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Analyzing the firing of Dave Tippett

As it stands now neither the Dallas Stars, Dave Tippett nor Joe Nieuwendyk will acknowledge reports that Tippett has indeed been fired. Yet the fact that they haven't refuted these reports either pretty much goes to show that the TSN story is accurate. After spending all day fighting to get confirmation (which still has yet to come), Mike Heika has posted his quick thoughts on the news and the troubles he's had piecing this news together. Expect official word tomorrow from the team and the way the rumor mill has progressed since news first broke, it seems as if the Stars already had a replacement in mind when bringing the hammer down on Tippett. If that's the case, we could get a two-fold press conference tomorrow that not only announces the firing of the coach but also announces his successor.

Based on the numbers in the current poll and based on the unofficial Twitter consensus, fans of the Dallas Stars are not too thrilled with this firing. The overwhelming loyalty to Tippett by the fans speaks to the kind of legacy he has built during his six years as the Stars coach, one built around character, class and old fashioned hard work. He's never been one to pull punches and has always been painfully honest when it came to speaking about the team's performance, as well as never backing away from calling out his star players both publicly and privately.

What's interesting is that there have been times in the past that fans have grown weary of Tippett and wanting nothing more than to see him gone. It happens with the ebb and flow of being a coach of the same team for six years, but the fact that the news of his firing has been met with high levels of doubt and skepticism goes to show just how much he really meant to this team when it was all said and done.

The first reaction we have is to think that this firing is a direct result of an extremely disappointing 2008-09 season. After taking out Anaheim and San Jose in last year's playoffs, the Stars lost to the eventual Stanley Cup winning Detroit Red Wings. The feeling around the team was that after such an enthusiastic run in the postseason, the Stars had the knowledge and talent to make that fabled final push over the hump. Yet a horrible start to the season, combined with the loss of several key players to free agency, retirement and injury, derailed our plans for a grandiose season. A season that was supposed to go so much differently ended way too early, and instead of blaming the coach (which is the easiest thing to do), fans have rallied around Tippett and claim that this firing is unfair based on one, injury-riddled season.

So is this the result of one bad season, or has Joe Nieuwendyk come to this decision based on Tippett's full resume as the Dallas Stars coach? Let's look at all the possible reasons Tippett was fired.

When Joe Nieuwendyk was hired just a few weeks ago as the Dallas Stars new General Manager, he stated that he would be analyzing the coaching staff and was looking forward to talking with coach Dave Tippett. It was generally thought that while Nieuwendyk would be expected to shake things up a bit and start to mold the Stars into what he believes to be a successful team, Tippett was essentially safe as the coach. After all, in his time behind the bench for the Stars he's had the second best regular season record of any other coach, and has been the third longest-tenured coach in the NHL. Last season was the first time the Stars missed the playoffs while he was head coach and he was able to get his team to the Conference Finals last season, something 26 other coaches fail to do year after year. So is this just a case of Nieuwendyk eager to make change for the sake of change, or does he truly believe that for the Stars to move forward with his vision that Dave Tippett was the wrong coach to lead them there?

You have to wonder about how much time Nieuwendyk had to really evaluate this decision. When he was hired it was revealed that he had been in talks with the Stars for over a month, so it stands to reason that he already had a plan in place when took over as the G.M. Did this plan start with a brand new coach, one that would be of his choosing that shared in his vision for this organization? Is Nieuwendyk desperate to show that while he did inherit a wildly successful and talented hockey team, changes had to be made and they had to start with the coaching staff?

Joe Nieuwendyk was not hired to continue sailing the exact same ship built by Doug Armstrong and modified by Les Jackson. He was brought in for a change in the direction this organization has headed and to do what he thought necessary to instill the changes needed to make things end differently than they have been. This has been a team that has enjoyed incredible regular season success since as far back as 1996, yet has not had as much success in the postseason since losing in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2000. With Dave Tippett as the coach the Stars have won just three playoff series, two last season. For all the winning the Stars were enjoying in the regular season, the playoffs always seemed to end way too early. Entering the postseason with high expectations and consistently walking away disappointed is never a recipe for job security, no matter how great your regular season records might be.

For the Stars to fully achieve these lofty goals, then Nieuwendyk must feel that drastic change is needed to come at the highest level. There's no doubt that the Stars are going to be focused on headed in a new direction as a franchise, and the General Manager doesn't believe that Dave Tippett is the coach to lead them down this new road. It's understandable that the new G.M. is steering this team into uncharted waters, but why couldn't Tippett be the coach to help make the transition? Since he was hired in 2002, Tippett has posted a .617 winning percentage among all NHL coaches and this past season was his first to miss the playoffs. Sure, the Stars never got back to the Stanley Cup Finals but that's far from the measuring stick that would be fair to any coach. Tippett possesses the hard work, dedication, character and class that you would think would be present in a coach hand-picked by Joe Nieuwendyk.

Yet the fact remains that Tippett was the coach of one of the more talented teams in the NHL, yet ones that consistently disappointed. These were teams that were supposedly perfectly built for deep postseason runs and each year ended much too soon. While there was certainly some drop off in talent after the lockout, it's not as if Tippett was the coach of one of the biggest group of scrubs in the NHL. And after a deep run in the playoffs last season, coupled with high expectation headed into this year, it was disappointing to see Tippett struggle with this team once some key players were lost for the season due to injury. When things get tough and a team loses it's "Star power", the coach must find a way to motivate and band his team together to overcome adversity. Tippett never seemed to consistently be able to "elevate" his team's to the next level, whether it was in the playoffs or in the midst of a season torn apart by controversy and injury.

Don't forget that the Stars had a very tough start to this past season, way before the Sean Avery situation got out of hand and before Brenden Morrow was lost for the season. The goaltending was atrocious and the Stars seemed disjointed and completely lost on the ice. It took the loss of the team captain for the entire season to finally wake up the Stars, as they rallied around adversity and made a miraculous run up the standings in December and January. Yet Tippett made some poor decisions during that time concerning his use of the backup goaltender, and perhaps he pushed the team just a bit too hard as they fought to stay in the playoff race. As the Stars began their sudden fall in the Western Conference standings, Tippett tried and failed to get one last burst of his team.

So how much of this past season was Tippett's fault, and how much was it the G.M.'s, who made the personnel moves that started the 2008-09 season with so much turnover on the roster? As far as the Dallas Stars are concerned it was both. A change to the General Manager and now a change in the coach are the quickest methods for turning a team and pointing them in the direction they want to go.

But if you are going to fire a coach as successful and respected as Dave Tippett, then you damn well better have an replacement in mind that is a sure fire improvement. Right now, it's uncertain if such a coach is available. You don't fire a coach just to "shake things up a bit" and you certainly don't fire a coach to send a message to the team. A coaching change should be made with the single purpose of improving the team, and how many coaches could we honestly say would be a step up over Tippett. I'm as big a fan of turning things around and seeing my Dallas Stars become even more successful than they already are, yet I certainly don't want this team to backslide any further than they did last season.

Let's just hope that the firing of Dave Tippett was much, much more than just Joe Nieuwendyk hoping to make a statement to the team and the to the NHL, proving beyond a doubt that he is determined to mold the Stars into his vision. If that is true, then this new regime will find out fairly quickly how much tolerance Dallas Stars fans have for losing seasons.