Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Dallas Stars lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in embarrassing fashion on Saturday night. Could the loss lead to drastic changes for the team?
Stars owner Tom Gaglardi watching practice today. Said he doesn't see benefit in making changes mid-season. Wants to assess long-term— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) March 17, 2013
Last night I wrote that the 8-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, while embarrassing, should in no way be alone responsible for big changes to come down upon the Dallas Stars. I felt as if the Stars are already in the midst of making sweeping alterations to the roster and direction of the team and that one singular loss should not mean an immediate change to that plan.
Yet the more I thought of the loss, along with the first 27 games as a whole and the 82 games before, the more it was clear that this was just more of the same. The Stars don't seem to be truly growing and improving enough to actually have an effect on the final score. Sure, the underlying numbers look better and the special teams have improved but the end result is the same.
Perhaps we've been talking about this constant search for a team identity a bit too long.
The 8-1 loss to the Blackhawks in and of itself should not directly lead to change. But it could certainly be the final straw on an ever-straining back, a sign that things just aren't head in exactly the direction that was expected when this team was constructed.
Mike Heika notes in his game observations that this is the sort of game that can get someone fired, and has happened in the past. Noting that Bob Gainey, Ken Hitchcock, Doug Armstrong and Marc Crawford were all let go after some bad, bad losses, history certainly shows that with the Stars games like these get the winds of change blowing.
Heika goes on to posit that it is time to at least consider some fairly serious personnel changes, starting with Gulutzan and general manager Joe Nieuwendyk.
But would any firings change that? There are qualified people who could take Joe Nieuwendyk's spot for the remainder of the season. Either Bob Gainey or Mark Recchi could step in or Gaglardi could go outside the organization. Glen Gulutzan could be replaced by Curt Fraser (who was a head coach with the Atlanta Thrashers and more recently led Detroit's AHL affiliate) or the Stars could take a flier on a recycled head coach like Lindy Ruff or Ron Wilson or Terry Murray.
There are ways to shake things up.
But would it work? In 2001-02, assistant coach Rick Wilson finished out the season as head coach and the team finished 10th and missed the playoffs. In 2007-08, Les Jackson and Brett Hull came in as co-GMs and pushed the right buttons, taking Dallas all the way to the Western Conference finals.
That was early in the season, but anything can happen when you change.
It is worth noting that last night was a game the Dallas Stars hyped considerably leading up to the weekend, and owner Tom Gaglardi was in attendance along with his family. With the team making a considerable push in marketing under the new owner, with the commercials touting the direction of the team and the sales team out in full force, with the team close to unveiling new jerseys and logos -- it's not good to fall right on your face in front of your boss against a high-profile opponent.
If any changes are going to be made then expect Gulutzan to be the one to go first; this would be Nieuwendyk's final attempt to prove that he just needed the support of an owner and the right coach to really see his vision succeed. General managers don't get many chances with multiple head coaching changes before success is found and if Gulutzan is indeed fired, then that would mean three changes in four years under Nieuwendyk -- with no playoffs to speak of.
Gulutzan is a young, bright coach with great charisma and intelligence; unfortunately it's seemed as if he's had trouble really making the full adjustment to the NHL. The issues with the Stars can't just be personnel, not with the changes that have been made over the past two seasons -- this is also about systemic issues with the play on the ice. You wonder if those systemic problems can't be addressed without a change at coach.
Then there's the question of whether making a change now is ultimately worth it. Changes in Los Angeles and Anaheim certainly seemed to spark big improvements on the ice, and almost immediately. If Gaglardi and Nieuwendyk are intensely focused on the playoffs this season, then a change would have to come sooner than later.
Could Curt Fraser make a difference if he's the one stepping up? Would Lindy Ruff really be an upgrade? Would Ron Wilson?
Perhaps patience is still warranted and the Stars are going to show faith in their coach and the changes already made -- with more likely on the way -- and hope that the team can pull out of this latest nosedive. Perhaps Nieuwendyk will ride through these ups and downs as the team works through the kinks of some fairly drastic roster changes, and then reassess the coaching situation at the end of the season.
It's not as if the Stars are completely out of the playoff race, although time is running short. Although it feels as if we've already played this game before.
Of course, this is a team that most expected to struggle this season. There were just too many questions on defense and too little depth at important positions and too many inexperienced players to really expect more. There was certainly hope that the Stars could be more but so far this could just be seen as part of the growing process, that bumps like this were to be expected with the "rebuild" really just now underway.
The players said all the right things after the game, calling for accountability and stating that changes are going to have to be made in the locker room for things to start turning around. This could be the final "wake up call" we've all been waiting for, one that puts an end to lackluster starts plaguing this team and the way in which the Stars seem to just fall apart the moment adversity slaps them in the face.
The rollercoaster continues...