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.
Looking back at the entire offseason of changes the Dallas Stars went through in the summer of 2013, none drew more negative reaction from the fanbase than the hiring of Lindy Ruff as coach.
The hiring of general manager Jim Nill was met with pretty universal optimism. The new jerseys were celebrated because of the color even if the logo drew a few raised eyebrows. The draft was a success as soon as Valeri Nichushkin fell all the way to No. 10, and the personnel moves, while risky, were bold strokes that addressed immediate holes.
But Ruff seemed like an obvious second choice at the time, a man the Stars turned to after Alain Vigneault took his services to New York City and the Rangers. Heck, I think had you polled Stars fans at the time, they would have much rather seen an AHL wunderkind like Dallas Eakins or even the Stars own Willie Desjardins before looking to Ruff, who was widely thought to have been a big part of the problem when he was let go by the Buffalo Sabres. And that's before you consider the longstanding history between Ruff and Stars fans, dating back to Brett Hull's game winner.
So when rumors leaked out of a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon (oh Jim Lites, never change your relentless enthusiasm to release good news as soon as possible), the most positive reactions were along the lines of wait and see and at least it wasn't John Tortorella.
How fast that attitude turned around.
Early signs were positive as Ruff was a much more congenial presence with the media and around the team than many fans had imagined he would be (and I can vouch first hand that he's tremendously personable with fans at team events and a fabulous blackjack dealer). But the real positive signs came on the ice, where Ruff embraced his young players early and got the team off to a quick start in the preseason.
There were definitely some bumps as the team got off to a slow and inconsistent start in the regular season, but as the team started to take shape in November and the new, fast style of play came to light, public opinion started to turn. By the time the team made its early February surge to get into playoff position, the view was mostly positive.
And when he navigated the emotional roller coaster that was March with as much professionalism as one could possibly imagine, almost everyone agreed he was the right choice at the right time.
Of course, there are legitimate criticisms for this season and some things he probably regrets from the end of Game 6 against the Anaheim Ducks. It was far from a perfect year for anyone on the team, including the coaching staff.
That shouldn't diminish the job he did taking a team with one all-world line and a bunch of eager, young and often over-enthusiastic role players to fill out the forward roster, a defense already held together with duct tape that lost it's most solid all-around defender in late November and a goalie who had Olympic-caliber talent but a history of fading in the biggest moments and molding them into more than the sum of their parts.
Perhaps the best sign for the Stars future is the evident synergy between Nill and Ruff.
As the season progressed, and especially in the key months down the stretch, it became obvious that GM and coach were on the same page both with how they saw the present of the organization and how they see its future. They appear to be hockey minds cut from the same, or at least a very similar cloth, and that makes everything about building a contender easier.
Coaches have notoriously short shelf lives in the NHL and go from masterful leader to part of the problem faster than almost anyone in an organization, so it's hard to really predict Ruff's long-term future with the Stars. But at least in the short term, he's been everything the Stars have hoped for and is a big part of the reason people believe the team's fortunes have finally turned for the better.