Beyond Headlines: Stars situation underscores differences of NHL markets

During Saturday Headlines, the panel discussed Dustin Byfuglien’s injury, the comments made by Jim Lites and Jon Cooper nearing an extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

‘Beyond Headlines’ is a deeper dive into some of the stories — and even some that weren’t — discussed each week on Hockey Night in Canada’s ‘Headlines’ segment.

How you viewed the way Dallas Stars ownership aired their frustrations about Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn probably depends where you’re coming from.

While unconventional, and perhaps a little too colourful for some, it was hard for me as a journalist to take issue with CEO Jim Lites’ decision to speak candidly about concerns from owner Tom Gaglardi regarding his two highest-paid employees.

We want people to tell the truth.

In our off-camera discussions before ‘Headlines’ on Saturday night, it seemed like Elliotte Friedman saw things that way, too.

Nick Kypreos naturally viewed the situation from a player’s point of view. He spoke about the unrest in the NHL Players’ Association over the expletive-laden comments — the union later released a statement on Sunday afternoon — and pointed out that players aren’t typically afforded the opportunity to issue similar criticisms about management or ownership.

Fair enough.

In the larger picture, what the situation underscored is how different the experience of playing in this league can be for players on different teams. You would never see an executive in a Canadian market pour this kind of gasoline on a media fire because typically those people are instead trying to shield players from the onslaught of scrutiny/attention they receive.

In Dallas, the Stars play under the considerable shadow of the NFL’s Cowboys, and they have to work at getting eyeballs and coverage. They have one of the absolute best public relations staffs in the whole league.

Lites was offering a bit of a media critique when he took aim at Seguin and Benn’s play this season — saying “Write it!” to Sean Shapiro of The Athletic — because clearly ownership feels it can get a little too comfortable for players in their market.

That won’t be an issue now.

Friedge reached out to Gaglardi and got clarification that the comments weren’t designed to be a warning about impending trades or firings. The Stars owner simply said: “Our best players have to be our best players.”

Dallas responded with a 5-1 win over Detroit on Saturday night and is now holding down the final wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference.

It’ll be fascinating to see what happens next.


Allan Walsh has built his career on vigorously defending the best interests of his clients. Where he differs from most other player agents is in his willingness to take simmering issues public when he deems it to be the best course of action to bring about some kind of resolution.

That’s an important piece of context to keep in mind when evaluating Walsh’s tweet about client Michael Frolik on Sunday night.

The fact Walsh took aim at Flames coach Bill Peters, in his first year behind the Calgary bench, speaks to frustration about playing time. Not only has the 30-year-old winger endured a couple uncharacteristic scratches, but his minutes have been slashed dramatically under the new coach. He’s averaging 11:54 after playing 16:55, 17:05 and 15:49 during his previous three years with the Flames.

Frolik missed a month with a high-ankle sprain this season, but has continued to produce excellent possession numbers — a staple throughout his NHL career. He’s also scored seven goals in 22 games.

The potential “resolution” here is a simple one: Play him more. But there’s no guarantee that happens with the Flames off to an excellent start and enjoying better forward depth than in years past.

It makes Frolik’s playing time worth tracking in the weeks ahead.

The Czech is a solid player who carries a $4.3-million cap hit through the end of next season while only being due $3 million in actual salary for 2019-20. He would have trade value if the Flames ever decided to explore that avenue.


Wayne Gretzky competed in the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of his first 14 NHL seasons.

Sidney Crosby missed out on them as a rookie, but not in any of the 12 years since.

Alex Ovechkin has been a playoff spectator on just three occasions, and only once in the last 11 years.

That Connor McDavid is currently in position to miss the playoff tournament for a third time in his fourth NHL season helps explain why the Edmonton Oilers are so desperately trying to improve the team around him.

This is not a problem of McDavid’s making, of course. He’s done everything asked of him and more — playing nearly 23 minutes a night this season while earning points on 52.3 per cent of Edmonton’s goals so far (56 of 107).

There is considerable pressure on the organization not to fritter away the prime years of a generational player, and rightfully so. It’s hard enough to align the moon and the stars and actually win the Stanley Cup when you’re in the playoffs every spring — just ask Ovechkin — but you’ve got to be in the race to even have a chance.

Fans of the Oilers might find some solace in Mario Lemieux’s career arc. The Pittsburgh Penguins somehow missed the playoffs in his first four seasons, in an era when 16 of 21 teams qualified, too, before eventually amassing enough talent around their superstar to become a championship-winning juggernaut.

There’s still time in Edmonton. McDavid turns 22 on Jan. 13. But they’ve got to start showing organizational progress, one way or another.


Even before Frederik Andersen was scratched from Saturday’s start against the New York Islanders with a groin injury, there had been a shift in philosophy among the Toronto Maple Leafs braintrust about how often their No. 1 goaltender should play.

Mike Babcock identified 60 games as a target number during an appearance on TSN Radio just before Christmas — which was notable because Andersen started 66 games in each of the last two seasons and appeared on pace to play roughly that same number again nearly halfway through this one.

Whether you use sports science or Babcock’s preferred Saskatchewan science, there’s no formula for arriving at a universally accepted number. But it’s telling that there have only been 14 instances of a goalie playing more than 65 regular-season games since 2013-14, and that no one has done it three straight seasons in that period (courtesy

The other thing the men on this list have in common? None managed to play four playoff rounds immediately afterwards.

No wonder the Leafs are looking to scale back Andersen’s workload with an eye on preserving him for the spring.


The NHL continues its New Year’s tradition by going outdoors for the Winter Classic at Notre Dame on Tuesday afternoon and commissioner Gary Bettman will use the big stage to make some announcements about future events.

Among them will be a neutral-site outdoor game at Mosaic Stadium in Regina next season — something Friedge has discussed as a possibility on ‘Headlines’ a few times.

Talk about a perfect mix: Rider Nation and the NHL.

Fantastic idea.

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