As soon as the season ended Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks proclaimed that he would assess the effectiveness of having two co-General Managers in Brett Hull and Les Jackson, and that changes could be coming. Little did we know then that the change that would be made would be this drastic, one meant to turn the Stars front office on it's head and give this organization a big wake-up call.
All along I've believed that having two General Managers was a temporary fix for Tom Hicks, one that he never intended to continue using. It was surprising then when the team announced they would maintain Hull and Jackson last summer, after they took over for Doug Armstrong in November of 2007.
And then came the Sean Avery fiasco. Brett Hull personally vouched for the polarizing agitator, pushed hard for his acquisition and the team signed him to what turned out to be a very costly four-year, $16 million contract. After the team nearly imploded with Avery in the locker room, the Stars cut ties with him midway through the season and will be paying half his salary for the next three seasons. The bad publicity this gave the team, combined with the contract fallout were bad enough. Yet because the Stars signed Avery to such an expensive contract they were forced to let several valuable wingers get away, namely Niklas Hagman.
It was because of this mess I believed when Hicks made his statement regarding the co-general managers, Brett Hull would be out and Les Jackson would be named the full time General Manager.
Much more after the jump.
Despite the hole the Sean Avery fallout left the team in, the duo of Hull and Jackson made several smart and valuable moves. The big trade was the acquisition of Brad Richards and while some Stars fans weren't happy to give up Mike Smith in the process, after this past season there is no denying his value to the Stars. The trades for Daryl Sydor, Steve Begin, Andrew Hutchinson and Brendan Morrison were all additions during a season that saw too many injuries taking out key players, without giving up any prospects or young players in the process.
Once Jackson took over, he also set plans in motion to subtly change the overall direction of the organization. After spending years building a team through free agent signings and trades for aging veterans, Jackson made it a point to build the NHL roster through players in the system. He immediately called for Loui Eriksson to stay with the team and get valuable experience, a move that paid off with the emergence of one of the most dangerous scoring threats in the NHL. James Neal made his triumphant NHL debut, and several other young players played key roles for the Stars throughout the season.
This was a subtle change in philosophy for the Dallas Stars, but one that has shaped this teams future. Les Jackson understood what to expect from the young players and knew the value of developing them to strengthen your team, instead of for use as trade bait. He put this organization in a good spot, and he deserved to keep the job if Brett Hull was demoted.
That was not to be the case. Instead, Hicks made a move that should envigorate the fanbase of the team and give the locker room a hearty jolt. Former Dallas Stars great, Conn Smyth winner, three-time Stanley Cup champion and all around great guy Joe Nieuwendyk was named as the new General Manager.
The fan in me is ecstatic. Nieuwendyk is the epitome of what the Dallas Stars franchise stood for in the late '90's and early 2000's. He was a hard working, clutch hockey player who was an even better individual off the ice. Not once has anyone ever had anything bad to say about him, and he has had success nearly everywhere he played. When I learned he was traded to New Jersey, it was like a kick in the stomach and at that point I knew that an era was over in Dallas. You don't trade away a player like him and expect to become a better team afterwards.
After his retirement, Nieuwendyk became a hot commodity among NHL teams looking to add a smart hockey mind to their front office. He stayed on with Florida, working with their G.M., before being wooed to Toronto. He played a key role in signing several college free agents and was thought of as the hot hand who could quite possible become the next general manager of the Maple Leafs. Yet when Brian Burke was hired, there was nowhere else to go for him with Toronto, and Hicks has succesfully lured him away.
So what should we expect from Joe Nieuwendyk as the Dallas Stars General Manager? For one, he is certain to immediately work to instill his ethics and hard working style amongst the organization, something that won't be hard to do on a Dallas Stars team that is already known for it's grit and determination. More importantly, he should give this team a big breath of fresh air from a former Stars every single player in the locker room has an incredible amount of respect for.
Some have said today that shouldn't Hicks have learned from hiring a former player after Brett Hull failed to impress? The difference between Hull and Nieuwendyk is worlds apart. Hull was hot-headed, flashy player who continued with that style in his work for the Dallas Stars. That's what he was hired in the first place, to help market the team and use his personality as a strength. This same style is why he wasn't handed the G.M. job alone, and Les Jackson shared the job with him. Both had strengths and weaknesses and together formed a good general manager. Joe Nieuwendyk is the combination of both. He's a respectable, nice and even headed guy who has had team's clamoring for him because of his hockey knowledge.
Yet this hiring is no slam dunk for the Dallas Stars. He has yet to prove his player-evaluation skills, nor has he shown the ability to make valuable trades. But that is the gamble you make when hiring a first-time general manager and honestly, you have to have faith that Nieuwendyk has the ability to do what needs to be done.
It's also good to know that Hull and Jackson will be maintained in the front office, especially because they have skills vital this franchise. Some may question whether they will be able to work under an unproven executive hired to take their jobs, yet both are professional enough to have respect for Nieuwendyk and give him the effort from them he deserves.
It's a new era in Dallas Stars hockey and I'm excited about the direction we are headed. Les Jackson and Brett Hull did a fine job (for the most part) in their time as General Manager and Joe Nieuwendyk will be the breath of fresh air this team needs after a severely disappointing season.