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In fact, when the proposition is brought up, Daley immediately rebuffs the claim. Like without any hesitation whatsoever.
“Not at all. When I think of 'Mr. Dallas Star,' there’s only one guy and it’s No. 9 (Mike Modano). I would never ever think that way,” Daley said. “That guy was probably the greatest player I’ve ever had the opportunity to play with.”
This is true, maybe for the previous incarnation of the Stars – the ones of Ken Hitchcock, defensive Stanley Cup fame. But it isn’t nearly as much for this team – an offensively skilled, smartly run team that has found itself with a glut of superstar scoring players.
And Daley has been there to greet them all. He pre-dates the drafting of Jamie Benn. He was in Dallas before the trades that brought Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza. He was a Dallas Star long before general manager Jim Nill, coach Lindy Ruff and owner Tom Gaglardi were involved in team operations.
“Well, Dallas is all I’ve ever known. I’ve never had an opportunity to go somewhere else and see anywhere else,” the 31-year-old Daley said. “All I’ve been accustomed to is Dallas.”
Look back at the 2002 draft and Daley has lasted with one team longer than any other player who was selected that year – more than Rick Nash, Jay Bouwmeester and even Duncan Keith, who has actually spent his whole career with Chicago, but played one fewer game than Daley’s 699.
“I have to stay healthy,” Daley joked about his slight edge on Keith. “I’ve been real fortunate. Dallas has been great to me and I’m trying to return the favor by being the best hockey player I can be and be the best person I can be too. Up until this point, I think and hope it has been a good relationship.”
It actually has, and you can tell just by talking to Daley about Dallas, and the Stars.
A lot of players refer to the team they play for as simply “the organization” or “them.” Some of this has to do with the collective bargaining wars since the early 90s, added on to what, for most players, tends to be difficult negotiations when a contract is up. Daley is not like this at all.
He calls the Stars ‘we,’ and fondly says that he and his family will stay in Dallas after he retires.
“He was drafted by Dallas, he was developed by Dallas, he has seen the good days and the tough times,” Nill said. “I think he is reaping the rewards with that experience now and he has really found his niche.”
This loyalty was both tested and exemplified when Daley signed his six-year $19.8 million contract extension in December of 2010. The team was then controlled by lenders to bankrupt owner Tom Hicks and had to get special permission from the NHL to sign Daley.
He could have easily become an unrestricted free agent that summer and cashed in. But instead he was pitched on the Stars future by then-general manager Joe Nieuwendyk. Though the latter is gone, Daley bought in, and is now reaping the rewards with Gaglardi as owner and Nill running the team.
“At the time, I was worried about our team getting better, and at the time Joe was trying to do everything in his power to get the team where it needed to be, and that was all I needed to hear,” Daley said. “Going forward, Joe has moved on and is not with us anymore, but the people that (Tom Gaglardi) has brought in are really great people and people who will help move this team in the right direction.”
Part of that were the acquisitions of both Seguin (15 points in 11 games this season and Spezza (12 points in 11) in consecutive summers. Both of them added onto a core that included Daley, captain Jamie Benn and goaltender Kari Lehtonen.
And Ruff’s tinkering with Daley onto the first-line power play has Daley on pace for a career year. His nine points in 11 games puts him one third of the way to his career high of 27 in 2010-11. All four of Daley’s goals have come with the man-advantage.
“It’s a unit that has some real good right-handed shots, to have someone on the other side who can one-time pucks and be able to defend a little bit without using another forward, we felt he was our best choice,” Ruff said.
Not only does Daley have financial security for three more years, there’s also a sense of ease with the group in charge in Dallas. There’s money (Gaglardi), there’s people who have won Stanley Cups before (in Nill in Detroit), and there’s talent. According to Nill, Daley cried last year when the Stars clinched a postseason berth (their first since 2007-08), a showing of emotion that was the culmination of years, faith and trust that his only organization was indeed heading in the right direction.
“It’s tattooed on him. He takes a lot of pride in that. He wants to see the team have success,” Nill said. “He wants the organization to do well. He’s one of the leaders now. He has paid his dues, and he has experience now, and the expectations are raised because of that now, and he embraces that.”