And keep your eyes wide, the chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon, the wheel's still in spin
And there's no telling who that it's naming
Oh the loser now will be later to win
For the times, they are a changing
- Bob Dylan;
It's amazing how quickly the public opinion can change. One day, you're the hero come to bring back the glory days of yesteryear, the next you're the goat who has made such a blundering move that you've put the franchise into a tailspin from which it cannot recover. When it was first announced that Joe Nieuwendyk had been hired as the Dallas Stars General Manager, replacing Les Jackson and Brett Hull, there was a prevailing theme of hope and trepidation among fans. What did Nieuwendyk, who was a first time G.M. and just three years removed from playing, have to offer the Dallas Stars that Les Jackson did not?
After all, Jackson and Hull had taken over an aimless organization in November of 2007 and given it a new sense of direction. The result was nearly instantaneous; the Stars made a surprising run in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs that saw the team just two wins from the Finals. The team started the 2008-09 season with more hope and higher goals than they had enjoyed in years. Unfortunately the good feeling vanished almost immediately as the team struggled to start the season and once things started to get going again, the season was derailed by catastrophic injuries.
Despite the exciting Western Conference Finals appearance a year ago, after another early end to the season Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks felt that his team needed someone to kick start what had become a stale franchise. The Stars have had too many talented teams, too high a payroll for their season to end so consistently disappointing. Each summer it was the same thing; next time will be different, next year we'll be healthier, next season we'll find the right combination. If you sit back and think to every summer since 2002, it feels like the same retread conversation over and over again. Except each season the veterans grew older, and each season became a bigger battle than the one before it.
Tom Hicks knew that for results to change, then a new face was needed to start that change at the very top. Even if it was someone very familiar to Dallas Stars fans, his fresh approach to how he felt this franchise should run would be sure to start a shakeup that would rattle this organization to it's very core. And that's exactly what happened.
Less than two weeks after being named the new G.M., Joe Nieuwendyk made this proclamation to all Dallas Stars fans:
"Everything you know or thought you knew is about to change."
By hiring Marc Crawford to replace Tippett, Nieuwendyk not only set forth the direction he wants this team to go but established himself as a General Manager with a very specific plan and one with absolute authority. He wasted no time in putting his stamp on the Dallas Stars and immediately made it clear just how different things are going to be in the future. When Tom Hicks stated that Nieuwendyk had his blessing to do what was necessary to turn this franchise around, Nieuwendyk set out by doing what he thought was the first, most difficult step in the process for change.
That step was to fire Dave Tippett, the coach of the Dallas Stars for the past six seasons. It was a decision that must have been extremely difficult to make, especially considering his phenomenal regular season record. Yet to Nieuwendyk, Tippett's window for winning with this Dallas Stars team had passed and a new voice was needed to come in and wake the players up.
Under Tippett, the Stars enjoyed a great and respectful relationship with the ultimate player's coach. He instituted a sense of comfort in his team, and believed in allowing his veterans and the leaders on the team to hold the rest accountable. His approach led him to become the second most successful coach in the regular season during his time with the Stars. Yet his team's woefully underperformed when it mattered most, and the Stars won just three playoff series in five appearances.
And for those still with the belief that Tippett was fired because of this past season alone, remember how he was on the hot seat not 18 months ago. The Stars had just lost their third straight first round playoff series and started the 2007-08 season floundering to a 7-7-3 record. Things finally came to a boiling point after a disastrous and incredibly humiliating loss to the LA Kings, which saw the Stars allow five goals in just over a five minute span in the third period en route to a 6-5 OT loss. Many thought that Tippett could be on his way out. Instead, Hicks looked for instant change at the top and fired Doug Armstrong, promoting Brett Hull and Les Jackson to take over the G.M. duties. Somehow this change at the top electrified the Stars, who won 8 of their next 11 games to climb back into the playoff race.
Yet this new found energy was short lived. While Dave Tippett had enjoyed immense success during his time as the Stars coach, except for one flash in the pan he never showed the ability to elevate his team to play among the best when it mattered the most. The stale feeling around the organization lingered and although fans and players alike kept believing that all we needed was our healthy players back next season to get back on top, there's no guarantee that was going to happen.
Tom Hicks didn't want to waste an opportunity to shake this franchise from it's foundation up, and that is exactly what Joe Nieuwendyk has done.
The hiring of a completely new brand of a coach is just the first step in a long process of putting this franchise on the road to become a Joe Nieuwendyk team. The fact that the insanely popular head coach was fired not two weeks into his regime tells the rest of the organization that no one is safe; this goes especially for the players. Nieuwendyk will demand accountability, hard work and most of all positive results from every player on the roster. With a number of players on the payroll with bloated contracts, Nieuwendyk will look for any excuse to shake things up, both for financial reasons and to free up space for players he believes gives this team the best shot at success.
Looking back, it becomes clear to see that many players enjoyed too high a level of comfort under the old regime and coach. Too often there was talk amongst the veterans of accountability and the need to get thins changed and moving in the right direction, and too often the results stayed the same to the tune of the same broken record being played out in every post-game interview. Only Brenden Morrow seemed to have the ability to spark this team into action, and after 6 years and five seasons with the team, Dave Tippett had lost the ablity to have that same connection without his captain present.
The coaching change will make things seem instantly different. We'll hear about how hard he is on players in practice, how fired up the veterans get out on the ice more often than they used to. But Nieuwendyk still has the task of putting together the perfect team to complement the coaching style of Marc Crawford.
Change has already been made, with earth shattering consequences.
You can be sure more is on its way.