Did you forget the Dallas Stars have a new coach this season? We haven't, and leading up to the season we're going to chronicle all the challenges set forth before him...
When the Dallas Stars made the decision to fire Marc Crawford just days after the end of the season, Joe Nieuwendyk gave several reasons for why he felt it was best to move on from the coach of two years. One of the main reasons given was the way the Dallas Stars responded to adversity in the midst of the season or, more importantly, how they did not respond to it at all.
It's amazing to think of just how quickly it all went bad. Sitting on top of the division and right at the top of the conference, the Stars were enjoying one of the best starts to a season seen in more than a few years. There were signs that things might not be so rosy for the entire year but I don't think anyone could have seen the collapse that eventually happened. Heck, the Stars were being ranked as one of the best teams in the NHL and Crawford's name was being mentioned as a Jack Adams candidate.
We all know what happened next. The embarrassment in Vancouver, the debacle against Boston and the ensuing losing streak that seemed as if it would never stop. The Stars entered into a tailspin and could never pull out of it, especially considering the injuries on the team and the inability of the coaches to actually do anything to stop the bleeding. By the time the team recovered, it was ultimately too late.
It was this collapse that perhaps troubled Joe Nieuwendyk the most. A coach that is helpless to motivate and teach his team in the midst of a crisis isn't much of a coach at all, especially considering how there will always be such moments during an 82-game hockey season.
Glen Gulutzan has a lot of challenges ahead of him as the new coach of the Dallas Stars. While many of them are strategic and have to do with x's and o's and some detailed planning, many of these challenges rest on Gulutzan's ability to relate to his players and his team. This is something that Crawford either struggled with or flat out refused to do and in the end the Dallas Stars were unable to motivate themselves through the course of the season.
It's not just about motivation, however. This is about the team feeling like it has a coach it can turn to, someone who has the answers for when things start to go wrong. Last season, even when the games were being won, it felt at times as if the players were operating independently of the coach; this is best evidenced how the Stars repeatedly started games slow or fell behind, only to pick things up as the game progressed and eventually pull off a crazy-awesome win. As we all found out, this strategy was not conducive to long-term success.
Gulutzan has spoken this summer about making hockey fun again for his players, about being able to relate to the team and get them to understand what he wants to do. It's imperative that the players have a deep understanding of the approach that the coach is taking, that with these players in today's NHL it's just not good enough to say "I'm the coach, therefore you just do what I say". This was the approach taken by Crawford and it isolated the team from the coaches and in the end there was no trust.
What's important is that Gulutzan's greatest strength as a coach has always been his ability to relate to his players, starting in the ECHL and going all the way up to the AHL. Perhaps it's his relatively young age, or how he's not far removed from being a relatively successful hockey player himself. Perhaps it stems from the fact that Gulutzan was a hard working player who could not rely on skill alone and understood the importance of coaching and preparation. It is this approach that led him to getting hired by the Dallas Stars after two successful years in the AHL.
During the course of an season in the NHL, there are going to be some rough times. There are going to be injuries and losing streaks and there are most certainly going to be some bad breaks. What's important is how the team responds to this adversity and how quickly the team can stop a losing streak. Last season this didn't happen; it wasn't even close. The snowball started rolling downhill and the team was powerless to stop it. For Gulutzan, one of his main focuses needs to be on building that rapport with his team so that when things go wrong the team can trust him and follow his leadership in pulling out of trouble.