The Dallas Stars have gone through a number of changes on the ice but the changes being made off the ice are perhaps just as important.
Much can be, and has been said about Joe Nieuwendyk's tenure as the General Manager of the Dallas Stars. He's made some big moves which have been heavily scrutinized and has put the team on course with the vision he came in with. We can debate endlessly about the Alex Goligoski deal, the decision not to trade Brad Richards, and the decisions to let Marty Turco and Mike Modano go before they retired.
One thing Nieuwendyk and the Stars have been doing consistently, which has flown under the radar a bit, is surround the team with a bubble of great hockey minds and personalities. Championship teams aren't only made on the ice; they are formed through the coaching staff, management, and the people young players and veteran players alike have at their disposal for advice, comfort, and a generally positive atmosphere. These are the kinds of people he has been bringing and/or re-introducing to the organization over the past few years.
Soon after retiring from a very good NHL career, Gary Roberts became a favorite trainer for many young NHL stars. He brought them all to his own facility and showed them not just what to work out, but how to work out, and how to eat, sleep, and basically just live day-to-day in order to be fresh for every game. The most notable trainee of Roberts is Steven Stamkos. If you recall, Stamkos had a pretty average rookie year, but when he came back to the Lightning for his sophomore season he was much stronger and quickly became the most dangerous goal scoring threat in the league. Other notable players who work with him are Jeff Skinner, Brett Connolly, James Neal, and Jordan Staal.
In 2010, Joe Nieuwendyk announced the addition of Gary Roberts to the organization as a player development consultant. While he still works with many players around the NHL, he has worked closely with a lot of the Stars' young talent to get them ready for the pros and has definitely been a good influence on the entire system. Since he became a consultant, Roberts has worked closely with Matt Fraser, Brenden Dillon, Alex Chiasson, Jamie Oleksiak, Reilly Smith and Brett Ritchie, all of whom are potential high impact players in the Stars' near future.
Then this past year the organization brought back former Stars coach Bob Gainey, this time as an adviser to the GM. Gainey worked for the Stars previously as GM from 1993 to 2000, coaching the team from 1993 to 1996.
As General Manager, Gainey was responsible for the two crucial moves which propelled the Stars from cup contender to cup champion, the acquisitions of Brett Hull and Joe Nieuwendyk. Now in his second stint as an employee of the Stars, Gainey is expected to give his acquisition turned GM Joe Nieuwendyk advice on many aspects of building the team for the future and general hockey operations.
When Gainey was brought in it was stated that he would work primarily with the development of prospects in the AHL and make sure they were on the right path. This is very similar to what he did in Montreal, so Gainey has come back to the Stars' organization with some familiarity from the last time around, and a lot of successful years in between. He'll be a crucial part of identifying and providing for the talent that comes through the system.
Most recently, Nieuwendyk and the Stars have continued this trend of hiring people outside of the rink who will greatly benefit both himself as General Manager and the players who suit up for the team.
The biggest surprise among the new acquisitions was Mark Recchi, who scored 1533 points in a 1652 game career which began in 1988 and ended with a Stanley Cup in Boston in 2011. A bit like Gary Roberts, Recchi became known as an absolute training beast who was able to play past 40 because he was always the hardest working guy in the gym.
Hired to help out the hockey operations department, Recchi will be a great adviser who will be able to provide incredible depths of knowledge to everyone around him. After playing over 20 years and into his 40s, Recchi knows what is required to be a champion both personally and as a team and everyone in the organization, players and managers alike, will be able to pick his brain for help in all sorts of situations.
While these acquisitions weren't met with much fanfare and aren't discussed all that much, they are essential to the success of this franchise moving forward. Joe Nieuwendyk knows that in order to build a championship squad and a franchise with long term success is to surround the on ice product with people who can guide them off of the ice.
Every championship team has that "it" factor and a whole bunch of intangibles which go along with their actual talent to bring them to the cup. These untouchable factors don't necessarily only come from on-ice play, the teams that rise to the top do so with hard work and a savvy which they pick up from each other's' experiences as well as from the people in the organization who they talk to.
Guys like Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi will be able to share a lot of tips, tricks, and little secrets to be put to use in game situations, in days leading up to games, and during workouts, which can help players get that extra edge they need. While the game itself has changed a ton since Gainey was a player, he will be able to provide good insight on development and how to use different players, which is a huge factor in long stretches of time.
Joe Nieuwendyk knows all this, and he knows all of these people from his days as a player. He has seen them in action and has probably witnessed them in all their glory and all their failure. He has put together a group of extremely intelligent hockey minds in Dallas, a group which will do a lot to make the Dallas Stars a successful organization and help the franchise return to its prominence in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. While he is working on the long term and a relatively slow building process on the ice, he's re-working the organization off the ice so that it's fully equipped to do its best job for all of its players once the future really arrives.
It's important to remember that a hockey team isn't only the 20-odd guys who put on hockey gear every day and go out and play. A hockey team survives on the net that's built around it which can help it and guide it through good and bad stretches. Joe Nieuwendyk has done a ton in the last couple of years to make sure that his players and his other employees are surrounded by the absolute best possible people to help them progress both personally and professionally throughout their careers.