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Dallas Stars to Hire Jim Nill: Random Thoughts On A Crazy Final Weekend in Hockey

The Dallas Stars have made some sweeping changes in the past few days; here are some of my random thoughts on a weekend of change.

Bruce Bennett

Tomorrow we'll be bringing a bit more formal analysis of the moves the Dallas Stars have made in the past 24 hours, as well as coverage of future decisions yet to be made. In the meantime, I wanted to close out Sunday with some random thoughts on what has been one heck of a crazy weekend in the world of the Stars.

There had been a lot of internal discussion around these parts and behind the scenes about what the future held for the Stars general manager and head coach. Part of that question was whether what had happened on the ice in the final three weeks or so changed any of the decisions that would ultimately be made. The general consensus was that Joe Nieuwendyk was certainly in danger of losing his job; the only issue at hand was how quickly the decision would be made public.

I had literally just finished having such a conversation with Mike Heika on Saturday night when word came down that the Stars were likely going to hire Jim Nill to replace Nieuwendyk. It was an astonishing report that caught all of us off guard, and it was only fitting that such momentous news would come when most of the DBD staff were actually sitting in the stands of the game that night.

And what an interesting game it was, as well.

News of the coming change broke just as the puck was dropping in the first period and you could almost sense the news passing through the crowd as the Red Wings fans around them cheered. It was such an incredibly odd atmosphere at the AAC, as one team had so very obviously lost all motivation and drive in front of a fanbase that looked upon the game with sad, weary eyes. This was juxtaposed against a boisterous group of Red Wings fans that drowned out the home fanbase as the game wore on and the Stars eventually lost in a shutout.

The attitude and atmosphere with the fans was odd. Everyone knew that changes were coming and the firing of Joe Nieuwendyk seemed to put a final cap on what had been a very tumultuous four years for fans. There was a somber air hanging over the AAC, and it was mirrored on the ice as well. It was clear the players just didn't have whatever had been driving them two weeks ago.

It was poetic in a way, actually. Seeing so many Red Wings fans last night was a reminder of just how far apart these two franchises have become. 15 years ago there's no way in hell that many Detroit fans find their way into the Stars' home arena. It just wouldn't happen. Yet as I sat and watched these transplanted Red Wings fans -- at least, that's what I kept telling myself they were -- it was with the thought that the Stars would be gaining the knowledge and leadership of one of those responsible for building such a strong franchise.

Logo_dallas_stars_medium I think it's important we look back on Nieuwendyk's legacy with an open mind. There is some very real hostility directed at him because of a few bad trades and bad decisions, but those should not cloud the fact that the franchise as a whole is in a better position for success because of his leadership.

I think part of what ultimately doomed Nieuwendyk was just how good and classy he is as a person; it is clear now how his decisions were heavily influenced by 'doing what was' right for the player -- which likely ended up hurting the franchise. By wanting to do what was best for the player he seemed to lose value in trade returns that would have been extremely valuable for the team.

You also wonder if perhaps the ship were run a bit too loosely; there were obvious communication issues at times between different levels of the organization and most importantly between coach and general manager. Too many odd decisions by the GM not backed up by decisions made by the coach, and vice versa.

In the end, however, I think we'll a successful team in two years and see just how much of an impact Nieuwendyk really had on this franchise.

Logo_dallas_stars_medium I think the decision by Tom Gaglardi wasn't influenced so much of the failures of Joe Nieuwendyk was it was by the availability of Jim Nill, who has been a hot commodity on the general manager market for quite some time. The fact that Nill turned down the Montreal Canadiens job says a lot about where he sees this organization heading, as well as the impressive front office structure Gaglardi has built in his short time as owner.

Getting Nill is a major coup for the Stars, a man considered by nearly all to be the top candidate for the next open position. A major part of the braintrust that ran a successful Detroit Red Wings franchise for 15 years, Nill is exactly what the Dallas Stars need. Nill will instill accountability in a franchise that desperately needs it and help build the Stars into the sort of respected organization that the Red Wings have been for so long.

He won't be a genius, however, and he'll make some wrong decisions. He's been the assistant general manager in Detroit and was mostly in charge of scouting and drafting; the process of courting and signing free agents, of making good trades and signing smart contracts is something that will be a bit of a change. Nieuwendyk was certainly better at the former than the latter, so we have to hope that Nill can transfer his knowledge and experience between that he could.

Nonetheless, this is a tremendous hire. As tough as it is to see Nieuwendyk go, and I've been one of his staunchest supporters, I am incredibly excited about GM JN Part 2.

Logo_dallas_stars_medium If there is one area that Nieuwendyk ultimately failed at was the hiring of his two head coaches. Marc Crawford came heavily recommended but it was ultimately Nieuwendyk's decision; safe to say, I don't believe anyone received the sort of coach we were expecting Crawford to be -- certainly not Nieuwendyk.

While the decision to hire Gulutzan was likely heavily influenced by financial constraints, the decision to take a risk with a young and unproven head coach never quite worked. Gulutzan just never seemed to be able to get his head above water in the NHL and never instilled the same level of fire and vinegar in his teams as he was supposed to be able to do. Too many times the Stars never mirrored what their coach was saying, something Josh Lile points out in this article.

Suffice it to say, whoever Nill hires as head coach could be the most important decision he'll make. The foundation of a decent team is there; the head coach is who is needed to help bring it all together. Will he go with a proven, hard-as-nails NHL head coach who is available or will he continue with the trend of promoting from the AHL. Dallas Eakins? Willie Desjardins?


This will certainly be an interesting summer. Change is good. Change was needed. The Dallas Stars of this truncated 2013 season will be the final remnants of a past era, as we move into a new beginning. New coach, new general manager, new jerseys, new logo -- and hopefully an defined identity for the team on the ice.