Dallas Stars are right to bring back Jim Lites as team president

11/29/2011 11:23 PM

11/30/2011 1:52 PM

From the Stats I Did Not Make Up File: The Dallas Stars are tied for first in the NHL in wins, and rank second to last in attendance.

This team is so irrelevant in this area, it's no longer frightening, but just plain sad.

The news that the franchise was finally sold to Canadian businessman Tom Gaglardi last week was met not with a ho-hum but a giant "Ho huh?"

The sale is just a first step for this once distinguished franchise's long march back to relevance in this town.

There are so many mistakes this team made, some self-inflicted and others not, that to think a new owner can solve all of them immediately is foolish.

Part of those problems this team created were brought to us by the man Gaglardi hired to be the Stars' team president: Jim Lites.

Even though Lites will freely admit he made a few mistakes in his tenure as the team president previously, the decision to bring him back is the absolute right one.

"I'm a bad penny," Lites joked Tuesday morning. "There is a malaise that is hanging over the franchise that it's just there. I don't want to sound trite, but it happens to every franchise that has questions regarding the existence of the ownership."

Say whatever you want about this man, but he deeply cares about this sport and this franchise in this market. He's 58, has plenty of money, and really doesn't need the work. This is a legacy decision.

One of the first things Lites looked at when he was re-hired was the team's price plan that has been completely screwed up since the NHL lockout in 2005.

"I have a map of the lower bowl of the American Airlines Center and there are green push-pins for every season ticket sold; right now there are way too many white spaces," said Lites, who signed a four-year deal. "We are going to re-price the whole building. We are returning season and individual ticket prices that reflect 2002 and 2003 prices. We'll be doing that within a week."

Lites will be the first to admit that when the team's payroll was among the highest in the league they did it on the backs of the consumer.

When the NHL returned from the lockout in 2005, the Stars should have reduced ticket prices far more than they did. People were mad and the Stars did nothing but alienate their fans with prices that did not look like a, "We're sorry."

"We drove ticket prices 30 percent beyond where it should have been," said Lites, who admits the first thing he has to do is just get people back in the building.

Next on the agenda: When the NHL's Board of Governors meet soon, Lites has to start pushing for the Stars to get out of the Pacific Division when realignment comes next off-season. This team plays too many games that begin at 9 or 9:30 p.m.

There has to be some sense of community involvement that in the past few years has all but disappeared from the team. The most visible members of the Dallas Stars cannot be the broadcasters.

The team's decision to relocate its practice facility to Frisco was a predictably short-sighted move. Frisco may be located near the small number that comprises this team's ticket-holding base, but its proximity to strip malls is the perfect excuse for the vast majority of the local media not to cover practices. The team must practice more beyond North Dallas far more often than they do, even if it is a pain.

Lites said he plans to ask Mike Modano to become a visible face of this franchise again, but not until next summer. He wants to give Mo' at least one year away from the game before coming up with something.

"I'm not going to make him an ambassador of fun or something; Mike is too serious for that," Lites said.

I have total faith that Lites will do this. Or try like hell.

But there is only so much the salesman can do. At some point, "we have to win," he said.

Check that, Jim. They have to win in the playoffs, something this team hasn't seen three years running.

If this team doesn't make the playoffs this spring, GM Joe Nieuwendyk should be fired. And I like Joe. A lot.

"I've been here long enough to know that this town will support a winner," Lites said. "This isn't like 1999 or 2000 when we were winning and the Mavericks weren't. You know, I can remember going to Reunion for Mavs games and you couldn't arrest people there because no one went to those games."

The Stars are loaded with talented young players, both on the NHL level and in the minors. This team is primed to do something.

The first step of having a new owner has been taken. The second step was to bring back Lites. Have a little faith that he will do what's necessary to get the word out, and do whatever possible to address the woeful attendance.

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Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

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