The Dallas Stars headed into the current season with a lot of something they have not had much of in recent years — leadership.
Starting from the top, owner Tom Gagliardi is a true hockey man running the franchise. He understands and loves the sport itself. He has been on point by making the right hire at general manager and by keeping this team’s future positive while remembering the past, with such events as Mike Modano’s retirement ceremony. Jim Nill’s management, decision-making process, scouting and leadership were cultivated with the Detroit Red Wings, who are considered the best team in those departments.
Coach Lindy Ruff’s wealth of experience behind the bench has made a tremendous difference in the team. He knows how to get his players motivated and ready for battle every night of a long, grueling season. New captain Jamie Benn was known as a quiet leader before this season, but he has really stepped up. He has handled the pressure well, seems to be more outspoken, and continues to do most of his talking through impressive actions on the ice.
He is flanked by several strong leaders, including grizzled veterans Ray Whitney, Vernon Fiddler and former Edmonton Oilers captain Sean Horcoff. Even though he is young, Tyler Seguin has the experience of winning a Stanley Cup and deep playoff runs that can help the team in the final stretch of the season. Tim Thomas also brings the experience of team and individual success through several deep playoff runs and a Stanley Cup.
The Stars have endured an emotional roller coaster over the past several days. They witnessed the ceremony for Modano and followed it up hours later with a come-from-behind win against their Central Division rival, the Minnesota Wild. They were down a goal in the third period and lost one of the most important players to the team, goalie Kari Lehtonen, to a concussion. They rallied for two important points to hold on to a playoff spot.
They witnessed their teammate and friend Rich Peverley collapse on the bench early in the first period of their game Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Ruff was next to Peverley’s side as he was revived, and he made it clear that he thought it would be best for the game to be postponed. Nill immediately left the general manager meetings in Florida to be by Peverley’s side.
Alex Chiasson was affected by the incident to the point that he did not play in the game against the St. Louis Blues the next night. The team rallied together under the leadership of their coach, captain and veterans, and earned a gutsy 5-4 victory in overtime against one of the best teams in the league.
Even earlier this season, they endured seeing their most tenured teammate and leader on defense Stephane Robidas break his leg, and yet they pushed into a playoff position as he recovered. They played through a stretch in December where veteran defensemen Trevor Daley, Sergei Gonchar, Aaron Rome and Robidas were out with injuries. Even with very young and inexperienced replacements, they fought hard and came together as a team and avoided a slump. They endured a 1-8-1 start to the new calendar year only to battle back up the standings and into a Wild Card spot.
The Stars have been through a lot this season, but their continued resolve and refusal to cave is a tribute to this team’s leadership on and off the ice — a leadership that they hope will result in their first playoff appearance in six seasons.