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Dallas Stars & Glen Gulutzan: In The End, It's Just Hockey

The Dallas Stars are preparing to take the ice tonight in the first official game under new coach Glen Gulutzan. While it's just a preseason game, this will be our first glimpse at what we think and hope is a fresh approach to Dallas Stars hockey and the start of what is going to be a very promising era in Dallas

After two seasons of Marc Crawford and two failed attempts at reaching the postseason, GM Joe Nieuwendyk decided to take a drastic and somewhat bold approach and fired Crawford, in spite of ownership issues and the fact that Crawford was still under contract. Glen Gulutzan represents a complete shift in tone, approach and coaching style and it's something we've heard a lot about since he was hired back in June. Crawford had apparently "lost the team" and seemed disinterested in coaching them through adversity and never seemed comfortable in his return to behind the bench; instead, Crawford goes back to where had been most successful of late, in the broadcasting booth.

Now, we're hearing the players and the coaches speak about Gulutzan's coaching style and the systems he's putting in place. Lots of talk about whether this is going to be a "trap" system and about how the Stars want to be tough to play against, to play aggressive and not let other teams dictate the play.

All of this is interesting but it all boils down to one simple fact: When the Dallas Stars take the ice they're going out there to play hockey, plain and simple.

When you sit back and think about what the "purpose" of a hockey game is, it's actually fairly simple. Put the puck in the opponent's net more often than you allow them to do the same in your net. How a team goes about accomplishing this feat has changed over the years as hockey has evolved and coaches developed complex strategies and "systems" to get the job done and the games won.

There's always talk about what "system" a team employs and whether that "system" is good enough to win a hockey game, or make the playoffs, or make it to the Stanley Cup. We've talked about this subject ad nauseum the past two years on Defending Big D to the point where we're not exactly certain what more can be said about it. What we've discovered, however, is that when a coach or a team gets caught up in the big picture of a "system", it's the fine details of the basics needed to win a hockey game that get overlooked.

Under Marc Crawford the Dallas Stars suffered from the following issues that ultimately derailed the second half of the season:

Failure to start a game with energy.

Allowing the opposition early leads.

A lack of ability to finish, allowing goals at the end of periods or games.

An inability to execute on special teams consistently.

None of those four issues had anything to do with the system that Marc Crawford was attempting to employ. Now, the finer details of this "system" might have addressed this issues but the fact remains that these are the basic requirements needed in order to win games on a consistent basis. It doesn't matter if you're the high-flying Vancouver Canucks or the defensively-minded New Jersey Devils, the fact is that if your team fails in all four of these areas of hockey on a consistent basis -- your hockey team is going to lose.

For Glen Gulutzan, he's preaching a return to basics and a focus on the finer details of hockey. Sure, there's focus on a slightly different system that encourages the Stars to remain disciplined and more defensively-capable, but the Stars must improve in these four areas if there's any hope of turning this into a successful season.

Now, much of what Gulutzan is attempting to teach to his team addresses these four areas. He wants this team to be disciplined in all areas of the ice and while he's encouraging aggressive playmaking, he does not want this team to sacrifice hockey discipline or defensive ability in order to make those plays happen.

For some, this thought makes fans worry about the Stars turning into a "boring" team, something we've addressed before. For the Stars to correct those four areas mentioned above, the issues that plagued this team all season long last year, the Stars are going to have to focus on being more defensive and more disciplined -- to not allow those odd-man rushes and to not allow ill-timed goals late in games.

In the end, hockey comes down to a very basic principle: score as much as possible and keep the other team from doing the same. It sounds simplistic and perhaps overly so, but the fact remains that the Dallas Stars overlooked these finer details of the game the past few years and it came back to hurt them in the end.

Glen Gulutzan is bringing this team back to earth and while they'll never say it's "back to basics", the fact is that a focus on the finer details of just what it takes to win a hockey game is exactly what the Dallas Stars need -- no matter what 'system' is attempting to be used to do so.