When the Dallas Stars announced this summer that they'd be handing Marc Crawford his walking papers, the search for his replacement became the number one topic of conversation among Stars fans. Most fans weren't thrilled with the hiring of Marc Crawford and some questioned if Joe Nieuwendyk would make another questionable choice.
A few familiar names popped up that had Dallas Stars ties, like Ken Hitchcock and Kirk Muller, but the at the end of the day, it was Texas Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan that got the nod. He got off to a fantastic start, partially because of Kari Lehtonen's brilliance, but in large part because Gully's refreshing change in system.
Players immediately praised his openness, honesty, and communication skills. After playing under the enigmatic Marc Crawford, they really appreciated understanding what exactly was expected of them on a nightly basis. With his school teacher's background, Gulutzan excels at breaking down concepts and making them understandable to a broad spectrum of players.
His critics will be quick to mention his game management shortfalls, from being slow to adjust to opposition changes to his sometimes questionable line matching decisions, but is it too early to grade his performance or compare him to the other top candidates for his job? Probably, but this is a blog, and that's what we do.
After the jump, I'll take a look at all the candidates that currently hold head coaching jobs in the NHL, and let you guys vote for who you'd hire if given the choice today.
Glen Gulutzan - Dallas Stars:
Gulutzan inherited a team that had missed the playoffs 3 years in a row, had no owner, was bottom of the barrel in terms of payroll, and was expected by most to be a lottery-pick team at the end of the season. While most teams don't generally hire new coaches when they're on the cusp of greatness, it's safe to say most coaches have a little more to work with when they're brought on board.
From fighting the loss of Brad Richards to finding ways to piece together a full roster with all the injuries, it hasn't exactly been a walk in the park for the rookie coach. His familiarity with the organization and Jamie Benn have been invaluable in putting together a competitive roster, but is he leading the Stars to a fourth straight year without playoff hockey? If so, how much of that is his fault, or is he just a victim of circumstance?
Kirk Muller - Carolina Hurricanes:
Former Dallas Stars fan favorite, and Grumpy Old Man, Kirk Muller was one of the hottest coaching prospects around after making a name for himself as an assistant for the Montreal Canadiens. He was linked to the Dallas job, the New Jersey Devils job, and was widely regarded as one of the brightest young minds in the game.
The knock against him, however, was his lack of head coaching experience. After missing out on all the available head coaching jobs in the NHL, he took a job coaching the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, in the Nashville Predators organization. He didn't stay there long, as the Carolina Hurricanes would give him his first NHL head coaching job on November 28th.
With just 4 wins in his first month, he didn't exactly turn the Hurricanes around immediately. While things have gotten a little brighter for fans in Raleigh, they're still nowhere close to a playoff spot.
Ken Hitchcock - St. Louis Blues:
Ken Hitchcock is my favorite coach of all time. Any sport. He won my team a championship in 1999 by being nasty, defensive, and any number of other words that describe my favorite style of hockey. Sure, I was an impressionable youth, but his style of hockey is what I grew up with.
His viability as a coaching candidate in Dallas was questioned for a few reasons that I believe are very valid. Firstly, with stops in Philadelphia and Columbus since leaving Dallas, there were questions about his ability to coach in the modern game. He always relied on shutdown defense and occasional obstruction-hooking. It's also not a usual trend for a team to hire back a coach they fired ten years earlier.
Since inheriting the St. Louis job, however, he has looked every bit as relevant as any other coach in the league. Some have even mentioned him in the Jack Adams award conversation. He took a mediocre Blues team and took them to a share of 1st overall.
Granted, neither Hitchcock nor Muller have had much time in their new roles and things can turn in a second... but I think the Stars made the right call. We're a young team with a young staff and a young owner. I think Gulutzan has the tools to grow in this job and bring the Stars were they need to go.
I still love Ken Hitchcock to death, and am in awe of what he's been able to do with the Blues, but St. Louis has a lot more tools for him to work with than the Dallas Stars at this point in time. Muller is still a work in progress as well. Sometimes you hire a coach because you think he can push your team over the top. Other times you hire him because he's the right guy to grow with your team.
I liked it when it was announced, and I like it now. Do you?