Once again, we're taught the lesson of what happens when the sports media plays a game of phone tag. What's interesting about this case is that it appears that the initial report was actually factual, but that no one is willing to go ahead to report the news officially and thus we're all left in a state of uncertainty.
On Thursday afternoon, we were alerted to a Twitter report that Dallas Stars CEO and president Jim Lites had apparently announced the new head coach of the Dallas Stars. This report came from Travis Brown of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a vetted reporter who was there at the luncheon in which Lites had spoken and according to him -- the deal was all but done barring any "unforeseen" events.
This had to be true, right? This was reporter for a mainstream media outlet who had heard directly from Jim Lites and what he said at the luncheon. Immediately, the hockey media -- including us at DBD -- ran with the report while acknowledging that nothing was official just yet.
Knowing how Mr. Lites can be when talking publicly -- he's a bit eager sometimes to share what he knows -- we knew that this wasn't exactly how official word of a new coaching hire was expected to be made. Even if Lites felt the deal was all but done the reality is that nothing is ever done until an actual agreement had been made, and it certainly seemed at the time that there was more to the story than what we were getting.
In the immediate aftermath of the report, with NHL.com even jumping in on the action, we set out to determine the validity of whether this hiring was actually going to happen or not. Our own sources informed us that Ruff is certainly under consideration and is high on the list, but that the team Jim Nill has yet to make a decision and that a deal was far from being done.
Mike Heika also confirmed that a deal was not reached, speaking to Jim Lites himself:
Just talked to Jim Lites and he said tap the brakes on Lindy Ruff hiring. Said they like him a lot but nothing is done yet.- Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) June 20, 2013
I wasn't in Fort Worth, so I don't know what he said there. He just said on the phone this is not a done deal.- Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) June 20, 2013
TSN's Darren Dreger, generally considered to be one of the final voices in the NHL media when it comes to these things, also stated that a deal was far from done.
While Lindy Ruff appears to have the inside track on the Dallas Stars coaching job, it's not done yet.- Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 20, 2013
Tortorella interviewed strong with the Stars. Nill is expected to spend a couple of days with Ruff before a final decision is made.- Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 20, 2013
Update: Oh look, NHL.com has a video up of Darren Dreger discussing the Dallas Stars coaching situation and Lindy Ruff.
"I think that's a strong possibility," says Dreger, when asked if Ruff will be the next coach of the Stars. "The Dallas Stars definitely wanted a veteran head coach. John Tortorella interviewed very strong with Jim Nill, the general manager of the Dallas Stars, but it seems they've more or less identified Lindy Ruff as the successor to Glen Gulutzan. Now, it's not done yet and Nill intends to spend two days, maybe a day more with Ruff -- but he is the lead contender as the next head coach of the Dallas Stars, no question."
A couple of things are very clear. For one, Ruff was in Frisco today meeting with the team and it's obvious this went well. Ruff fits what the Stars are looking for in regards to a demanding, respected and experienced head coach and it's long been speculated that he would end up behind the bench in Dallas.
We also know that John Tortorella is also high on the list and indications are that the job will come down to one of the two -- with Ruff obviously having the edge.
We're also not expecting official word of the hiring to come before early next week.
So what was said today in Fort Worth to set this firestorm ablaze? Did the Star-Telegram reporter just take Jim Lites completely out of context with the hope of getting the scoop, or was this a matter of the beans being spilled a bit prematurely? Let's take a look at the actual quotes, according to Travis Brown's full article:
"I tell you guys this. People and hockey fans have been asking me, ‘Who are you hiring as a coach?'" Lites told the audience at the chamber lunch. "As I was walking into the garage next to our building at Frisco, to drive here to speak to you, I passed our new head coach in the hallway and shook his hand. Unless something falls completely apart, we're going to hire Lindy Ruff."
"We respect Lindy a lot. I think he would be a great fit for us," Lites said. "I don't think the deal is done, but it would be a good thing for the Dallas Stars if he is hired. I don't think there is anything standing in the way of it other than getting (general manager) Jim (Nill) and Lindy together on money."
If I had heard these statements at this luncheon, I certainly would have been reporting that Lindy Ruff was set to become the next coach of the Dallas Stars. At the same time, however, it's clear that Lites was essentially saying a few different things at once and it's likely that what he meant to say isn't exactly how it was received.
Lites made it known, after the event, that no deal had been finalized and that this was far from official. Perhaps, however, Lites was speaking as being hopeful that Ruff would be hired rather than it being a decision that's already made. But if the only roadblock that exists is finalizing the contract terms, then reason certainly states that Ruff will become the next coach of the Stars.
Now, things could still fall apart and John Tortorella still remains in the mix. The Stars had another interview with him on Wednesday and reportedly things went very well; this could be a case of just taking time to make sure than any decision that is made is the right one, even if it seems the team is leaning toward Ruff at the moment.
As for Ruff, it seems this is going to be perhaps the most polarizing hire the Stars could have made -- although Tortorella would be as well, for differing reasons. Nill has stated again and again these past few weeks that he's looking for an experienced NHL coach who will instill a culture and identity in the locker room; Ruff is one of the more respected coaches in the NHL and for all his faults, there's no doubt he'll bring accountability to the locker room.
"[Ruff is] a demanding coach and I think that's what we need," Lites also told Brown "I think young players react well to structure and to discipline. Same is true with a lot of coaches. The most success we've ever had here with the Dallas Stars is with Ken Hitchcock and Ken was a very demanding coach. There's young players that say I was at my best when I was playing for Ken Hitchcock."
For now, we wait on the official word and see if Ruff or Tortorella is the coach that Nill decides on. If nothing else, this has been an exhaustive and extensive process and even if the Stars were not able to lock up their first choice for coach, it's still clear that Nill has done more than his due diligence in ensuring the coach that is hired is the right one for the vision he has for this team.