Stars Hope to Follow Coyotes', Texas Rangers' Success in Uncertain Times
"It's the trend!" Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk joked.
Dallas is dealing with one of those strange bankruptcy summers such as the one Phoenix had last year; the ownership group is up in the air, and financial matters are complicated, hindering any large additional payroll outlays.
But all Nieuwendyk has to do for inspiration is to look to the conference rival Coyotes, who had one of their best seasons ever even as their bankruptcy issues were continuing, and closer to home, the Texas Rangers, who are in first place in the American League West. The Stars and Rangers are in the same boat -- their upheaval was due to the failures of the same ownership group, headed up by Tom Hicks. But Texas is steaming toward what looks like its first playoff appearance in a decade.
"No doubt, we're certainly keeping an eye on the success they've had," Nieuwendyk told FanHouse on Thursday morning. "We'd like to follow in their footsteps."
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is likewise keeping tabs on the Stars, because the front offices know each other and they've shared some executives, team presidents and public relations staff and the like, over the years. According to Daniels, the Rangers might have been in a better position in terms of the season when the bankruptcy issues hit in May -- they'd already had their budget approved and they'd done their big spending (Vladimir Guerrero, Rich Harden).
Even now, Daniels said, the team can maneuver to a certain degree. There are just more levels of approval to go through as the team heads toward a sale at auction next week. (The auction might be delayed, however, after the objection of creditors, chief among them, Alex Rodriguez, who is still owed nearly $25 million by the Rangers.)
Operating with unusual limitations, though, leads to more creativity. Look at Coyotes GM Don Maloney, who swung seven deals right at the deadline, and Daniels, who was able to acquire top trade target Cliff Lee as well as catcher Bengie Molina despite the Rangers' bankruptcy -- and he got cash included in the deals. Maloney was named the NHL's top GM after the season, and Daniels is a prime candidate for such consideration in MLB.
"There are pros and cons," Daniels said of running a team during a bankruptcy period. "It presents different challenges, but in some ways -- it's kind of funny, and I don't want to sound flippant -- but the challenge is fun, trying to put the pieces together."
The key for Texas, and Daniels, was that the team already was building to this point, with many of the building blocks in place already.
"We'd been moving toward this goal for a few years," Daniels said. "'This would have been more detrimental during a period when we were trying to invest in the infrastructure."
Phoenix's run, on the other hand, was more out of the blue, but the Coyotes did share something with the Rangers -- young talent to deal for established players at the deadline, which is how Maloney made his big splash. Daniels credited the Rangers' scouts for putting the team in such a good position to make deals.
"Young players can take the form of currency," he said. "You can include another player instead of taking on salary.
"But we can't do that in November. I don't think Vladimir Guerrero or A-Rod will take a couple of prospects instead of salary."
Because Nieuwendyk is in his offseason, that's the issue he's presented with now. He'd have loved to add a high-priced defenseman, but unless he can get teams to take a few minor leaguers in return, he's looking at making smaller impacts here and there.
That said, Nieuwendyk believes that adding forward Adam Burish is significant, even if it went a little under the radar. Burish will make $1 million in the first year of a two-year deal.
"Any time you can add a guy coming off a Stanley Cup, it's good for the locker room," Nieuwendyk said. "He's not a high-impact guy in terms of statistics, but I think he helps us put in place the team we want to be -- a team that's harder to play against."
Nieuwendyk has other business remaining, namely re-signing restricted free agents James Neal, Nicklas Grossman and Matt Niskanen. There's been some speculation that Neal might not get a longer term-type deal because of the ownership uncertainty; talk has been of a two-year contract. Nieuwendyk said only that there are comparable players to look at when talking about a contract for Neal, and he mentioned that two-year bridge-type contracts are the ones that assistant GM Frank Provenzano has been favoring.
Along with dealing with the bankruptcy disruptions, this has been a difficult summer for Nieuwendyk on a personal level, as he had to part ways with two friends and longtime Stars, goalie Marty Turco and Stars great Mike Modano.
"It has been very difficult," Nieuwendyk said. "But I realized when I took this job that those scenarios were coming up for me. I know everyone doesn't play together forever, but it's a challenge because I am friends with those guys. I think I can maintain those relationships."
Turco is expected to sign elsewhere, and Modano might, too -- he is mulling his options and he'll put his skates on and see how things feel in the next week or so.
Whatever Modano chooses, Nieuwendyk says that he can always return to the Stars in some capacity.
"That will be a given," Nieuwendyk said. "He will always be a Dallas Star, even if he goes and plays somewhere else this season. When he knocks on the door, it's always open for him, and when the ownership situation is in place, it could be pretty soon."