The Dallas Stars are not starting over from scratch. This isn't a team that is going to tank next season and this isn't a team that needs a firesale and to start completely over in order to get back to being a competitive team in the playoffs. Even with the departure of Brad Richards there's a strong nucleus of players in the organization that can be built around, giving Joe Nieuwendyk a strong foundation with which to work.
Despite not having the absolute need to start over, the Stars and Nieuwendyk should be approaching this upcoming season and the future as if they are. For the fans and for the organization there really is no other way in which to move forward from undoubtedly the toughest two years in Dallas Stars franchise history.
The Dallas Stars are going to be a much, much different team next season when they take the ice in October, even if only a handful of players actually change. Chances are a few of the vacant roster spots will be filled by familiar faces like Tomas Vincour and possibly Philip Larsen and even with glaring needs at center and defense, there's no guarantee the Stars will be able -- or willing -- to be competitive in the free agent market this summer. Despite a likelihood of minimal roster turnover, the franchise and organization as a whole will be facing a brand new and unknown future.
There's going to be a new owner in place by the start of the season, along with the possibility of changes in marketing and front office approach. Along with the new owner, there's going to be a new coach running the team behind the bench. Next season will be the start of a new era for the Dallas Stars and hockey in North Texas and with so much riding on how successful this transition is, no decision is more important than who is hired to be the next coach of the team.
Kirk Muller should be the one leading the charge.
When Joe Nieuwendyk made the decision to fire Marc Crawford back in April, many of us (myself included) were under the impression that the choice for the next coach was already made -- since Nieuwendyk rarely makes a decision without already knowing his next step. We all made guesses as to who it would be yet right away the Stars G.M. made it known that this decision wasn't going to be made right away or in haste.
He learned his lesson the first time when he hired Crawford. For the next coach, he was going to do his due diligence and explore every viable option.
While he waits to see just when he'll be able to actually make the hire, Nieuwendyk revealed who was on the list of coaches he had already spoken to and who he was still planning to meet with. Glen Gulutzan, Ken Hitchcock, Peter Horachek had all been interviewed as of early last week, with Nieuwendyk stating that he was still planning on meeting with Kirk Muller and "possibly another coach."
It was interesting to see that Willie Desjardins was not on the list, but when you consider the weight of this decision for the future of the franchise it's no surprise that Nieuwendyk is looking at coaches with extensive experience at the pro level. Of all the coaches mentioned, however, it's Muller and Gulutzan that stand out as the prime candidates to continue what was started two years ago when Nieuwendyk took over the franchise and hired Crawford.
Gulutzan has been incredibly successful with the Texas Stars, getting maximum production out of a roster that generally was never considered to do that well. After taking the Stars to the Calder Cup finals in 2010, he was able to lead an much younger and less-experienced team back to the postseason. He's done a great job adapting his coaching and approach to the players at his disposal and has been instrumental in promoting and building hockey in Austin.
Yet Muller is the hot name in the NHL this summer, coming off another successful season as an assistant for the Montreal Canadiens. He's considered one of the top coaching prospects and is going to be coaching an NHL team sooner than later. He's developed a reputation as a fiery and motivational bench coach and has been the guiding force behind turning the Habs into one of the top power play teams in the NHL.
More importantly, he's not only coached and adapted to differing approaches to the game but he showed the ability to adapt his game while a player as well. He knows and understands you cannot force a team to mold itself to the style of play you're demanding, instead needing a common ground in which to find a comfort level with the players while guiding and leading the team to moving forward and improving.
The Dallas Stars have been trying for two years to change and adapt to an aggressive and uptempo team. At least that was apparently the goal, yet what has happened is we've seen a team that has proven that without defensive responsibility and ability it doesn't matter how many pucks you put on net. It's been incredibly frustrating to see a team struggle so mightily while attempting to adapt to a new style, all the while apparently receiving little to no direction from the head coach as to how to get that process completed successfully.
Muller has been an assistant coach since 2006 and only has brief experience in the junior leagues as a head coach. There's no telling how he'll adapt to the added responsibilities of being a head coach yet there's no doubting the impact he's had on the Canadiens during his time behind the bench.
Perhaps just as important, Muller has the charisma and personality to give hope to a flailing fanbase. Marc Crawford was calm, reserved and downright boring and never gave much inspiration to the fans that the Stars were doing everything it took to be successful. Joe Nieuwendyk is a very smart and calculating general manager and will always be considered a legend in Dallas, yet he doesn't have the demeanor needed to give the fans the uplift they so desperately need.
Hiring a coach based on the P.R. factor alone is a recipe for disaster, yet you have to believe that it would be a factor.
The Stars are going to be starting from scratch in many ways and who better to lead them than a charismatic, motivational coach that will tell it like it is and get the Stars back to playing successful hockey? A new owner and a new coach will be in place when the Stars take the ice in October and this franchise needs an injection of hope and energy in the worst way.
Muller wouldn't be providing just the short-term pick-me-up, either. Muller has the potential to be a coach for a long time with the Stars, possessing exactly the sort of leadership you need while the Stars attempt to break free from three years of depression and move into the future with hope. It's going to take a lot more than just a good coach for the Stars to find sustained success once more, but with a coach like Muller providing a solid foundation for Nieuwendyk to work with there's nothing that says turning this ship around can't happen sooner than anyone expects.