LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25: General Manager Bob Gainey of the Montreal Canadiens during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on June 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Yesterday the Dallas Stars made the first "splash" of the 2012 offseason when it was reported that Bob Gainey is expected to be hired as a consultant for the team, with CEO and President Jim Lites confirming the report. A formal announcement is expected soon, as details of the deal are still being finalized, yet it is clear that the Stars intend to hire the former GM and coach in something that appears to be a fairly significant role.
For those that have been long-time Dallas Stars fans, Bob Gainey holds a somewhat legendary status because of how he built the Stars into a Stanley Cup winning team just six years after coming to Dallas. Gainey was originally hired as the head coach of the North Stars in 1990 and then became the General Manager in 1992.
Three years after the Stars moved to Dallas, Gainey hired Ken Hitchcock and stepped down as coach to focus on his GM duties. Over the next three years he would make several shrewd decisions en route to building what would become one of the most consistently successful franchises in the Western Conference.
Since leaving Dallas in 2002, Gainey has had a tough road in Montreal and has worked the past two seasons as a consultant there after stepping down as General Manager in 2010. When it was announced that Gainey would no longer have the consulting position after this season, it seemed that the possibility of coming to Dallas was merely a pipe dream for those of us that remember his time here fondly.
What does this hiring mean, however? And what sort of role with Gainey have the Stars? Let's take a quick look after the jump.
As Mike Heika reports, Gainey is expected to stay in Montreal and come to Dallas for "long trips," as well as keeping in touch via email and phone. It seems that Gainey is going to provide a broad view of the franchise and provide guidance and leadership as necessary and will be working directly with Joe Nieuwendyk when it comes to player evaluations, team building, etc.
"I do see it in a similar way to what I was doing with the Canadiens over the last two years,'' said Gainey, who was working a great deal in development with the team's AHL affiliate and also consulting with GM Pierre Gauthier. ``My scope will probably be broader with the Stars, but I see it as observing and familiarizing myself with the players and then hopefully offering some guidance that maybe others haven't seen. I would like to be able to say, `I see this in a player,' or `Maybe we could shape this player in this direction.' Those are areas where I believe I can help.''
What is very interesting with this decision is the fact that Gainey has long been regarded as a general manager who believes in building a defense and goaltending first team, something he started in Dallas and continued in Montreal. He built the successful Stars teams of the 1990's based on the blueprint of what made the great Canadiens teams so good and he carried that over to Dallas. The Stars, for nearly two decades, became a team synonymous with defense-first hockey -- we named this site "Defending Big D" for a reason.
When Joe Nieuwendyk was first hired by Tom Hicks it was with the intention of creating a new direction for the Stars, one that changed the "defense first" culture to one that was focused on up-tempo and aggressive hockey. Marc Crawford was hired for this specific reason. Yet now, after three years, it seems the Stars are discovering that what truly makes a team successful -- defense -- is what should be the focus of any franchise looking to get back to consistent success.
Glen Gulutzan was hired not just because of his ability to adapt and grow with a young and developing franchise but because he's a coach that has long been able to adapt to the players he has at his disposal. He coached an aggressive system in the ECHL but when he came to Austin as the coach of the Texas Stars, he adapted his system to be more defense-oriented because of the players on his team.
In Dallas, it seems that the Stars are looking for the perfect balance between the two approaches -- similar to what we've seen from teams like the Detroit Red Wings and in some ways the Chicago Blackhawks (minus the goaltending). The Stars are in the midst of attempting to rebuild without actually rebuilding, recovering from four years of financial stagnation while ushering in a new beginning centered around a young and extremely talented core of players.
This is where Gainey comes in and I believe this is why he was sought after by Nieuwendyk and Lites.
We can discuss the missteps that Gainey took during his time in Dallas (and we likely will) but the fact remains that Gainey was, like Lites, instrumental in originally building this Stars teams back in the 1990's to become an extremely popular destination for sports fans in Dallas. Gainey provides a unique view on the process of evaluating players and how they fit into the grand scheme building a winning franchise and with this consulting position, he will have the ability to take a step back and truly see the big picture.
Where this new voice and viewpoint will certainly become valuable is in relation to the process of deciding how to continue to build the Stars moving forward. The Stars are going to have some very interesting and possibly tough decisions to make in the coming months -- and next summer as well -- in regards to a number of veterans currently on the team.
This is also the chance for Nieuwendyk to have a well-respected hockey mind to discuss these issues with and confide in, an opportunity that is invaluable for this particular situation. Because of the financial troubles related to the previous owner and an attempt to maintain a level of competitiveness with a rock-bottom payroll, the Stars have been without a true and defined direction for the past three years. We see the foundation in place for what we believe Nieuwendyk wants to do, but the coming months will be the first chance that the GM actually has a chance to build upon that vision.
Gainey will provide valuable opinion in regards to how to carry out this vision and how to find the balance between the defense-first teams that have been so successful in the past and the offensive approach that Nieuwendyk has been aiming for since 2009.
Heika suggests the relationship could be similar to the one that exists between Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels of the Texas Rangers, but I don't think that's going to be quite accurate. Ryan is a very hands-on President and CEO and has a very visible presence with the Rangers -- I feel that Gainey's influence will not be nearly as obvious or as public. Where the similarities do lie, however, is that Gainey represents a proven and veteran hockey mind to provide direction and leadership for Nieuwendyk when needed.
Here is where the hesitation comes in, however. The Stars -- and in some ways, the fans -- are fixated in some ways on the time when this team was at its highest point. It's only natural to want to rebuild the success of that time, but it's interesting how past names keep coming back up. Guy Carbonneau was mentioned as a possible option for the Stars coaching position last summer -- along with Kirk Muller -- and the Stars even had a chance at re-hiring Ken Hitchcock. There's something to be said about the fact that while a formula may have worked in the past, doesn't mean the same system will work now.
Of course, there could be value to looking to the past as well. I'm sure that most of us would be ecstatic if it was announced Jere Lehtinen was becoming an assistant or consultant with the team, and not just because we loved him as a player. Lehtinen is someone who could provide very valuable insight into how to create group of defense-conscious forwards.
If nothing else, this is yet another sign that Tom Gaglardi, Jim Lites and Nieuwendyk are committed fully and without hesitation to building this franchise back into one of the premiere teams in the Western Conference. While Gainey had some troubles in Montreal, the Stars at the very least being proactive in attempting to build a successful team moving forward.