Monday, December 31, 2018

DGB weekend power rankings: The Oilers retool, the Predators fade, and the Stars do whatever the #### that was

The​ rankings took last​ week​ off,​ so​ with​ two​ weeks of​ action to account​ for we should​ expect​ to see a higher-than-usual​​ level of turnover in both the top and bottom five to the extent that blah blah blah let’s talk about how the Dallas Stars have gone looney tunes.

Seriously, I realize that this is a power rankings piece and I should stay focused on which teams go where. But I have a few rules in life, and one of them is that if a team’s CEO kicks off the weekend by going on an expletive-laden rant that would make the corpse of Harold Ballard blush, it gets to be the lead story.

If you haven’t read the rundown in Sean Shapiro’s piece yet, you must do so immediately. And if you have read it, you need to read it again to convince yourself that you didn’t dream it. Go do that now, then come back.

Done? Cool. Now that you’ve read the story, learned some new curse words, and your screen is covered with the singed hair that used to be your eyebrows, let’s figure out what all of this means.

Point one: I don’t think Dallas Stars CEO Jim Lites is super-happy with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, you guys. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Is he right? Well, no, not really – Seguin and Benn don’t seem to be the problem in Dallas. But that hardly matters now, since it’s not like these are the sort of comments you can walk back.

Point two: Man, the timing is weird here. The rant came the night after the Stars went into Nashville and shut out the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners. That win was their third in five games, and moved them back into a wild-card spot. You’d think you might want to build on that, not use it as a starting point to go scorched earth on your two franchise players.

And finally, the biggest point of all: It’s hard to imagine any way in which this helps the Stars, either now or in the future. Benn and Seguin didn’t sound happy on Saturday, as you’d expect, and while neither poured any additional gas on the fire the NHLPA is now getting involved. Both players are signed to long-term deals, and even if the Stars wanted to trade them – ownership denies that they do – it would be hard to pull it off in a way that made the team better. And which players are going to be lining up to replace them at the top of the lineup, now that the entire league knows that the Stars are an organization that will publicly humiliate its top players when things are going well?

And it wasn’t just about Benn and Seguin. Lites’ comments didn’t just bury his two stars; they sure seemed to imply that GM Jim Nill could be under the gun too. He probably should be, given the teams’ recent record, but having management advertise the fact publicly can’t make his job any easier.

Maybe the biggest problem with Friday’s meltdown is that it wasn’t spontaneous or off-the-cuff, meaning it appears to reflect the agreed-upon thinking of the organization from the top down. And when you strip away the profanity and the hyperbole, that thinking seems to boil down to: We’re already good enough – “too good”, in fact – and we just need to try harder. Not scoring enough goals? Just “get a little bit closer to the action”, as Lites put it, and the problem is solved.

It sure sounds easy when you put it that way. Unfortunately, that’s not the sort of thing that a struggling team comes up with after any sort of serious self-reflection. It’s wishful thinking, the sort of feel-good story you tell yourself when you don’t have the guts to admit that there are bigger flaws in play.

Maybe it works, and Lites’ tirade ends up inspiring the team. Maybe it doesn’t but ends up coinciding with a win streak and we all decide to pretend it somehow helped. Or maybe the boss just torpedoed a season, or even more than that. We’ll find out. At the very least, we can say the Stars are interesting again. For three years they’ve been that team you forget about when you’re going through the Central in your head and get stuck at six teams. Not anymore.

On to the power rankings. We have two weeks to work with, which should shake up our rankings. Let’s find out just how much.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed toward a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

Saturday was the rare case of the league breaking out the maximum 15-game schedule. Then they went and played just one game last night. That’s a bit weird for fans, but as someone who writes most of a weekend wrap column on Sunday afternoon, I’m all for it.

5. Winnipeg Jets (24-12-2, +22 true goals differential*) – They’re opening up some space on top of the Central. But the loss of Dustin Byfuglien will hurt, and the offence has only managed multiple goals in one of their last five games. This week’s schedule is a fun one, with the Oilers, Penguins and Stars on tap.

4. Calgary Flames (23-12-4, +28) – Flames or Sharks? That’s the tough call in the Pacific these days. The Flames hold a slight lead, but the Sharks are the hotter team right now. Some models like Calgary. Others prefer San Jose. We’ll get to see them head-to-head tonight, but for now I’m leaning toward the Flames. (Now they just need to avoid any unnecessary distractions…)

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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