It was the most important decision he's ever made in two years as the general manager of the Dallas Stars. You can't fault him for taking his time, even if the delay had as much to do with the ownership situation as it did the desire to take the time to get it right. In the end, Joe Nieuwendyk hired a coach that was the safest pick from the moment Marc Crawford was relieved of his coaching duties.
While the news has still not been made official just yet, all signs are pointing to Glen Gulutzan becoming the next head coach of the Dallas Stars. If you skip Marc Crawford, Gulutzan becomes the third new coach of the Stars to make the jump from coaching in the minors to getting his first NHL head coaching job with Dallas. The last time the Stars promoted directly from their minor league affiliate, Ken Hitchcock spent three seasons turning the Stars into a Western Conference powerhouse.
Gulutzan is a coach that knows the organization well and has been instrumental in building hockey into an extremely popular sport in Austin. He's a very charismatic coach who gets along well with the media, who is honest while being very sincere and forthcoming publicly. His ability to connect with the fans and the public is going to be a big key into repairing the damage done the past three seasons and he'll be counted upon to not only help rebuild the hockey team, but also to help restore the faith of a fanbase that is hungry for anything resembling hope.
More importantly, he's one hell of a hockey coach.
A few weeks back I wrote a story that promoted Kirk Muller as the best option for the Stars as their next coach. He's a young, fiery and motivated coach who has had tremendous success in the NHL as an assistant in Montreal. While there's no insight into whether Nieuwendyk ever had the chance to fully consider Muller -- or whether Muller was even interested -- I acknowledged at the time that Gulutzan would be a wise choice as well for a hockey team building to the future.
Gulutzan has only coached professional players, first at the ECHL level in Las Vegas and then in the AHL down in Austin. With an overall winning percentage of .634 in 539 regular season games, and .536 in the playoffs, Gulutzan has proven himself to be a winning coach. He knows how to motivate pro players at multiple levels and at different points in their career, working with both young players right out of juniors as well as veterans in the twilight of their careers.
What has stood out the most, however, is that even at a relatively young age for a coach (Hitchcock was 45, Tippett was 41 when hired by Dallas) he's shown the ability to adapt his system and coaching style to fit that of the roster with which he was given.
When Joe Nieuwendyk was handed control of the organization back in 2009, he vowed to turn the Stars into a more modern "up-tempo" team that focused on aggression and offense. He hired Crawford to facilitate this change and while it's easy to say the transition hasn't exactly gone smoothly, the Stars have certainly become a much more dynamic team on offense. That wasn't the case in Austin, however.
The Texas Stars, in their first season in the AHL and their first as the Dallas affiliate, were working with the players drafted by the previous front office -- a front office whose focus was on powerful forwards with grit instead of top skill. When you consider that the best forwards in the system were already in Dallas, the Stars down in Austin were handcuffed from the very start.
Gulutzan made it work however, turning the Stars into a stingy, defense-first hockey team that relied more on frustrating their opponent rather than overpowering them. This strategy led the Texas Stars all the way to the Calder Cup Finals and back to the postseason the next year -- with a roster that was significantly younger and inexperienced than the one that came before.
Unfortunately, the hiring of Gulutzan is going to happen with little fanfare and minimal media coverage in Dallas. This is the time of the Dallas Mavericks and the NFL lockout is nearing its conclusion. The Stars, as has been the case since the great summer of 2008, are an afterthought in the local sports atmosphere. Nieuwendyk isn't looking to make a splash either, and has never been one to draw attention to himself as general manager nor wanting to draw un-needed attention to the hockey club.
Yet with a new owner on the horizon and a new coach apparently ready to be hired, Glen Gulutzan represents a future that Dallas Stars fans should be excited and hopeful about.
Everything that was frustrating about Marc Crawford -- the boring press conferences, the inability to show any sort of coaching adjustments or communication with the players -- they don't exist with Gulutzan. This is a players coach who knows how to relate to the men on his bench, who has proven he knows how to work with his team to maximize their abilities in order to be as successful as possible.
From the beginning there were three choices for the next coach of the Stars I would have been more than happy with: Willie Desjardin, Kirk Muller and Glen Gulutzan. There was always the fear that Nieuwendyk would once again go off the reservation, hiring an NHL retread who came bearing empty promises of learning from past mistakes.
Instead, the Stars get a coach who is coming from success and is looking to build upon as he moves. He isn't a coach looking for redemption as he comes off disappiontment with another team; Gulutzan is a coach who is leaving fans behind in tears down in Austin.
We've been waiting for the exciting start to the future with the Stars. This is the first step.