Lighting The Lamp: Big Shooting Stars

A green Mike Liut signed Hartford Whalers jersey circa 1986 since I don’t have a new green Stars jersey unveiled this season (yet). - Rick Ackerman

You might recognize the "Lighting the Lamp" feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Lighting the Lamp" will be featured every home game day.

The resurgent Dallas Stars have been on a roll lately, only losing two of their last ten games while earning 15 points in those ten games. The Stars have a solid grip on the last playoff slot in the Western Conference, slightly ahead of Phoenix and comfortably ahead of Winnipeg and Vancouver. Tyler Seguin, center Jamie Benn and rookie Valerie Nichushkin have been a force as the Stars' offense has picked up the slack, working their way up to ninth overall in the NHL with 2.82 goals per game. Although the defense is not spectacular with a ranking of 16th league-wide at 2.73 goals allowed per game, the acquisition of goaltender Tim Thomas from Florida can only help ease the pressure on Kari Lehtonen, who has now played in over 50 games for the Stars so far this season, tied with Phoenix's Mike Smith for the most games played by a netminder.

It's hard to believe, yet this is already Dallas' 20th year in the league. Transplanted from Minnesota in 1993 as a result of extremely poor attendance and the overwhelming personal problems of owner Norman Green, who was involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit, it didn't help that local city officials in both Minneapolis and St. Paul refused to negotiate a deal for a new, suitable venue for hockey, either. With his wife demanding a move from the Twin Cities, Green finally convinced the NHL to allow him to move the team to Texas, and the Stars began play in the downtown Reunion Arena in October, 1993, defeating the Detroit Red Wings, 6-4. Although Texas had been home to many minor league hockey teams, including the Houston Aeros (AHL), Austin Ice Bats, Fort Worth Rangers (and Texans), Dallas Blackhawks and Houston Apollos, hockey was not a success in the Lone Star state, that is, until the Mike Modano-led Stars captivated fans with excellent play on the ice. The Stars set franchise best records for wins (42) and points (97) that first season in Texas and easily qualified for the playoffs. The Stars shocked the hockey world by sweeping the Blues in the first round, yet lost in the second round to the eventual conference champion Vancouver Canucks.

Green's luck finally ran out and he sold the team to businessman Tom Hicks in December, 1995. Hicks made a fortune in leveraged buyouts as a member of a venture capital group in Austin. In the mid 1980s, Hicks' firm bought out soft drink companies Dr. Pepper and 7Up and went public, turning an $88M investment into $1.3B. In 1989 he founded an investment firm, eventually raising $12B of private equity funds, finalizing over $50B of leverage acquisitions and became one of the largest private investment companies in the U.S. As the new owner of the Dallas franchise, Hicks was instrumental in building the current home of the Stars, the American Airlines Center and the team won seven divisional titles, two Western Conference championships, two President's Trophies and the 1999 Stanley Cup championship.

In June, 1998, Hicks became Chairman and Owner of the Texas Rangers baseball club, winning division crowns in 1998 and 1999. He also made national headlines by personally negotiating and signing shortstop Alex Rodriguez to the largest contract in MLB history at the time; a ten year, $252M deal in 2000. Hicks later sold the team in 2010 to a group led by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan after some serious financial problems that began in the early 2000s. Hicks was forced to leave his own firm when investors were burned by a $1.2B plunge into telecom investments that went sour. By 2010 things went from bad to worse involving financial losses across the board and Hicks' company defaulted on $525M in bank loans backed by the Stars' franchise and a 50% interest in the AA Center. In September, 2011, lenders voted to agree to have the Stars file for bankruptcy and sold at auction. Modano announced his retirement. In November, a bankruptcy court judge approved a bid by Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi to purchase the franchise for $240M. First-lien creditors received around 75 cents on the dollar as the Stars financial losses amounted to almost $100M over the previous three years.

Gaglardi's first move was to bring former Red Wings' executive Tom Liles back into the organization as President and CEO for the 2011-12 season. Interestingly enough, Lites had been married to Denise Ilitch, daughter of Detroit owner Mike Ilitch, but left the team following their divorce in the early 1990s. It made no difference, however, as the Stars missed the playoffs the following two seasons, making it five in a row, a franchise record for futility. GM Joe Nieuwendyk was fired and replaced by Jim Nill, another former executive with the Red Wings, who made a big splash with his first big trade, obtaining Seguin and Rich Peverley from Boston for Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith. A new logo ("The Big D") was introduced for this year's club, as well as a change in team colors, from black to "Victory Green", similar to the old North Stars colors.

The Blues hope to continue their success over the Stars, winning 3-2 in December in Dallas and 6-1 in November in St. Louis. With Ryan Miller now firmly established as the number one goaltender in St. Louis, there is no reason to think the Blues will not make it three wins in a row over Dallas this season with a resounding victory tonight.

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