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Spotlight of expectation shining on Stars could be a good thing

Lites' statements create urgency and conversation in an effort to motivate positive change for all involved

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Former Stars general manager Bob Gainey was a masterful motivator, and he used to chide players to speak up in the room.

"You're scared to talk," players would recount Gainey saying, "because you don't want to put your neck on the line."

Of course, Gainey would use more colorful language, but let's keep things family friendly here.

Point being, if you are going to speak out and demand more from others, you are opening yourself up to criticism. That's just how this stuff works.

In the past two days, we have seen that theory at work. Stars CEO Jim Lites made pointed criticism of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on Friday in hopes of motivating the two leaders. But comments from media and fans following the outburst have been to dissect the entire organization.

Yes, Benn and Seguin have to be better, but what about the front office? Yes, the leading scorers have to score more, but what about the depth scorers? Yes, the players have to be more consistent, but is the coaching staff putting them in position to be more consistent?

It's fair criticism, and most of it is directed at making the team better.

Video: Nill says the hockey message from Lites was 'dead on'

And that's the good part of this.

Lites' words were unexpected. This isn't how this stuff is usually done.

And yet…

It could end up being the best thing for everyone.

Basically, the Stars are unintentionally drawing back the curtain on how things work. Fans are choosing sides on if they felt Lites was right or wrong. That's good, it opens the conversation. Fans are criticizing the front office and the coaching staff. That's good, it opens the conversation. Fans are saying the players do need to be more consistent. That's good, it opens the conversation.

Benn and Seguin have seen their production slip this season, and the timing couldn't be worse. Seguin's 33 points in 39 games is behind the typical point-a-game pace he has attained since he joined the Stars in 2013. Benn has 30 points in 39 games, so he's also behind his pace.

But what's even more concerning is Seguin ranks 60th and Benn is 79th. In a league that is trending toward offense, the Stars are sliding backward. If you want to win consistently, you have to score consistently, and the Stars need that from their two best players.

Video: Benn, Seguin meet with reporters after morning skate

They're also the players with the two richest contracts, and while many hate to throw out paychecks when it comes to performance, it is part of the discussion at times like this.

I see both sides on this. The players are certainly not going to turn down offers of $9 million a season, but the front office will say rules and league-averages dictate what they have to offer. If you're getting paid at a certain average, then the success of the team in a salary cap league is reliant on you producing at that level.

Another part of this equation is whether the top players are getting supported by the rest of the roster. Injuries have hurt that support this season, and the team still is in a playoff spot. Isn't this a key time when the team is getting healthy and playing at home? Could we have seen natural improvement no matter what? Shouldn't Lites have taken that into consideration when he made his statements?

It's certainly worth discussing.

Then you get to the matter of three coaches in three seasons, and that also has to be a part of the conversation. If players like Benn and Seguin are still adjusting or adapting, could that affect their numbers? Is the new coaching staff pushing the right buttons? Are they also frustrated with the top players?

It's all part of the dissection right now.

Saturday's 5-1 win over Detroit was a good start to how this process can help. Benn and Seguin were OK, but the rest of the team rallied around them.

Video: Radulov leads Stars to 5-1 victory against Red Wings

"We are a team and we don't leave the guys by themselves," said Alexander Radulov, who scored two goals. "That's how we responded and they say whatever they want … it's time to change. We did a small step today."

While Jason Spezza added: "I think we all feel responsible, I think we want to be a better team and it's not just those guys that need to be better, we all need to be better."

GM Jim Nill reiterated that sentiment on Sunday. Everyone has to be better, and everyone has to work toward making the Stars a team that can win in the playoffs.

If nothing else, Lites' statements create urgency and create conversation.

That's the purpose of speaking out -- to motivate positive change.

And, like the ol' NHL guard believed, that motivation goes for all involved.

The spotlight of expectation is getting shone on every element of the organization -- and that should be a good thing.

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 and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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