It's been very interesting to me to try and gauge fan's expectations for this upcoming season. Just a few months removed from missing the postseason by a mere two points, the Stars are facing an uncertain but hopeful future as Joe Nieuwendyk resets a bit and starts truly building this team up. Using the money that would have likely gone to Richards, Nieuwendyk set this team up for a bright future while maintaining the present team as a very competitive one -- and perhaps even deeper than before.
Part of this plan involved letting go of Marc Crawford, a failed experiment in bringing a new and aggressive style of hockey to Dallas. Nieuwendyk is building this team to be physical and aggressive, and Crawford was supposed to be the catalyst for that. Yet the players already on this team had troubles assimilating into the exact system that Crawford wanted and it's become apparent that Crawford wasn't exactly the best coach to move that process along.
The end result was a team that did seemingly score more goals and was exciting to watch, yet suffered defensively and had all sorts of issues on special teams while resembling a team that could never really find it's identity. How much did Marc Crawford really change offensively for the team, other than attempting to implement a system that was more "aggressive" offensively?
Enter Glen Gulutzan, rookie NHL head coach and just two seasons removed from coaching in the ECHL. If there ever was a coach that would be the exact opposite of Marc Crawford, it's Gulutzan -- a player's coach, who focuses on relating to his players and knows the best way to success sometimes is to mold the system to fit the players on the team. Since being hired, Gulutzan has spoken about being better defensively, being tough to play against and about being a hard-playing "two-way hockey team".
What has amazed me is that suddenly a number of fans are acting concerned. Not that this system won't work, but that it would be "boring"...
The past two seasons the Dallas Stars have been far from a boring team to watch. Their slow starts coupled with some great come-from-behind wins has sparked lots of talk about this team's resolve and character when their backs are against the wall. As we've discussed before, however, those shortcomings that would force those exciting victories eventually caught up to them and the team faltered in the second half of the season -- falling from the top of the division all the way to missing the playoffs by just one win.
So, was that brand of "exciting hockey" worth it? When Joe Nieuwendyk hired Marc Crawford, he wanted to change the approach this team was taking as a team. Nieuwendyk saw a farm system that was suffering from years of bad trades and a couple of bad drafts and filled with "gritty forwards" with barely any defensemen. He saw a team that had missed the playoffs a year after going to the postseason, with coach Dave Tippett apparently having lost the locker room.
Whether the decision to fire Tippett was the right one or not, Nieuwendyk was hired to make changes. That was the last-grasp panic move by Tom Hicks, on the eve of losing control of this franchise, and he wanted to try one last thing to jump start this organization into contention once more. What better way than to take the team in a whole new direction systemically?
Two years later and heading into his third season as a general manager, Nieuwendyk has grown and learned. He's seen that trying to force a style of "exciting and aggressive" hockey isn't exactly on par with building a successful team, especially when those players are not comfortable either with that system or with the coach that is teaching it. The more we learn about what happened with Marc Crawford, the more it becomes apparent that perhaps it wasn't the system anyway, but more about the coach that was standing in front of the team.
Aggressive offense or not, Nieuwendyk is intent on turning this into a tough, physical franchise. He's drafting big forwards and even bigger defensemen. He signed a number of "gritty" forwards in free agency this year who excel at playing two-way hockey and provide more depth for this team than we've seen in a number of years. No matter what style, however, Nieuwendyk wants this team to win.
Glen Gulutzan was hired not to implement a system, but to make this a successful team once more. Nothing else is more important than this fact.
There was thought that when Crawford was first hired that an aggressive, more exciting style of hockey would appeal to more hockey fans in this post-lockout era, especially since the Dallas Stars had apparently been stuck in the trap style of play since 1997. This wasn't the same NHL anymore and Crawford was supposed to usher the Stars into a new era of hockey -- a plan that backfired miserably.
So now we have the players and Gulutzan talking about defensive hockey, defensive responsibility and two-way hockey. All of these terms apparently scare fans into thinking the team is going to resort once more into a "boring" trap-style of hockey, similar to what the Texas Stars had down in Austin with Gulutzan as their coach. It's something that's been echoed on many different forums by Stars fans, worries that the Dallas Stars will turn boring once more.
The Texas Stars were one of the most successful teams in the AHL the past two seasons, and made the playoffs both years.
The Las Vegas Wranglers made it to the ECHL playoffs in five out of six seasons with Gulutzan as the coach.
The Stars were one of the better defensive teams in the AHL while playing a conservative style of offense, compensating for a lack of top-end talent at forward while having a deep reserve of defensemen.
The Wranglers were aggressive offensively and mirrored the style of hockey that Gulutzan employed as a player; gritty, hard working, non-flashy but effective.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars are missing the postseason while trying to force an "exciting" style of hockey onto the players and the team.
You tell me which brand of hockey is "more exciting" as a fan, because when it comes down to it only one thing matters at the end of the season: did the the team win and did they make the playoffs?
Fans should be hoping that Gulutzan comes in and preaches defensive responsibility. The Dallas Stars might have been more aggressive offensively, but the team allowed far too many back breaking goals early in games and at the worst possible times -- usually just after a Dallas Stars goal. The Stars allowed more goals than they scored last season, a recipe for disaster no matter how you try and spin it and it's amazing they came as close to the postseason as they did. In fact, if the Stars had slipped into the playoffs they would have been the only team in the NHL to make the postseason with a negative goal differential.
Boring or not, Glen Gulutzan has been hired to turn this team into a winner. Part of that job is to have this Stars team not allow as many goals as they have the past few seasons -- which entails preaching better defensive responsibility.
It may not be as exciting, but if the Dallas Stars are winning games -- that's all that matters.