Many have remarked that the Dallas Stars were a little green, so to speak, behind the bench last year in terms of NHL perspicacity. Glen Gulutzan and Paul Jerrard came with no NHL experience at all, and Willie Desjardins offered just the one year under Marc Crawford. With the addition of Curt Fraser from the Grand Rapids Griffins, Joe Nieuwendyk adds some needed seasoning to his bench.
"We feel that that the depth of Curt's experience in the game speaks for itself," said Nieuwendyk, "including a four-year run as an NHL head coach."
That four year run was an ill-fated and unenviable run as the Atlanta Thrashers first head coach. Trying to get an expansion franchise off the ground is never easy, and Fraser and his staff went 64-169-31-15 over three and a half seasons, attempting to build around two young stars in Kovalchuk and Heatley but it wasn't to be.
He now brings over 20 years of coaching experience at various levels to a Stars team in a critical year of a partial re-build.
"He'll be working with the forwards and Glen," Joe Nieuwendyk told the Dallas Morning News, "and they'll put their heads together and figure out the responsibilities. Paulie's got the defense covered, so Curt will be working with the forwards."
Fraser told the Grand Rapids Press that Nieuwendyk contacted him about two weeks ago (when speculation began about Desjardins with the Texas Stars) and that his contract is two seasons long.
"This was not something I expected," Fraser told the Press. "It was an opportunity out of the blue and it has turned out to be a really good opportunity for me. They were looking for a coach like me to fill a need in Dallas, and they asked me if I'd be interested in talking with them. So I did, and what a great, great group of people."
Fraser told the Morning News he believes the Stars are on their way to better days, and jumped at this particular NHL opportunity, though he's let others go by in recent years.
"You always want to be in the NHL, but I have had some opportunities to become an NHL assistant, and I didn't really pursue them because I wasn't sure they were the right fit," Fraser told Mike Heika. "On this one, so many people I talked to said good things about the Stars and where they are heading, and I just think it's the right time and the right team."
Fraser admitted that "offense" was probably his area of expertise, more so than the defensive side of things, so we'll keep a close eye in camp on how Gulutzan's vision for a complete, simple game with a strong emphasis on responsibility comes through when the coaching assignments are divied up between the two men.
Grand Rapids developed players for the Detroit Red Wings and the Stars' new assistant said he worked with Babcock regarding an emphasis on scoring chances and puck possession. To have someone come from that particular hockey family to lend their expertise can only be a good thing as the Stars try to become a more complete team with more consistent offense.
Speaking of offense, Fraser will be the lone new voice where one of the biggest Stars' issues last year is concerned: That pesky power play.
It has not been publicly stated that Fraser's involvement will include helping out the Stars' power play that set numerous franchise records in futility last season, nor has any publication that Google presents ever called him a power play specialist, but it's a reasonable assumption that new eye balls and new ideas will be consulted for a unit containing largely the same on-ice pieces.
Fraser's Griffin's ranked 18th at 17.4% and 21st at 16.7% in the American Hockey League the last two seasons, and last year in particular it was bit with the same problems the Stars had in the NHL.
"We've just got to learn how to get around that and continually work to establish a point shot or a flank shot," Fraser said in October last year. "Pucks to the net and then we'll get this thing going."
That's just illustrative, in case we forgot, that every coach at every level of hockey has the same thoughts on how to fix his power play , and it's simply to get pucks to the net and clean up rebounds, or else get lucky. The Stars may have suffered an entire season's worth of bad luck on the man advantage, new sets of eyes may be needed, and new personnel to open up possible strategic changes might be what's required - But having someone of Fraser's experience can't hurt.
The bottom line with this hire seems to be that, combined with the Willie Desjardins promotion, the Stars are reorganizing and solidifying who they are structurally as a staff from top to bottom. Taking Fraser from the Detroit Red Wing way of doing things can only be called an encouraging thing, and White-Board-Willie in Cedar Park will, as we've discussed, bring an element of consistency across two levels of talent that the franchise hasn't seen in a long while.
Enjoy the draft. Enjoy free agency - But remember when training camp comes around that watching Curt Fraser work with the forwards might be one of the most underrated items of intrigue.
Curt Fraser scored 193 goals in the NHL, including five 25+ goal seasons, and he finished the last three years of his playing career with the Minnesota North Stars. He was also quite the courageous, tough customer, seen here taking on Bob Probert...