Mac Engel

NHL has a major event coming to town and you don't even know it

We are approaching the 20 year anniversary of the Dallas Stars' Stanley Cup parade.

To give you an idea of how much time has passed since then consider this: Mike Modano is married and with three kids.

"We have another one coming in October," Modano said over the phone on Wednesday.

Once DFW's most celebrated and eligible bachelor, and the face of hockey and the Dallas Stars, Modano is now a family man living in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Both his team and his sport have settled down, too. In this case, that's not great.

Case in point: For the second time in roughly two months our backyard will host a major sports draft, complete with fan festivities, and approximately three of you are aware of it.

Whereas the NFL Draft, held in Arlington, generated record ratings and fan attendance, the NHL Draft scheduled for Friday evening at the American Airlines Center has captured the attention of the same loyal people who follow the sport regardless of standings.

Both the Stars and their sport carry this burden of responsibility.

Having covered the sport on a daily basis, and now on a semi basis, the problem is the problem, and no amount of marketing or gimmick can change it: The sport is simply too expensive to grow on a grass roots level to enjoy large gains.

Star-Telegram columnist Mac Engel, who has never played hockey, takes shots from NHL prospect and Southlake resident Ryan O'Reilly at Dr. Pepper Stars Center in Farmers Branch, TX, Monday, June 18, 2018.

And no team in our market has done more to damage its own brand, and the potential reach of the entire sport, in our sprawling region more than the Stars.

"All teams have to go through that period of breaking it down and building it up," said Modano, who will attend the draft. "Chicago was off the grid for years, and then they get Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith and off they go. Pittsburgh was the same way; (owner Mario) Lemieux was going to move the team but they draft (Sydney) Crosby and they're winning Cups.

"The Stars never truly blew it up. They have been adding pieces and trying to keep things afloat. They never really bit the bullet. I don't know which is the right way, but I know they never did fully blow it all up."

The team has missed the playoffs in eight of the last 10 years, which, in a non-traditional hockey market like ours, will effectively slaughter a team's chances of remaining in good standing in our sports-flooded market.

"I do think the fans that remember our run when we went to the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals are waiting for that again, but I think the patience is wavering," Modano said. "If you are not a top five or top eight team, they're just not going to get the coverage nationwide, or locally. It's always been that way. We had to run the tables to get on the front page; it's a great market and you do have loyal fans, but over time, if you're not winning, that waivers."

The shame in this is that there is no major sport that has a collection of more approaching, or agreeable, athletes than hockey. The people who cover it want to be as big as the people who play it, coach it, and run it.

But when a sport, at least in the U.S., includes well over $1,000 in start-up costs for a kid to play it, it's not hard to see why that growth is limited.

So the NHL Draft is coming to town, and chances are good you have not heard, because the home team still can't get it together.