As soon as Joe Nieuwendyk was hired as the new General Manager of the Dallas Stars, the memories of the glory years of the late 1990's immediately rushed to the front of every Stars fan's mind. He will be a constant reminder of how great that team was and what it stood for, and many will clamor for him to push the Stars to return to that mold that was so successful a decade ago. Some feel that Hicks is holding on desperately to the success of the past and is hoping that this Dallas hero has the ability to put the Stars back where they need to be: on top of the Western Conference and playing in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Yet Nieuwendyk has not been hired to rebuild the Stars organization with a long-term plan in place. This is not a team that needs to be torn from it's foundations and refreshed anew. While the Stars have certainly been caught the past few seasons between a "win now" mentality, and the need for the organization to take a few years to rebound from a free agency mess, you could argue that Stars are actually on the upswing as a franchise.
For years the Stars wanted to continue using the same formula that was so successful; a gritty, hard working team full of character and determination that focused on defensive domination, while being augmented by several dangerous scorers up front. As the lockout approached the Stars found themselves with a soaring payroll and diminishing returns in the standings, and the team was forced to regroup a bit and start fresh after a year away from the ice. At first it seemed the Stars would be right back on top again. but two straight seasons with disappointing first year exits spelled the end for Doug Armstrong and Les Jackson and Brett Hull were promoted to provide a spark not only to the team, but the franchise as well.
We've already gone over just how much Jackson and Hull improved the team in a short period of time, but just how close to a Stanley Cup caliber team can we believe the Stars truly are? And how far is this reality from Nieundyk's vision of a successful team?
After spending years and years focusing on being a team that stresses defense and grittiness, something the Stars are still known for, Les Jackson placed this team on the path to a more open, offensive-minded style of play. Dallas has several top-notch goal scorers and playmakers that are interwoven with the gritty, hard-nosed players that we love. Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro, James Neal and Fabian Brunnstrom play alongside Brenden Morrow, Toby Petersen and Steve Ott to form what has become a hybrid Dallas Stars team: one that still embodies the style of play this franchise is known for, while embracing the fact that hockey has evolved over the years and the Stars need to adjust accordingly.
While it's great to sit and mope about just how different this team is from the one that won it all in 1999, the fact is that the game of hockey in the NHL has changed drastically in the past ten years. Gone are the tight, physical battles that definded the Western Conference playoffs in 1999; replaced by a style that the NHL executives have touted as more exciting and fan-friendly. The rules have changed and the referees have become more strict with physical play, giving the advantage even more to the offense. Jackson and Hull realized this, and after seeing the failures of past seasons made an effort to slowly change this team into the perfect mix between offense and defense; a more wide-open Stars team that still has the ability to shut the opposition down (sounds a bit like Detroit, doesn't it?).
So now the question becomes just how much this vision of Jackson and Hull differs from that of Nieuwendyk. He's already stated a couple of times to the press that he feels a more offensively talented team is the key to success in the NHL. He's been around the league, seen how it's evolved and perhaps realizes that while most Stars fans want him to bring back the team of 1999, that's just not possible any more. Yet will he stick with this hybrid of offense and defense the Dallas Stars have now, or will he embrace the notion of becoming the next offensive explosion in the NHL?
What are your thoughts? How do you see Nieuwendyk approaching the makeup of the Dallas Stars?