When Joe Nieuwendyk fired Marc Crawford (re: Relieved of his coaching duties) early this week the narrative of why the season turned sour changed amongst the fan base. The poor special teams play, the personnel choices, the slow starts, the inability to collect points beyond regulation at home, all of it... It all shifted to "well, it turns out hiring Marc Crawford was a mistake."
It's a dramatic turn of events for a man that was probably two close-outs of the Anaheim Ducks in March away from playing for home ice advantage and a date with the Nashville Predators. That's how close things were. The week has been littered with half interested radio "personalities" wondering aloud if the Minnesota game had been a victory, would he still have been fired? Given the reasons given by GM Joe this week would like to think that yes, he still would have been fired.
Considering all of the above at what we can only assume is great length, Joe Nieuwendyk enters a self-professed "non-hurry" to get his next bench skipper and I can't help but wonder if he'd be better off hiring a coach on July 31st.
A common criticism of the Joe Nieuwendyk/Marc Crawford era is that unlike other budget teams in the NHL that evaluate what they have and then game plan accordingly (usually defensive), those two decided how the Stars would play hockey regardless of whether or not the right mix was in place to execute it.
They chose their system and they stuck with it, but when injuries hit and the style needed a little adaptability (we're REALLY injured, let's play safe, cautious hockey, anyone?) they were unable to shift gears. Ultimately this (and a season's worth of slow starts) falls on the coaching staff, if Crawford's fate is any indication.
The problem entering this off-season is the wide, WIDE range of possible roster configurations on opening night, 2011. A new owner could turn the payroll around in a hurry, or a continued existence as a virtual hockey orphan could mean no Brad Richards and nothing to compensate for the loss resulting in a significantly different (less talented) lineup.
So what kind of coach do you hire to fit the wide array of possible Dallas Stars rosters come the second week of September? Offensive? Defensive? Somewhere in the middle?
The Dallas Stars are sold at the conclusion of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. The details are hard to get right in just two weeks but through various back channels and unofficial phone calls it becomes apparent to Nieuwendyk and Provenzano what they can and cannot spend.
Maybe Brad Richards is re-signed, maybe he isn't, but Joe is able to sign a couple of players and change things up a bit one way or the other owing to the regime change. This sequence of events presumably allows Nieuwendyk the freedom to hire a coach that fits whatever his ideal hockey system is as he'll be able to shop for the proverbial groceries accordingly.
The team is NOT sold. There are court cases, complications....whatever you like.
Brad Richards is gone, the defense is not upgraded. A budget center, possibly aging is brought in to mitigate the loss. The Stars now stand with a far less talented forward group than before, top to bottom. Balanced scoring is looking like a best-case scenario at this point and Joe Nieuwendyk realizes, after being two seasons wiser as GM, that an adjustment in philosophy is in order and a more cautious approach (a la Phoenix or Nashville) is needed. Kari Lehtonen becomes your MVP/Pekka Rinne.
Unless someone time travels back from early August Joe Nieuwendyk has no idea what his roster CAN look like on opening night next year. This is problematic of course because hiring coaches is usually done fairly soon in this league and at a rapid pace, particularly when there are as many as five or six teams out there looking at all the same candidates you are.
So do you hire a coach hastily with the rest of the searching teams, just to get a chance at "your guy"? If you can't possibly know what your roster might look like then how could you ever know who "your guy" is beforehand?
It's possible that (here's the other scenario) Joe Nieuwendyk sees as much of the core here as he does and says to himself "we're going to keep playing this style regardless," but I doubt it. He's a smart man and he realizes the domino effect down the lineup Brad Richards' absence leaves. A potential Brad Richards departure changes the potential playing style of the team dramatically.
A wiser, more experienced general manager after two years will know now that more flexibility is needed on the ice, and that the major uncertainty with the financial situation means more flexibility with the coach will also be required, unless of course they're intending to wait until the roster is fully assembled before interviewing head coaches. (They don't).
A defensive minded coach, an offensive minded coach...it doesn't matter. If they're going to hire this month or next, they're going to need someone who can split the difference because the franchise has quite a few balls in the air right now and where they land will affect this very immediate need.
Either way we'll expect that a wiser Joe Nieuwendyk is three steps in front of us on this and that he's got some great men in mind for this job.
Hiring another purely offensive minded, high tempo, puck-possession type coach without consideration of the many possible off-season roster outcomes would seemingly be a mistake. This new coach, whoever he is, will need to be ready to receive a roster of many different kinds and then formulate a game plan accordingly, lest he share Marc Crawford's fate.