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The Week That Was: Game Changer

by Bruce LeVine / Dallas Stars

At some point in everyone’s life the question gets asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”  The same query can also be applied to a rebuilding sports franchise. For the 2016-17 season my hope is the Dallas Stars will:

  1. Be playing in a division comprised mainly of teams from the Central Time Zone
  2. Wear their white jerseys for all home games
  3. Play every NHL team at least twice a year (home and away)
  4. Have their fifth consecutive year of stable and supportive ownership
  5. Look to build on their recent trips to the NHL Playoffs
  6. Be considered legitimate contenders to WIN the Stanley Cup

Jamie Oleksiak (6’7”, 244 lbs) was selected 14th overall by the Stars on Friday night.
The first three items are league issues. The fourth is still waiting to be played out but the foundation for items five and six is being created right now. When fans look for a time frame when the Stars created a new future, they will look at the week of June 20-26, 2011 as the definitive moment, a week that consisted of bookend events to form the future of the franchise. From a new coach to a draft that carried the mantra “Go Big or Go Home” this week had it all and more.

Monday, June 20: New Dallas Stars Coach Glen Gulutzan is officially introduced during a press conference at American Airlines Center. Over the years NHL coaching hires seem to go in phases. There was the rehire old-NHL coach phase, the hire Canadian Junior Hockey coach phase, the hire NHL assistant coach phase, and now the current thinking is go with a young coach who has proven himself at the minor league level. The hot commodity among NHL coaches last year was Tampa’s Guy Boucher who led his team to within one win of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. Boucher made his minor league reputation at Hamilton where he coached the Canadiens top farm team to within one game of the 2010 Calder Cup finals. The team that beat Boucher’s club in Hamilton in games 6 and 7 to deny the trip to the finals? The Texas Stars coached by Glen Gulutzan. The Stars new leader worked his way up through the minor league ranks and created winners in Las Vegas of the ECHL and the Texas of the AHL. At every stop as a coach, Gulutzan has grown into the job learning more about his profession with every season.

“We’re going to have some non-negotiable items that are going to make us hard to play against,” said Gulutzan at the podium. If one of those non-negotiable items is keeping Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, Joe Thornton, Dustin Brown and Pavel Datsyuk from firing multiple point blank shots at Kari Lehtonen, this will be a good thing. Gulutzan plans to have multiple looks on the forechecking end and add a zone defense at the other end of the rink.  Don’t let the age (39) be an issue either. If he can keep his players out of trouble and focused on hockey in places like Las Vegas and Austin, Gulutzan will have no problems commanding respect with his new team.  Gulutzan is young, energetic. innovative and fits the mold what is needed to be successful in the current NHL. He is college educated, talks well and looks good on TV.(which never hurts when trying to sell tickets) This is the new face and brains of the franchise behind the bench and one major building block for future success.

Wednesday, June 22: The NHL awards were handed out in Las Vegas. For some reason Jay Mohr was the host (usually award shows get someone funny to handle emcee duties) and presenters had a hard time getting names correct, creating new people such as Steve WHYzerman and Nicholas LINDstrom.  Dallas Stars winger Loui Eriksson was nominated for the Lady Byng award but did not win. Loui will win the award someday and is actually lucky he did not have to go on stage and pick up the award from Kelsey Grammer’s ex-wife. (Note to NHL, anyone who is on a “Real Housewives” show is NOT a celebrity.) There are plenty of people with talent who like hockey and should be on the show. Just a few names to think about for next year, Keifer Sutherland, Vince Vaughn, Jim Belushi, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page or maybe even Wayne Gretzky. The Trailer Park Boys would have been more dignified that those two refugees from a tanning bed mishap. (Bubbles handling out an award would have been a YouTube sensation) Just to top off the debacle, the winner of the Lady Byng was announced as “Martin Saint Lewis”. Daniel Sedin was able to pick up the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer only because Zdeno Chara chose not block his path to the stage. Otherwise that award would still be untouched and sitting in Vegas. One last idea to make this program better, nominate Mike Fischer for an award, ANY award. That way his wife will be at the event, can sing and we won’t have to sit through whatever the “Far East Movement” was doing.  On the bright side Jon Hamm is a St. Louis Blues fan, was the best presenter of the night and loves the sport. The NHL Award show should sign him to a Roberto Luongo type contract immediately.

Thursday, June 23: The schedule for the 2011-12 season was released and some games just jumped off the page. The New Year’s Eve game against the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins should be epic. If you need any reminder why, watch the first period from this past meeting in Boston. This is not the night to be fashionably late. Toronto visits on the night after Thanksgiving, while all of hockey hopes that Sidney Crosby will be fully recovered from his concussion and back to full greatness when the Penguins visit on Leap Day. On a personal note, the Islanders visit on December 3, giving me the chance to watch the only team I have ever broadcast a game that has not folded yet. With news of a possible realignment, hockey fans are hoping this is the last year they have to check a schedule and see who is NOT coming to town. The NHL has done a great job of marketing lately and every team playing at least one game in each arena needs to happen immediately.

If getting the new schedule wasn’t enough then came news from Philadelphia on two blockbuster deals. Jeff Carter to Columbus was surprising enough but the Mike Richards to Los Angeles deal raised the shock value to 11 using the Spinal Tap rating of 1 to 10. I love and hate this trade for two reasons. Love the trade because each team gave up value to get value, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn are young, talented and could blossom into stars with the Flyers. I hate this trade because it sent Richards to the Kings. LA now has two standout goalies, (Quick, Bernier) a rock solid D-Corp ( Doughty, Johnson, Greene, Scuderi, Mitchell) and now is building a powerful scoring unit up front. The Kings are an organization that built its base through the draft and now has stockpiled enough talent to make this type of deal without affecting its core players.  It’s the same blueprint that Joe Nieuwendyk and his staff are looking to create here in Dallas.
The other big sports story of the day was the NBA Draft. The talent pool this year had less depth than the latest CD from Ke$ha and should never be mentioned again.

Friday, June 24: Draft Day! Every team hopes to strike it rich with talent during the next two days. There have been some monster draft days in the past such as Edmonton in 1979, who drafted Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier and Glen Anderson. In 2003, Anaheim drafted both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the first round while Nashville found three of their top defensemen, Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Kevin Klein in this one draft alone.

The only way to watch the draft in the United States was through the TSN feed. This is a Canadian production aimed at the home country audience. The only way it could have a more Canadian feel is if the announcers were at a Moose Lodge with catering from Tim Horton’s and refreshments provided by Molson. The draft is a huge day for the country of Canada. Anyone watching in the United States needs to be aware of certain “phrases” that will be used during the broadcast and what these announcers are really saying:

  1. “He is a can’t-miss prospect and will star in the NHL” means “Any Canadian Born player who excelled in Canadian Major Junior Hockey.”
  2. “Most consider him a can’t miss prospect but there are still some doubters” means “Any player not born in Canada but excelled in Canadian Major Junior Hockey.”
  3. “He has excelled at every level but I’d like to see him against better competition”  means “He’s a top American player but played High School, in the USHL or NCAA and not the Canadian Junior system”  (This opinion drives American hockey people absolutely berserk as Team USA’s repeated success in the World Juniors and U-18 tournament should have earned these kids more respect).
  4. “There are questions about his toughness” means “ He’s European.”
  5. “It’s great to have Winnipeg back in the NHL” means “Eat my shorts, Gary Bettman”

No surprise with the first overall pick as the Oilers select Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. It is my sincere hope that someday he plays on a line with Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, giving Edmonton the chance to have the NHL’s first all-hyphenated front line.

Hard to believe the fans in Minnesota booed when Dallas went up to make their selection. It’s been nearly 20 years since the move. Minnesota hockey fans, you have your own NHL club, a better building than before and the Met Center has been turned into the Mall of America. More people go on the water ride at the MOA in one month than went to North Stars games during their last year in the Twin Cities. Besides, wasn’t beating Dallas on the last game of the season and eliminating the team from the playoffs enough? We have a common hatred for the Blackhawks, Red Wings and Canucks. How about turning the page and let’s be friends again.

“The Dallas Stars are pleased to select from Northeastern University… Jamie Oleksiak” To say I LOVE this pick is an understatement. (Earlier in the day, I had Tweeted this player as the one I thought would be picked in the 14th spot. My three followers can attest to this fact.) First of all,  6’7”, 244 lbs and coordinated is a hard combination to beat on the blue line. There have been many large defensemen drafted over the years but few who can combine size and athleticism. That’s what makes this pick special. Oleksiak played in the USHL, the top junior league in the country, and showed toughness by dropping the gloves six times in one season. The youngest starter at Northeastern University, he led his team in plus-minus while starting in 38 games. Hockey East is a dynamic league with powerhouse colleges that had won the prior three NCAA titles. Players, especially 17 year olds, don’t get top minutes under Greg Cronin unless you can take care of business in the defensive end. Some scouts compare Oleksiak with Zdeno Chara, others say he is more like Tyler Myers of Buffalo. One of these players just won the Stanley Cup, the other was Rookie of the Year in 2010, not bad company. Remember back in the glory days of Hatcher and Ludwig when the only time the Stars defense was considered small was in comparison to Andre the Giant or Jerry Jones ego? If things go as planned, within the next few years the big man from NU could be leading the intimidation revival on the Dallas blue line.

Saturday, June 25: “Go Big or Go Home” could also describe Saturday’s picks for the Stars. Second round pick RW Brett Ritchie from Sarnia of the OHL averaged nearly a point a game last year despite missing time with mononucleosis. Big, strong, and goes to the net, are good attributes to have in a power forward.  6’3” 210 lbs doesn’t hurt either. With this pick fans have dreams of Jamie Benn, 2.0 version. Richie is still quite young and growing. He will turn 18 on July 1, the first day of Stars development camp in McKinney.

With the 4th round pick Dallas took Swedish center Emil Molin who averaged more than 2 points per game playing for his U-18 team in the Swedish Junior League last season. At an even 6 feet tall and 170 lbs, he is the runt of the litter with this group. For his sake, I hope Molin has speed and elusiveness.

Fifth round pick Troy Vance is another big blue liner at 6’6”, 200 lbs. Only 17 years old, Vance made two huge changes to enhance his career. The first was moving from forward to defense. The second was a Grand Canyon sized leap of faith. After playing for Philadelphia of the EJHL,    (a league not considered in the top two of US developmental programs) Vance went to play for Victoriaville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. (The QMJHL was the proving ground for Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy among others) The difference in talent is monumental but Vance hung in for 23 games and continued to improve.  He could turn out to be the sleeper pick of this draft.  Strange fact but the Stars selections with this round have been more successful than top picks lately. Tom Wandell, Tomas Vincour, Philip Larsen, Mike Smith and Jamie Benn all were taken in round 5.

In the 6th and 7th rounds Dallas selected Right Wing Matej Stransky and Defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka. These players have been described as late bloomers and potential pronunciation nightmares for Ralph and Razor.

The game now being played in the NHL is geared toward puck movement and speed but there will always be a place for size and toughness. This year’s group averages 6-3½ in height and 201.3 pounds in weight. The three defensemen average 6-5¼ tall and 212 pounds. The Stars new owner is going to spend at least $200,000,000 to buy the team and another couple million just to feed these guys at rookie camp. The stockpiling of talent continues and it is only a matter of time before the organization reaps the rewards of the hard work from the scouting system.

Sunday, June 26: Stars dominate the local airwaves as Joe Nieuwendyk appears live on Channel 5 while at the same time Glen Gulutzan is live on Channel 8. The head coach announces that Paul Jerrard, an assistant with the Texas Stars, will be joining the staff in Dallas. Jerrard is one final piece to the coaching staff and very familiar with teaching Gulutzan’s on-ice systems.

It was seven days, that for better or worse, will shape the future of this franchise. With free agency about to begin and Dallas needing to spend more than 10 million dollars to reach the salary cap floor, more work in a short period of time will be needed. No one knows for sure where the Stars will be five years from now, but we do know the seeds for that growth have been planted and now hope to see the rewards. It was seven days that introduced a new coach, new draft picks and a new vision for the future of the organization. Quite a week indeed.

Bruce LeVine is the post-game co-host for Dallas Stars road games on Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket.  Email Bruce at or follow him on Twitter @BruceLeVine22

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