I can clearly remember when the Stars were given to Dallas. It was the first time I ever started giving thought to NHL politics, because I was questioning the logic behind it. Hockey in Texas. It seemed like a pretty silly idea, and from what I've been hearing, it really was a stupid idea. Even though the Stars are pretty established there these days - meaning there's definitely a small group of diehard loyalists - nothing much I've been hearing about the overall sports fandom in Dallas makes me really believe people there, in a general sense, think of the Stanley Cup as anything more than just a real purrty spittoon. The fact that they're named the Stars makes me think they had to somehow hitch themselves to the NFL's Dallas Cowboys - whose logo is a blue star - in order to get noticed at all.
Someone was a real shithead. I know that simply because I know the Stars began their life in the 1967 NHL expansion as the Minnesota North Stars. It was first announced back in 1965 that the NHL was going to expand by 100 percent, so it would have twelve teams instead of just the six it had had for the previous 25 years. In response, a nine-man partnership was created to get a franchise for the Minneapolis/St. Paul area in Minnesota. Since the league appears to have spent a small time frame back then operating on actual sense, it worked! The team would be called the Minnesota North Stars, following a public contest which decided the official motto of Minnesota would double as a perfect team name. That motto would be "L'Etoile du Nord," which is French for "The Star of the North." They blew it when it came to getting the arena built on time, though; seats were still being installed at the moment fans showed up for the team's first-ever game in 1967.
The North Stars were successful very early on. They were, in fact, in first place in the West Division halfway through the season. Of course, it should be noted that the NHL was stupid about divisional alignments for this expansion. They were in first place in their division because the league had taken all the expansion teams and tossed them into a division specifically created just for them. Halfway through the year, forward Bill Masterson was skating toward the opposing goal in one game when he slipped backward and slammed his head against the ice, which rendered him unconscious. He never regained consciousness, and two days after the accident, he died. Doctors described the death as a massive brain injury, and to this day, Masterson is the only player to have ever died from an injury sustained during a game. Hockey writers established a trophy in his honor to be awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. It was nice, but it didn't stop Minnesota from going on a six-game losing streak following the news of his death. Ultimately, they finished fourth in the division with a record of 27-32-15. Being an NHL team, this more than qualified them for the playoffs! They even managed to beat the Los Angeles Kings in the first round before falling to the St. Louis Blues in the West Finals. And that series went the distance, with the deciding game going into double overtime.
The team was led by players like Lorne Worsley, Cesare Maniago, Bill Goldsworthy, Dennis Hextall, and team Captain Ted Harris in the early days. It was a good thing the North Stars had such quality players because by 1972, the World Hockey Association was setting up shop across town. They put a team into the area called the Minnesota Fighting Saints. The NHL was smart enough to schedule the occasional exhibition game between the two leagues, but oddly enough, the North Stars never did get around to playing a (probably) much-anticipated - or at least hoped-for - game against the Fighting Saints. Even so, the Stars and Saints battered each other over who would get the cold, hard cash of Minnesota's hockey faithful. Eventually, the Saints folded because the WHA merged into the NHL and it was the North Stars who had the ever-important TV contract.
Ironically, the North Stars themselves were in financial dire straits by 1978 because the team had missed the playoffs in five of the previous six years. No one wanted to support a band of losers like that, and so attendance dropped so much that the North Stars were very close to going the way of the Fighting Saints themselves. A pair of brothers stepped in to help: The Brothers Gund, George III and Gordon. They owned another expansion team from 1967, the California Seals, who at this point were in their fourth incarnation and their second city as the Cleveland Barons, and they were also strapped like a boot. Their solution was so unique it's a shock the NHL let it happen: They would fold their team and merge it into the Minnesota North Stars. While the North Stars survived, the Gunds got a sweet deal out of it by becoming the majority owners of them. Many Barons players went to Minnesota to join their new team: Gilles Meloche, Al MacAdam, and Mike Fidler were among them, and while they helped bolster the lineup, the North Stars drafted Calder Trophy winner Bobby Smith and 40-goal scorer Steve Payne.
Early in 1980, Minnesota matched up against the Philadelphia Flyers. At the time, the Flyers were them-ing high on a 35-game undefeated streak, the longest undefeated streak in North American sports. The North Stars hit the gas in this game and brought Philadelphia's streak to an end with a 7-1 blowout. The night appeared to begin a turnaround for them. With new additions like Neal Broten and Dino Ciccarelli, the North Stars posted winning records for the next five years which included two trips to the Conference Finals: The first was in 1980 against Philadelphia, who avenged the end of their streak. The second was the following year against the Calgary Flames. This time, Minnesota won and jumped into their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals. They lost in five games, though, to the New York Islanders, who were the class of the NHL at the time.
In 1982, the North Stars landed a highly coveted draft pick by the name of Brian Bellows. He became an anchor for Minnesota over the 80's and in his rookie year, he took the team to 40 wins and 96 points, both the height of what the North Stars ever achieved in Minnesota. They fell to the Chicago Black Hawks in the second round, though. This time, failure only served to encourage the North Stars. Determined to erase their past failures, the team hired a new coach in Bill Mahoney, then made a blockbuster trade when they shipped Bobby Smith off to the Montreal Canadiens for Keith Acton and Mark Napier. It resulted in another division title, though that was more a result of the division being very weak than anything else. I mean, 39-win teams usually don't win divisions. The North Stars were the only team in their division that year to have a winning record. They finally defeated Chicago in the playoffs as well, which set them up to get them into the Finals for the second time in four years. There was just one problem which stood between Minnesota and another shot at the Stanley Cup: The Edmonton Oilers. Featuring Wayne Gretzky. And Mark Messier. And Jari Kurri. And Paul Coffey. And Grant Fuhr, for whom the great Andy Moog was a backup! If you think a 39-win team stood a chance against THAT firepower, you're probably a Texan.
After that year, the North Stars posted another winning season in 1986. It was their last winning season in Minnesota. The team fell out in the 1988 season, when it won only 19 games. But since this is the NHL and playoff spots might as well be decided by games of paper-rock-scissors, the North Stars were actually in contention for the playoffs right up until the very last day of the season! On the last day, they played against an equally putrid Toronto Maple Leafs team and lost, which cost them their playoff spot…. And officially made them the worst team in the league. That year, though, they drafted the player who went on to become not only their greatest, but arguably the greatest American player in NHL history: Mike Modano.
The North Stars were afflicted with nasty attendance problems, and the Gund Brothers apparently had designs of returning to the San Francisco Bay Area. The NHL didn't want the team to leave, so they compromised by giving them a new team for the area. Naturally, this required an ownership change, so the North Stars were bought. This actually seemed to energize the team at first, at least as much as a losing team can be energized: They posted yet another losing season in 1991, but got to the Finals anyway. However, since their opponents were the Mario Lemieux/Jaromir Jagr Pittsburgh Penguins, you can guess how a losing team did. Unless, of course, you're from Texas. Somehow, though, Minnesota did actually end up stealing two games to extend the Finals to six. Even so, they fans didn't turn out to support the North Stars, so the new owner got permission to move them after not reaching a stadium deal and a sexual harassment lawsuit which resulted in the owner's wife threatening to leave him if he didn't move the team. What that last one has to do with moving a team, I don't know, but the owner was widely hated in Minnesota after leaving. Both the team and the league did what they could to mend the emotional wounds left there. When Dallas won the Stanley Cup, their video paid tribute to the North Stars, and the NHL promised a new team.
The Dallas Stars were an experiment. They were one of the three teams in the south, along with a pair of totally new teams in Florida, the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. They were all meant to see how well hockey would fly in non-traditional markets. The team was virtually unknown even in Dallas, but word picked up when they started winning for once. They got Guy Carbonneau, Joe Nieuwendyk, and coach Ken Hitchcock. By 1997, the Dallas Stars were contenders. In 1998, they fell in the Western Conference Finals. In the 1998 offseason, the Stars acquired Brett Hull, who had fallen out with his old St. Louis Blues after establishing himself as an all-time great with them.
The 1999 Stars won 51 games and recorded 114 points. They won their division, the Presidents' Trophy, and their goalies won the William Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against. They tore through Edmonton and St. Louis in the playoffs before playing a big, rivalry-establishing series against the Colorado Avalanche which went for seven games. In the Stanley Cup Finals, they faced a brutally physical Buffalo Sabres team. While Dallas was easily the better team on paper, Buffalo slugged it out for six difficult games, splitting the first four. After losing game five 2-0, the Sabres dragged game six through three overtimes before Brett Hull scored the most controversial goal in the history of the NHL. After a long-ass review, officials decided to let the goal stand. Back then, the league had the infamous Crease Rule in effect, and long story short, the officials decided to overlook a loose puck and a second shot on the idea of it being a single possession. The trouble with the whole scenario is that, no matter what the rule said or what happened in Buffalo's crease, the rule had been applied rather liberally throughout its entire existence. When it was applied, it seemed to go on the basis of any individual official's interpretation. The goal was allowed, and the Dallas Stars had "won" the purty spittoon. In other words, Buffalo was royally fucked. Dallas, meanwhile, returned to the Finals the following year, but lost to the New Jersey Devils.
Over the first half of the millennium, Dallas was absolutely dominant. At least until the playoffs started, that is! In 2001, they went to the second round but were offed by a sweep against St. Louis. They enjoyed a winning year in 2002 but didn't make the playoffs. The next year, they posted the best record in the Western Conference, only to be ousted in the second round again by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. In 2004, they were beaten in the first round by Colorado. The next year, there was the lockout.
The post-lockout new rules got the Stars to start making changes, letting some of their vets leave as free agents and signing guys like Eric Lindros, Matthew Barnaby, Jeff Halpern, and Darryl Sydor. They really didn't fit the model of the new NHL, so they got into the playoffs as the sixth seed and were booted in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks. They've been declining since then, and making a lot of stupid moves which didn't pan out. First of all, Sean Avery. Yeah, he can hit, but he's a dirty player and a cheap shot artist who made his infamous "sloppy seconds" comment about actress and ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert during his stint in Dallas. That got him suspended for the season, and he was later waived. They cut Johnathan Cheechoo. They released Marty Turco and Mike Modano while nabbing Andrew Raycroft to replace them. These aren't smart moves, and Dallas has been out of the playoffs for four years now. They seem to be improving at the moment, but by that, I mean their current season record is 10-11 and not as bad as it could be. They're in tenth place in the Western Conference.
The Dallas Stars have retired the numbers of Neal Broten, Bill Goldsworthy, and Bill Masterson. Mike Modano will probably have his number retired. All four players began their careers with the Minnesota North Stars, and only Broten and Modano have played for them during the Dallas days. Their all-time roster also includes Brett Hull and Ed Belfour, both of whom played for the 1999 team. The Stars originally drafted Jarome Iginla, the current face of the Calgary Flames, in 1995, but let him go in very short order. Brian Bellows, Dino Ciccarelli, and Bobby Smith are among the team's all-time scoring leaders. Despite being one of the more historic teams in the NHL, they're surprisingly short on names.
It was a shame the Stars moved out of Minnesota, because they could have joined in the Central Division and possibly been part of a longstanding battle which also included the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and St. Louis Blues. (Provided, of course, the Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets would have been in another division.) The Dallas Stars have developed a playoff rivalry with the Colorado Avalanche, and that was really something back when both teams were regularly contending. This doesn't mean one of them has an advantage, though, because Colorado currently sucks too. Be that as it may, the Dallas Stars are currently fodder for the Anaheim Ducks, who are looking like they're in the middle of a great resurgent season; the Los Angeles Kings, who won the Stanley Cup last season; the perpetually dangerous San Jose Sharks; and the always-there Phoenix Coyotes. Okay, that's cruel to Phoenix - they made a surprise run last season and have a lot of promise for the future. They're a point behind Dallas in the standings right now. Even though the Stars are in tenth place in the conference, this is a conference where a mere two points is all that separates the Stars from the third-place Blues and Canucks.
One of the defining moments for the Stars is one of hockey's most tragic: Bill Masterson. He was given an honor by having his number retired and a new trophy created in his memory, and his death isn't the fault of anyone. Maybe people who don't know anything about hockey are wondering just how a player hitting his head on the ice could have done such damage to a man. The explanation is simple: Back then, the position players didn't wear helmets. Goalies had only started wearing them nine years before, when legendary Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaques Plante got fed up after taking one too many pucks to the head. Since the NHL is just that pathetic, things didn't change after his death. It wasn't until 1979 that helmets were finally mandated.
The other great defining moment in Stars history comes from Dallas, and the taint on it is so dark that the vast majority of NHL fans and workers don't even consider it valid. That would be the No Goal Game which won the Stanley Cup for them against Buffalo. The only support for it these days seems to be coming out of Dallas, even though the Dallas Morning News hockey writer was the first one to question it. The NHL archives will say Dallas won the purty spittoon that year, and despite being a complete idiot about it for the ensuing ten years, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman even admitted he screwed up handling it. The man who scored the goal, Brett Hull, adamantly defends the goal's legality, but even he admits the way the rule was set up screwed the Sabres. The controversy actually caused the repeal of the Crease Rule the following season. (And even after its repeal, it showed up one final time in the following season's playoffs to screw the Sabres. After that game, one of the league's executives actually called the postgame show to explain just what happened.)
The Dallas Stars should be more storied than they are. Yes, they do have diehard fans in Dallas, but it seems like the crowds there prefer to wait for their beloved Cowboys to hit the turf while an ice sport takes a backseat. Even without the No Goal, they don't have very much going in their favor. The fact that Gary Bettman apparently used their move to Dallas as a springboard to trying a mass southern expansion works against them, considering how that's been going. There isn't a whole lot to make me believe anything which goes against the northern perception of southerners believing the greatest trophy in sports is just a purty spittoon and wishing the Dallas Stars had been able to win the Stanley Cup as the Minnesota North Stars so the people at the games would at least recognize it for what it really is: The world's greatest beer mug.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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