Lighting The Lamp: From North Stars To Lone Star

Rick Ackerman

Tonight's Lighting The Lamp takes a look at the history of the Dallas Stars franchise.

Thankfully, we are in St. Louis tonight, not deep in the heart of Texas, so Blues Nation is hopeful that the Stars at night will not be big and bright as they seek to catch up to the Blues in the Western Conference standings. It is a tribute to the Dallas coaching staff that the club is still even in contention for a playoff spot as they are bereft of any true scoring stars or Norris Trophy-capable, big-name defensemen. The one bright Star has been goaltender Kari Lehtonen with 14 wins to his credit, the same number that Ryan Miller, Pekka Rinne and Viktor Fasth all have. That does not mean that Dallas cannot score goals, though, and their offense is marginally better than the Blues, ranking tenth in the league (in comparison, the Blues are now ranked 17th). Center Jamie Benn and left wingers Loui Eriksson and Ray Whitney each have scored ten goals, while rookie right winger Alex Chiasson has six in seven games before Dallas' game last night against Vancouver.

Dallas has had an NHL team for almost 20 years now and has had quite a run of success, winning seven divisional titles, two Western Conference titles, two President's Trophies and one Stanley Cup championship (1999). As most fans already know, the Stars began as the Minnesota North Stars, birth-mates with the Blues in the great expansion of 1967. Despite a number of excellent players, the North Stars only won two divisional titles and two conference titles in their 26 year history, with only two appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1981 and 1991. Despite that post-season success, the North Stars organization was hemorrhaging money due to poor attendance and rising operational costs. A precursor to how serious the situation was came during the summer after the 1991 playoffs when management adopted a new logo, the word "STARS" in gold letters over a small green star. The club also adopted black as the primary color for the road uniforms. New owner Norman Green (who purchased the team in 1990 from the Gund Brothers) was a prominent shopping-mall developer and original director of Sage Telecom, a private telecommunications company in the U.S. He was also one of the original investors in the Calgary Flames and remained as co-owner until 1990.

It can be easily surmised now that Green bought the team in order to move it, as evidenced by his immediate request to relocate the team to Anaheim, a request that was denied since it was the intention of the NHL to put an expansion team there in 1992.

Green was finally given permission by the NHL to relocate the team to Dallas in 1993, citing poor attendance, high operating costs and the failure of either Minneapolis or St. Paul to help refinance a new revenue-generating arena. What was less known and not revealed at the time was that Green was facing a sexual-harassment lawsuit filed by his former executive assistant and that Green's wife threatened to leave him and make it public unless he moved the franchise out of Minnesota. Combine all those factors and the NHL had no choice but to allow Green to move the team to Texas. An angry, disappointed North Stars booster club president remarked, "When he came here, he said, 'Only an idiot could lose money on hockey in Minnesota.' Well, I guess he proved that point."

The new Dallas Stars opened on October 5, 1993, defeating the Red Wings, 6-4. Neal Broten scored the first goal. Immediate success on the ice and the inspirational play of Mike Modano helped the Stars gain popularity and attendance soared. The Stars set franchise records for wins (42) and points (97) that first year and qualified for the playoffs, shocking the hockey world by sweeping the Blues in the first round. They lost to the eventual Western Conference champion Canucks in the second round. Ironically, Green was forced to sell the Stars to businessman Tom Hicks in 1995 due to financial difficulties resulting from poor management of non-hockey business ventures. Hicks came in just in time for the owners' lockout in 1994. The following year, Hicks' first full year as owner, the team continued to struggle and GM and head coach Bob Gainey traded for center Joe Nieuwendyk from Calgary for center Corey Millen and prospect Jerome Iginla. After the Stars only won 11 games in the first half of the season, Gainey stepped down as coach and replaced himself with the Michigan K-Wings head coach, none other than Ken Hitchcock. It would be Hitch's first head coach position in the NHL. Unfortunately, the Stars missed the playoffs that season, the first time in Texas.

Of course, Hitchcock would go on to win the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999 on Brett Hull's disputed goal. True Blue fans will also remember Doug Armstrong was the assistant GM of that club, along with assistant coach Rick Wilson and former Blues' players Hull, Jamie Langenbrunner, Guy Carbonneau, Mike Keane, Tony Hrkac, Darryl Sydor, Doug Lidster and goaltender Roman Turek.

A victory tonight over Dallas will help solidify the Blues' hold on a playoff slot, especially with only four games remaining on the schedule. A defense-first orientation and good goaltending will augment their chances, especially if the offense and power play problems have not been resolved yet.

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