Anyone remember a little game called hockey? In the not too distant past the Dallas Stars were big in this town. Their games were sold out night after night, they were the hottest ticket in town. They held the record for consecutive sellouts at Reunion Arena, their success and ability to sell tickets helped the American Airlines Center project come to fruition and for the first few years they were the more successful of the two tenants that now share the “hangar”. That was then.
The Stars have fallen on hard times. Tom Hicks, the owner who was so instrumental in building the Stanley Cup teams of 99 and 00, spread himself too thin after buying the Texas Rangers and Liverpool FC. His holding company started defaulting on loans and eventually the team was placed in bankruptcy and put up for auction. Without available cash to spend on free agents the team began to fall apart.
The core of those championship teams aged, retired or moved on, including the face of the franchise and of American Hockey, Mike Modano. In the meantime their roommates, the Dallas Mavericks, found the tables turned. They were the team perennially making the playoffs and going on long deep runs. Making two NBA Finals appearances and winning the championship in 2011.
The Texas Rangers, after also being sold in bankruptcy, found postseason success as well, making two World Series appearances and further pushing the Stars to the back of the Dallas sports scene. After last season’s lockout shortened schedule many here in Dallas were unclear if we even still had a team.
Tom Gaglardi, who purchased the team out of bankruptcy in 2011 wants to assure you that Dallas does in fact still have a team and the three most important people he has brought in to bring the Stars back to prominence don’t even wear skates. They are President Jim Lites, General Manager Jim Nill and Head Coach Lindy Ruff.
Jim Lites was re-hired as President in November of 2011 and his return to the organization can only be seen as a brilliant move by Gaglardi. Lites has acres of experience in the NHL, NFL and MLB. Everything he touches turns to gold. His first stint with the Stars came back in 93 when the Stars first moved to Dallas.
He had just spent 11 years in Detroit as the Red Wings Chief Operating Officer. He initially got the job in Detroit from his father-in-law, Mike Ilitch, owner of the Red Wings, Detroit Tigers and a pizza place you may have heard of called Little Caesars. The family knows success.
During Lite’s time in Detroit the Red Wings were named by Financial World Magazine as the most valuable franchise in the NHL from 1990 to 1993. His first few years in Dallas were spent teaching the game of hockey to a new market and building excitement about the experience of a Dallas Stars game. His staff handed out tickets to pretty girls knowing that if the girls came the boys would follow. They built the exclusive Stars club outside Reunion arena and along with the product on the ice made the Stars the hottest ticket in town. He was integral in getting the AAC built and had a huge impact in the overall design and operation.
When he left in 2007 to play a larger role within the Tom Hicks organization the team began to falter both on the ice and at the gate. This is a man that knows business, he knows hockey and more importantly he knows how to sell hockey to non-traditional market. He is exactly who you would want to rebuild this franchise.