As part of our look back at the season that was, the DBD staff has put together a Top 10 list of the most defining moments of the season, moments that have an impact beyond the scope of just one season. Since most of these happened off the ice and built upon many of the previous moments, they are listed in chronological order.
The most important moment of the Dallas Stars 2013-14 season, or at least the one that may resonate the furthest into the future, may have happened before the 2012-13 campaign was even finished.
There was an odd atmosphere at the American Airlines Center on the final day of the last regular season that had nothing to do with how listless the Stars looked while getting beaten by the Detroit Red Wings. People kept checking their phones looking for news, and people in the press box were scrambling for sources.
That's because it was becoming more and more clear that not only had the Stars let go of general manager Joe Nieuwendyk, but they were about to hire Jim Nill, the long-time Red Wings assistant general manager.
Nill was a hot commodity in the prospective general manager world, a name with a ton of cache and a long history with a successful franchise. He was also a name that not many were thinking was available, as he had reportedly turned down an offer for the general manager position with the Montreal Canadiens the year before. But a combination of a slightly improved family situation, some ties with Stars president Jim Lites from his Red Wings days and a five-year contract offer from Tom Gaglardi was enough to bring him to the Lone Star State.
As with any new general manager, there were some questions as to the approach he would bring. How similar would he model the Stars on the Red Wings? What type of stamp could he put on the organization in the summer months to turn things around?
The answer to that last question, it turns out, is a huge one.
Not everything Nill touched in the offseason turned to gold - indeed, there are plenty of eyebrows to raise at the contract he gave Sergei Gonchar or even the trade for Shawn Horcoff with two years left on a fairly expensive deal. But he did so very much right, from the trade for Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to the hiring of Lindy Ruff to the decision of giving the captaincy to Jamie Benn at what appears to be exactly the right time.
Do those things happen without Nill at the helm? It's impossible to say. What we can say, though, is he unquestionably made this team better than the last several versions. One of the biggest reasons hopes are high about the future of the franchise is the belief that they have a strong general manager at the helm, one who has a concrete vision for what the team should be and a plan to get them there.
This summer will be another extremely interesting litmus test for Nill as well. Now, with a full year of experience with this group of players and prospects under his belt, what does he see as the key needs that he can address, and what moves will he make to fix those holes in the short and long term? He's saying all the right things in interviews with the media, but what really made him stand out last summer was that he was able to execute things like the Seguin deal.
The Stars still have a long road left in front of them to truly be a relevant force in the playoffs again. But because of Nill's leadership, they look like they're finally starting to take steps in the right direction.