Common words written (or I guess typed) on this site regularly over recent seasons. A saying that I have used many times and started using back shortly after Joe Nieuwendyk‘s hiring as the General Manager of the Dallas Stars. In Joe We Trust. But for the first time, the phrase ends with one simple character that changes everything. In Joe We Trust?
It has to be asked, and it has been something I have been pondering all offseason. Normally I try to take myself out of the equation here and present things with an open mind and at least try to provide intellectual things for fans to read that are not covered with my opinions and ideas. Yet when I do step in the way and present things with a personal spin, often they are big articles I have spent a lot of time thinking about or they have to do with personal experiences. So who am I to question a GM of a professional sports franchise? He at least got the job because others higher up the food-chain thought he could lead this fractured team into a new era. But just like a president, a general manager has a “term” of command and it only continues if results and growth are produced.
There have been the big wins for GM Joe, but the questionable choices have definitely been there too. The trade for now impressive goalie Kari Lehtonen from the Atlanta Thrashers looks like one of those big “wins” that went in his favor. But things have remained under dark clouds in Dallas throughout the ups-and-downs. Now four straight seasons without a playoff appearance after the team had not experienced back-to-back seasons without a chance for the Cup since coming to Texas, and the clock is ticking on Joe’s term. Three of those seasons have happened under Nieuwy’s tenure, and this season likely decides if he earns more time at the helm or if the team should “elect” someone new to take this team forward.
Of course his hands have been tied behind his back for much of this time while the Stars were going through financial issues and operating under a very strict cap as the franchise was up for sale. Yet during that he already had his first head coach fired and in a way admitted that Marc Crawford didn’t work out at all. But with the gloves off and a new knight-in-shining armor coming to town in the form of new owner Tom Gaglardi, the Stars were set to jump back into the mix at the top of the NHL this summer. Yet the offseason plan came down to adding aging stars in Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney, while trading longtime fan favorites in Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott. The “Pesky Stars” became the smarter Stars as management tries to compete right now while they let their prospects and young core grow. Yet it is concerning that again he and the team did not address the sub-par defensive group that is in place. And maybe it will work, at least I hope that it does. Being in the building for every game of the 2008 playoff run now feels like a dream I had as a kid and not something that happened in my current life.
But it is time for GM Joe and his supporters to start facing some of the questionable moves and decisions that have pushed many longtime fans to call for his tenure to end quickly if things don’t get better. For every good free agent signing like Michael Ryder, there has been an ugly one like Adam Pardy. And the Lehtonen trade is negated in some minds by the move that brought in Alex Goligoski at the cost of James Neal and Matt Niskanen, which many Stars fans and media members try to defend. While Goose does have the skills to be a big part of the team, to many people outside of Texas it is considered one of the more lop-sided trades in recent years in hockey. And now trading Otter for Derek Roy? Who is injured yet again and will likely be out until the holidays? Everyone should be at least starting to question some moves.
But as a fan of the franchise since before I even knew how to drive a car or what a CBA was, one thing that will always stick with me is that Joe was the GM and head of the franchise when the old faces of the franchise named Modano, Turco, and Lehtinen left the ice. Jere Lehtinen did it on his own terms, and Marty Turco going to Chicago didn’t bother me much because I thought his time was over. But Mike Modano skating in a Detroit Red Wings sweater and knowing that he was there because GM Joe didn’t want him back was hard. Then Modano retired and things should have gone back to how they were. Mike should have been back with the Stars and helping guide the franchise back to success. Instead he never was brought back and now he (and other former players) own the Allen Americans, battling for attention 30 minutes away from the arena where I cried at ice level as Modano skated for the final time in a Dallas sweater. Something has to be said about that too. That during a time when attendance is at its lowest and fan interest is quickly fading among some longtime fans, many are being alienated and pushed away by the actions of the GM along with the moves he is making.
So I’m not calling for his head yet, but my confidence has been shaken. I once had a man simply approach me at an event in Frisco and gain my attention by saying “In Joe We Trust” to me at the gift shop. In a second I knew he was a reader and fan, and repeated the phrase right back along with a welcome handshake and discussion about the team. Now I’m not sure I would react the same way. This season is his campaign, his final stand.
He needs Jagr and Whitney to bring flair and excitement back to the offense. He needs Lehtonen to stand on his head and steal games yet again. He needs Jamie Benn to take another step forward and show the NHL that he is an All-Star. And he needs to force me to buy playoff tickets in April. My wallet might not like it at the time, but my heart (and many others around Texas) needs to walk into a packed building that is blacked-out by fans in the spring again. It is time for Nieuwendyk to earn our trust again, to finally show that with the financial freedom he can take the next step in returning this franchise to brighter days. But in the end, if he can’t do it right now, I’m not sold on him being able to do it in the future.