Despite speculation that Les Jackson would become the lone General Manager after the 2008-08 season, and Brett Hull would go onto another job within the organization, owner Tom Hicks decided to do things differently without any outside help. He talked to Joe Nieuwendyk on his own and made the decision that despite the regular season success of the past decade, something drastic needed to happen for there to be change in the final outcome of each season. When Nieuwendyk was named the new General Manager of the Dallas Stars back in June, he promised there would be changes in the organization. He won the job with the thought that things had grown a bit stale in Frisco and while the team had certainly been successful the past few seasons, a new wind was needed to get things moving in the right direction.
His first surprising move was the firing of long-time head coach Dave Tippett and the hiring of Marc Crawford. While the change was certainly unpopular among loyal fans and a met with a bit of skepticism in the media, there was no doubt that Nieuwendyk meant what he said when he promised change was coming. The difference between Tippett and Crawford is night and day; one is a soft spoken player's coach who preaches disciplined, defensive hockey while the other has a reputation as a brash, in-your-face offensively minded head coach. The thought was that the Stars and their players had grown too accostomed to Dave Tippett and his style of coaching and while the team certainly played hard for him, there were suspicions that there wasn't the highest amount of accounatibility in the locker room between players and coach.
With Crawford, Nieuwendyk and the Stars hope that a new and different voice will act as an injection of life into an team that has hit a rut over the past seven seasons. Despite the surprising success of the 2008 playoffs, Dave Tippett's teams had become known as slow starters to begin the season underachievers in the postseason. Many point to a rash of injuries for the failures 2008-09 season, but the fact remains that last year's team started poorly and never could completely crawl out of that hole.
Crawford represents a complete turnaround in the attitude surrounding the Dallas Stars. Ever since coming to Dallas, this franchise had maintained a reputation as one of the most stifling defensive teams in the NHL, one that minimizes mistakes and takes advantage of the opportunities that arise. Yet with Crawford, we will see a new philosophy and new approach about the Stars, one that focuses on creating chances in the offensive zone with a strong transition game and a swarming presence in the offensive zone. It's a more wide open style of hockey than we've ever seen in Dallas. Crawford will still focus on defensive responsibility, yet he needed an assistant coach that preaches his style of hockey in order to get the team to completely buy into this change.
If you want different, Charlie Huddy is the man.
Departed assistant coach Rick Wilson was known around the NHL as one of the best defensive coaches in the NHL. He was here to help build the stifling defenses of the late 1990's, guiding the development of Derian Hatcher, Richard Matvichuk, Darryl Sydor and Sergei Zubov. He was known for teaching a style that focused on perfect positioning while not taking chances, minimizing shots on goal and not getting caught up ice. A coach with the Stars ever since the franchise came to Dallas, he was fired along with Dave Tippett when Crawford was hired.
Charlie Huddy, five-time Stanley Cup Champion and long time assistant with the Edmonton Oilers, has forged a reputation as a coach that specializes in the development of young, skilled defenseman. With Matt Niskanen, Trevor Daley (and eventually Ivan Vishnevskiy) all with the skill to become offensively dangerous defensemen, there are some that believe Wilson might have held them back a bit and pressured them into a more conservative method of playing.
Just like with any change, there is hope that a new coach and a new voice on the bench will help breathe life and energy into the Stars. This is a skilled but extremely young group of defensemen and like with Tippett, the thought is that change was needed to breathe life in a defensive corps that was struggling to adjust after the loss of key veterans. With Sydor, Zubov, Mattias Norstrom and Philippe Boucher all departing in the last two years the Stars had fought to maintain a high level of play with significantly inexperienced young players logging ice time.
Huddy is a coach that can come in, evaluate the defensemen on his own merit and judge for himself what each player should focus on. Trevor Daley is perhaps the one player on the ice that will benefit from this change the most. There is no doubt that Daley posseses great speed and puck-handling skills, yet too often it seems as if he's unsure of when to attack or he's uneasy completely committing to joining the rush and using his skill. We've seen flashes of what he can do when he's comfortable on the ice, but too often Daley would disappear for several games at a time. With Huddy, Daley has a coach that can help hone his skills as an offensive weapon while working to maintain his consistency as a defensemen with offensive capability.
This is not a debate as to whether Huddy is an upgrade over Rick Wilson as a coach, but his hiring completes the philosphy change that Nieuwendyk promised when he was hired. He coaches a system very similar to that of Crawford, with defensemen encouraged to lead the attack while still maintainig defensive responsibility.
Like with the departure of Tippett, it will be tough not to see Wilson on the bench for the Stars next season. Yet the belief is that change was needed to jumpstart a franchise that was struggling with postseason success. Marc Crawfor, along with Charlie Huddy, will start the journey on a brand new road next month.