibly frustrating. I don't know what else to say.
"From our coaches to our players to everybody, you just saw it on everyone's face. We just couldn't get the ship going the right direction."
Video: Seguin on the change in Stars offensive strategy
Burnside: Is there a way to quantify how important this season is in bouncing back?
Gaglardi: I think it's an important year for our core, because the core didn't get the job done this past year. So I think it's very important for this core to get it done. And it's an important year for Tyler Seguin. It's an important year for Jamie Benn. It is an important year for John Klingberg. Those three guys led our team the year before, and they didn't get the job done this past year and it's time. It's time to know what Tyler is. It's time for Jamie to re-assert himself as one of the pre-eminent power forwards in the game, and it's time for John Klingberg to get back into the top five or seven in scoring among defensemen -- where he should be.
"And I think if that doesn't happen then, if those things don't happen, then I think you have to look a little deeper than we think we needed to look this off-season."
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB.