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Hardships of 2010s could mean Stars are roaring into new decade

As the calendar turns to 2020, let's look back at five key moves that helped shape the franchise's future

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Let's face it, this decade didn't get off to a great start if you're a Stars fan.

Hicks Sports Group had defaulted on a ton of loans, and the Stars were under the control of the NHL. Interim president Tony Tavares was trying to navigate a potential transition through bankruptcy, and then-GM Joe Nieuwendyk had a $45 million budget which was about $11 million under the NHL's salary cap at the time.

During the summer of 2010, the team decided to part ways with the face of the franchise, and Mike Modano ended up playing the 2010-11 season with the hated Detroit Red Wings.

What could be worse?

Well, as the team tried to battle its way back, it landed in a stretch where it missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons.

Let's just say they tested the faith of their fan base.

At one point, they were playing in front of a half-empty arena while pondering what the future might be.

The fact that it is what it is right now is a testament to how much the organization has changed. Owner Tom Gaglardi bought the Stars out of bankruptcy court in November of 2011, and it took a few years before he was able to get the pieces in place that he wanted.

But as the team heads into 2020, let's look back at five huge moves that helped shape the future:

 

1. Jim Nill is hired as general manager

Tom Gaglardi was looking for some experience in the Dallas market when he bought the team, so he brought back former Stars president Jim Lites.

In addition to helping get the business side of the Stars back on its feet, Lites also scored a coup when he was able to bring in Jim Nill as general manager in 2013. Lites and Nill had connections through the Detroit Red Wings, and Nill was the most sought-after GM candidate in the league at the time. Getting him to come to Dallas was a huge factor in establishing a respected front office that could push the right buttons and assemble a roster that could compete.

Nill has had his misses, but he has had more hits, assembling a team that right now is among the best in the NHL defensively and has a chance to make a long playoff run if the pieces fall into place.

And while the roster is among the oldest in the NHL, the core still has a lot of youth. The trio of John Klingberg (27), Esa Lindell (25) and Miro Heiskanen (20) could form the heart of a defense that could be great for years to come. Meanwhile, a forward group that includes Tyler Seguin (28), Radek Faksa (26), Jason Dickinson (24), Roope Hintz (23) and Denis Gurianov (22) also has the potential to age well.

 

2. Tyler Seguin is acquired in trade with Bruins

One of the biggest flaws before Nill took over was the lack of center depth. Jamie Benn was playing center instead of left wing, and the departures of Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro left a lot of space in the pivot.

Nill fixed that in two summers, acquiring Tyler Seguin from Boston in 2013 and Jason Spezza from Ottawa in 2014. Spezza had a solid run and has since moved on to Toronto, but Seguin could become one of the best players in franchise history.

Since his acquisition in 2013, Seguin ranks eighth in NHL scoring with 496 points in 511 games. He is fourth in goals in that span with 217. Even during what most would consider a down season by his standards, Seguin leads the Stars with 32 points, is plus-6 and is winning 58 percent of his faceoffs.

The Stars sent Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Joe Morrow and Matt Fraser to the Bruins for Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button. It is seen as one of the best trades in franchise history.

 

3. Miro Heiskanen drafted third overall in 2017

The Stars did not have a whole lot of luck in the draft during the decade, but they were dealt a winning hand in 2017. With the Stars set to draft eighth overall, the draft lottery handed Dallas a huge gift.

During the NHL's reshuffling of the "lottery" teams, the Stars moved up to third overall. They selected Miro Heiskanen, and they feel they might have a "No. 1 defenseman" for years to come. The draft itself was a bit of a funny one, as everyone had Nico Hischier first and Nolan Patrick second. That's exactly how they went, and that left the Stars with an interesting decision at No. 3. Dallas could take Heiskanen, Canadian defenseman Cale Makar, or Swedish center Elias Pettresson. The Stars went with Heiskanen and are pleased with their pick.

The skilled defenseman is leading the team in time on ice at 24:30 this season and has 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 42 games. He also is plus-9.

The Stars have had plenty of misses on first round picks this decade. If you want to go back to 2009, you can list Scott Glennie (eighth overall), Jack Campbell (11th overall), Valeri Nichushkin (10th overall) and Julius Honka (14th overall) as players that didn't work out. But if you include Heiskanen in the current group of draft picks, there is a chance that Dallas will be able to ice a future roster with plenty of home-grown talent.

Among the players who could be important going forward are 2019 first-round pick Thomas Harley, 2018 first-round pick Ty Dellandrea, 2015 first-round pick Denis Gurianov, and 2017 first-round pick Jake Oettinger.

There was some luck in getting Heiskanen, but the Stars are hoping they will surround that luck with plenty of depth.

 

4. Brad Alberts takes over as team president

Not unlike players and front office personnel, changes to the business side also can help determine the destiny of a pro sports franchise.

When Jim Lites decided to concentrate more on big picture business and helping Tom Gaglardi's interests in Texas, he handed the day-to-day operation of the Stars to Brad Alberts in 2018. It was the right choice.

Alberts started selling tickets with the Stars in 1996 and moved up the ranks into management before leaving in 2009. He returned in 2011, and has been a key member of the decision-making group ever since. When he was given his current job, Alberts set out to not only improve the small details of the organization but also push for dream projects.

One of those dream projects was the Winter Classic, and he and the management group made that happen on Jan. 1. Dallas played host to an outdoor hockey game at the Cotton Bowl, and really established the Stars as an organization to watch. Mix that with the hosting the 2018 NHL Draft, and the city and team are definitely in a good place in terms of their relationship with the league.

 

5. Gaglardi family buys the Stars in 2011

Clearly the best move of the decade was the purchase of the team out of bankruptcy by Tom Gaglardi and his father, Bob. Not only did the purchase give the team the financial security it needed to make moves like getting Jim Nill and Tyler Seguin, it created a chain reaction where the benefits could be exponential.

In addition to allowing management to create a sales plan that has the building full on most nights, the investment of the Gaglardi's in Texas real estate and the hotel and restaurant business means the financial footprint for Northland Properties is expanding. The Vancouver-based business now is finding success in North Texas and the Austin area, and that means that the Stars franchise is only going to get stronger.

The most recent Forbes rankings has the Stars 12th in the NHL in franchise value at $600 million, and that is a significant upgrade in the span of eight years.

The past decade started with a 3-1 home loss to Vancouver on Jan. 2, 2010 en route to another year without the playoffs. This decade started with a 4-2 win over Nashville on New Year's Day before 85,630 fans at the Cotton Bowl. So maybe there was more good done over the past 10 years than we realize.

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Buffalo Sabres when they return home to American Airlines Center on Thursday, Jan. 16 at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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