SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It wasn’t what Dallas Stars president Jim Lites said that irked NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, but how he said it.
Last Friday, Lites lit into his two star players, forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. He told The Athletic that Seguin and Benn have been “f—ing horses—; I don’t know how else to put it.” He added that the sentiment was shared by owner Tom Gaglardi, and continued: “What nobody says is what is completely obvious to me: We are getting terrible play from our top two players.”
Speaking to reporters at Tuesday’s Winter Classic in South Bend, Bettman frowned at the tone of Lites’ comments.
“We’re never going to condone profanity,” said Bettman, who said no one in the NHL’s hockey operations department reached out to Lites after his tirade.
But he saw the rest of this public trashing of two previous NHL All-Star players as an internal matter for the Stars.
“As a general rule, I don’t interfere in internal team dynamics. I’m known Jim Lites for as long as I’ve been in the NHL, and I’ve known him to be passionate. I also respect the fact that Jamie and Tyler are terrific players and have done a lot to grow the game in North America, and particularly in Texas,” said Bettman.
“There’s a whole lot frustration going on in that organization, for all of them. The three Jims — [coach] Montgomery, [GM] Nill and Jimmy Lites — the owner Tom Gaglardi and Jamie and Tyler all want to win. And I think we saw frustration there, and that comes with the fact that they’re very, very competitive and want to do better.”
In contrast to Bettman, the NHLPA blasted Lites for his comments. “The comments Jim Lites made regarding Tyler and Jamie are both reckless and insulting,” the NHLPA said in a statement. “If players directed such comments towards management, how would those be regarded? To say that Jim Lites’ conduct is unprofessional would be a gross understatement. In professional sports, all individual players and teams go through highs and lows, but this is not how professionals handle adversity.”
Seguin and Benn were muted in their responses, with Seguin saying “Jamie and I hear the message. I think the whole team hears it. We know that we have to play better and we understand that.”
Bettman also announced that the 2020 Winter Classic will be held at the Cotton Bowl, with the Dallas Stars hosting. Their opponents have yet to be determined.
The Stars host the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+).