Yesterday, we posted our thoughts on what led to Joe Nieuwendyk to fire Marc Crawford just a few days after the season was over. The general feeling was that while the Stars certainly enjoyed near-unimaginable success in the first half of the season, the manner in which the team fell apart down the stretch while other teams stepped up their game was his ultimate undoing.
Joe Nieuwendyk was obviously unhappy with how this team responded to adversity and you can't blame him; the Stars looked completely lost in the biggest games of the season and it appeared as if Crawford had lost all ability to motivate the players when it mattered most. The way the Stars struggled so mightily and lost so many games in embarrassing fashion (that loss to the Boston Bruins still stings as perhaps the worst game I've ever seen the Stars play) led Nieuwendyk to believe that while the Stars might have improved under Crawford, he wasn't going to be good enough to take them to that next level.
Our opinion on what happened is based solely on the product we witnessed on the ice and what Nieuwendyk said during yesterday's press conference. While we've spent time around the club, none of us had any clue that the Stars were a team that was internally battling coaching issues as well. Apparently, this firing comes as no surprise to those that know this team the best: Mike Heika, Darryl Reaugh and Mark Stepneski.
After the jump, we look at their reactions to what went down. If what they're saying is true, then it's frankly a bit surprising Crawford lasted as long as he did.
First, Mike Heika compares the firing of Crawford to the firing of former Texas Rangers manager Buck Showalter. For those that aren't Rangers fans, Showalter coached the ballclub from 2003 to 2006 and enjoyed surprising success in 2004. The Rangers could never take that "next step" and GM Jon Daniels felt that while Showalter had done a good job, he wasn't going to be the man that could take the baseball team any further.
Showalter was also not a "player's coach" and he was replaced with Ron Washington, perhaps the biggest "player's coach" in all of baseball. There was a feeling that Showalter had lost control of the team and Heika says this is what happened with Marc Crawford and the Stars:
Not unlike Showalter, Crawford likes to control most things with his team. He was one of the rare coaches who rotated not only the forwards but the defense pairs, and he definitely liked to have a say in all of the decisions. So when a coach makes all the decisions, and the team doesn't respond well, then there is going to be more responsibility for decisions made. It goes with the territory. The Stars had a ton of tests this year, and we have pointed them all out. That big homestand. The ensuing road trip. The final game against the Wild. The Stars didn't respond well. Is some of that on the players? Yes. Is as much on the coaches? It has to be.
Heika also goes on to say that the players questioned Crawford's decision making, most likely wondering about the same issues all of us were wondering about when the season was on the line.
The players also had some of the same questions you did about the coaching. Why did Crawford lean so heavily on Kari Lehtonen when Andrew Raycroft seemed like a viable alternative? Why did he favor Jeff Woywitka over Mark Fistric. Why was he constantly juggling lines? Why wasn't Loui Eriksson out there more at the end of games.
Heika notes that unlike Ken Hitchcock and Dave Tippett, Crawford was not the sort of coach that would attempt to individually motivate the players themselves. He left that up to the players themselves, but when the players had little to no confidence in the decisions that were being made -- and no one to fall back on when the going gets tough -- the players were unable to keep their level of play as high as it was when they were successful.
In other words, the Stars were winning in spite of Crawford and when they needed him to rally this team he failed to do so.
The stories of Hitchcock's ability to poke Mike Modano at the right time are legendary, and Tippett got more out of Mike Ribeiro because he knew exactly what buttons to push. Again, that's difference between Buck Showalter and Ron Washington. The players find a different gear for Washington.
Obviously, the goal now is to find a coach that actually motivates the players and maximizes the talent on the roster, no matter what the payroll might look like.
Mark Stepneski takes notethat while the Stars were enjoying remarkable success in January, the way the season ended amidst raised expectations led to Nieuwendyk making a tough decision when it comes to Crawford.
About three months ago Marc Crawford was getting touted as a candidate for the Jack Adams Award, which goes to the league's top coach. Now, he's out of a job. Just goes to show how much things can change over the course of the long NHL season.
There were lots of ups and downs for the Stars this and when you added them all up, it equaled 95 points, tying the mark for the most ever by a non-playoff team. But the bottom line is that they were a non-playoff team and that made it three straight years of no postseason hockey for the Stars and two in a row under Crawford.
Of course, we leave it to Razor to be the most blunt about the coaching change. He has been a critic of Marc Crawford's nearly all season long, and you get the feeling he saw the writing on the wall even before the season was over. Written before the loss to Minnesota, Razor notes:
The Stars just wrapped up a practice at Ridder Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota with, wait for it...a little shootout?!!!!!
If tomorrow's game goes to a shootout the Stars season is over, for sure, (It might be even before that) so why on earth would there be a need to go through that "muscle memory" today?
I guess this is why I broadcast and others coach. Haha.
Then there was this on Monday:
But all that leaves is a big fat burning question. A question that surely started to be mulled and pondered even as the clock ground painfully down to zero in the Xcel Energy Center, and will be further bandied about for the next six months. How does this team take the next step and again play games in mid to late April - at the very least?
As difficult as it might be to find, an answer to that query is needed, because in the galloping world of big time sports if you're stuck in neutral the cruel reality is - you're actually in reverse.
The answer to this question, at least in part, was to fire the coach. The man who was responsible for motivating the team before big games and the man who decided that a shootout in practice, before a game when the shootout would be useless, mattered most. Razor did not pull any punches after the news came down, either:
When his teams are "on" they play a reckless, get after it style that can overwhelm tired teams or teams that are trying to play safe. But when a smart, structured approach is needed...like say when injuries hit...?
On personnel issues I question whether he ever connected with individuals on this team. Maybe its just not his style but in today's world it has to be. He all but lost his captain last season and he certainly lost his backup goalie this year. At the same time, he doled out oodles of ice-time to top players (ie Brad Richards) sometimes to the detriment of the group as a whole and without enough gratitude from those he was giving the ice-time to. "A spoiled child never loves its mother"
Bottom line, he couldn't get more out of this group of players than the payroll suggested they could give. He couldn't get them to survive and thrive. They just weren't 100% believers in the message and/or the game plan. Too much gasconade and volatility, not enough structure and poise.
Three different opinions, two of which separately agree that the players had lost confidence in their coach's decision making -- a coach that was unable to motivate his players and unable to make the most of the roster he had. While there was similar thoughts about Tippett his final season in Dallas, there was never any doubt about the effort his hockey teams produced.
When we stated last week that this was a team that was "all alone", I never would have guessed that the players would feel that removed from their coach as well. It's no surprise that Nieuwendyk made the decision he did, especially if he's serious about taking the Stars to the elite level of the Western Conference.