Despite the Stars' disappointment, it was fun to watch the Oilers kick everyone's butts on the way to the Finals. First they took down Detroilet. That was just beautiful - anyone who beats the Red Wings is someone I can root for. Then it was San Jose, who had become the West's No. 1 seed with the departure of the top four. One more speed bump, this time Anaheim - who I was pleased to see take down the Avs after flushing my Stars as deserved, seeing as they just stunk things up.
Thus, "Let's go Oilers!" became the chant of choice among myself and my hockey-inclined associates. Seven games later, the Carolina Hurricanes were hoisting Lord Stanley's hardware, and deservedly so. The Cinderella story had run out of gas one game too soon. Maybe they had Danica Patrick's pit crew working behind the scenes, but that's for another time.
Alas, a new season looms. My official countdown clock to the opening of the 2006-07 NHL campaign is... well... it's still packed in a box around here somewhere I suppose (I'm on the three-months-to-move-in-the-new-house plan). The big mystery for us diehard Stars fans after the postseason was which offseason moves the team was likely to make. Now, the word is out, as is the jury. Anyone who's seen South Park will know Kyle's mom, and her famous head-shaking cry:
Wha, wha, WHAT???
In order to relate a hockey story to fans of the team in town that gets press even when a player suffers an offseason hangnail - yes, the Dallas Cowboys - I salute your former quarterback (and now part-owner of NASCAR s Hall Of Fame Racing - funny how I fit that reference in, isn't it?). Troy Aikman has officially been dethroned in Dallas as "Captain Concussion." Move over, Acme Brick boy, because Eric Lindros is now wearing a star.
I recall a scene in the movie Highlander as the two police officers were chatting by the newsstand, and the proprietor is reading about the headless bodies being found in the city. He mockingly asks, "What does baffled mean?" Sign me up for that crew, because I have no idea what Doug Armstrong and the Stars management were thinking on this deal.
Lindros is as prone to concussion as Florida is to tropical storms. He has to use extra-soft pillows lest he knock himself out when laying down. Even though the "new" NHL is better suited to his game of cherry-picking passes at the opponent's blue line, I still prefer Derian Hatcher's jaw-breaking elbows to this knot-head. Hatcher was the big, dumb Wookie - Lindros is the overrated, elbow-throwing, cry-baby Wookie who skates around with a "Hit Me!" sign plastered on his chest. Two words came to mind when this news broke: Oh, joy. Someone have a neck brace and stretcher handy. To his credit, at least Lindros will play - the Cowgirls can't even get Tour de France wannabe Terrell Owens on the field for practice. Where's toe-jam Deion when they need him?
But wait, there's more! I've been a fan of the NHL for a long time, and I enjoy the opportunity to watch other teams and players. There are some you love, and some you love to hate. Since 1993, when the Stars moved to Dallas, a number of names have taken on significance to the local hardcore fan base; Bryan "Public Enemy Number One" Marchment (taking out the knees of Joe Nieuwendyk and Richard Matvichuk, and almost Mike Modano), Pavel "The Dirty Commie" Bure (who took out Shane Churla in the '94 playoffs), and Sergei "Hide Your Daughters" Federov ('nuff said) come to mind. Other players you just don't like, like Jeremy Roenick (dirty hit on Mo), Ruslan Salei (dirty hit on Mo), and one guy in the East I just can't find anything nice to say about, Matthew Barnaby (who fortunately hasn't done any damage to a Star, but he's hurt players with dirty hits nonetheless).
I recall seeing Barnaby play well during a couple of years, and he had a standout playoffs in '97-'98, but inconsistency is his middle name. He's one of those guys you love on other teams, but hate on your team. Allow me to be the first to say, "No thanks" to bringing Barnaby to Dallas. They say he's here to add "grit and character." We already have young guys named Brendan Morrow and Trevor Daley to handle those duties. Unless Barnaby finds a way to post a dozen goals and 20 assists, as in '02-'03 and '03-'04, I don't see him getting much ice time, or being with the team at the end of the year. He'll only eat up ice time that would be far better filled by a younger, more skilled player.
But wait, there's even more! Last season, one of the high points on the team were the Finns. You'll know a true hockey fan in the city of Dallas if they can pronounce each of their names: Nicklas Hagman (well, that one's fairly easy since he's the namesake of Larry "J.R." Hagman of Dallas fame), Antti Miettinen, Janne Niinimaa, Niko Kapinen, Jussi Jokinen, and three-time Selke Trophy Winner Jere Lehtinen. At least the Finns won the Silver Medal in the Turin Olympics, given that the US, Canada and Russia didn't do anything noteworthy. If there's one thing hockey players coming out of Finland can do well, it's skate. The Euros play hockey with style and finesse, on a larger sheet of ice, so they have to be able to keep up - as opposed to the thuggish North American style of Neanderthal hockey.
Thus, the Finns (all but Niinimaa) were expectedly very good this past season for the Stars. Coach Dave Tippet even played them together on the same line at times, and with success. Jokinen set the league on fire with his shootout scoring prowess, and Lehts was a candidate for the Selke (awarded to best defensive forward in the NHL) yet again. So GM Armstrong goes and does what? Trades away Kapinen, who had a career-best 14 goals and 35 points for the season. Niko was sent to the Atlanta Thrashers for center Patrik Stefan and defenseman Jaroslav Modry, two positions Dallas has plenty of depth at. We'll need the extra men at center for when blockhead goes down from a drive-by-fruiting.
Actually, it'd be more accurate to say we HAD depth at center. After a disappointing season, the Stars parted ways with winger Bill Guerin, who had a lackluster year (albeit missing 12 games to injury) after his second-best run career-wise. Guerin's coffin was nailed shut with a poor playoff performance, though that was a team-wide issue. Needless to say, my number (13) is once again available should I make a career change and try out this season. So dumping Guerin was one thing, but letting big-dog Center Jason Arnott go was... hmmm... Let's just say "Captain Insano" comes to mind on this deal. Arnott anchored the second line, was the team-leader in goal-scoring with career highs in assists and points, scored on 20% of his shots, and was one goal shy (32) of team-leading Modano. Now he's on a Nashville Predators team that keeps improving, and is in our conference. When will teams learn that if you're going to let a top-notch player go, you don't send him to a team you'll face multiple times next season? I was really starting to like Arnott, and finally getting over the fact that he scored the Cup-winning goal for the New Jersey Devils at Reunion in 2001.
One possible bright light is the return of Daryl Sydor to the Stars' blue-line. He had been a fan favorite since coming to Dallas in the Doug Zmolek trade from the Kings back in 1995. Sydor showed the true grit of a hockey player after having his knee blow out in a game, only to pull himself on his hands and knees into a position to continue to help the team until play stopped. (That's why I love hockey; these guys aren't pansies like some in other sports - but I digress.)
At this point I have to question the sanity of Stars management - letting your number-two center/scorer go, letting a talented young Finn go, and bringing in an inconsistent thug and Captain Concussion...
Color me baffled.