Being a head coach is a tough job in the NHL. Dallas Eakins would be one of the first people to tell you that, as his boss recently went from saying he would not fire the coach on Dec. 5th despite the team's struggles to firing the coach on December 15th because of the team's struggles. What changed in the meantime? To hear most tell it, things didn't alter course so much as they just continued to deteriorate to the point where MacTavish felt compelled to "do something," which is, as any sports-type person knows, the portent of a very questionable decision. While Eakins certainly wasn't lighting the world on fire, most people in the hockey community tend to agree that he took the fall for what was an impossible situation.
Here in Dallas, things have also been less than sterling this season. Despite the buzz that built up to the first game against Chicago, the Stars have faltered over their first 30 games, winning only 12 of them. As is prone to happen in the midst of a disappointing stretch, whispers started going around about Lindy Ruff's job, and what he could or should do to preserve his job in light of the Stars' struggles.
Even Jim Nill wasn't immune from criticism after the Stars fell flat, as his trading of Sergei Gonchar coincided with some frustration with Ales Hemsky, who has been scratched multiple times this year. Those players were both brought in by Jim Nill, and neither one has (so far) turned out anything like what they were hoped to be. (Although I do still think Hemsky has been better than his points totals indicate, for the record.)
So the question naturally comes, how safe are Ruff and Nill's jobs? Nobody's perfect, but this season has been disappointing in a big way for a team that nearly everyone picked to at least contend for the playoffs, so they need to be held responsible on some level, right? Well, they report to Tom Gaglardi, who owns everything regarding Stars hockey in Texas now, and he might not be too pleased with them at this time, one would think. He is spending all of his money on sweet mascot costumes and expensive sticks for players and feeding everyone delicious food at his opulent Vancouver house, and what does he have to show for it? A couple of victories over Vancouver (which must feel good every time) and a dismal place in the standings and statistics of the league, not counting Tyler Seguin.
Thankfully, though, this isn't Edmonton or Ottawa or, well, anywhere in Canada. Here's what Gaglardi said about where the Stars are this season (via the great Mike Heika):
"I don’t think you can look at the first 30 games and draw too many long-term conclusions. I think you have to look at the bigger picture."
The bigger picture, he said, is that the Stars have a general manager with a strong reputation in Jim Nill, a veteran head coach in Lindy Ruff, and a lot of young players pushing up to the NHL level. So while they started the season a disappointing 11-13-5, they also have changed a lot of pieces in the process.
"You look at how much we have changed even this season, and we’re putting a lot of faith in our younger players," Gaglardi said of defensemen John Klingberg, Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak. "I think with younger players, you’re going to have inconsistency, and unfortunately that’s probably the word that best describes our season."
Gaglardi said some of the veterans have also been inconsistent, and that is a concern, but the belief is the coaching staff will find a way to pull things together.
"We have a very experienced coach, and we have faith in him," Gaglardi said. [DMN]
Check out the whole piece, which includes more details about Gaglardi's plan for the Texas Stars moving forward.
Here are a couple things you can take from this:
1. Jim Nill has earned Gaglardi's trust, for the time being. This doesn't mean Nill has nothing to worry about if the Stars start out this way again next year, but it does mean Nill doesn't have to try to trade Taylor Hall in order to "do something." That is good, considering the Stars do not have Taylor Hall. Yet.
2. There is, however, a grace period that can, in theory, expire. The surprise playoff appearance last year may have extended that timeline, but not infinitely so. Jim Nill frequently preaches about building for the long term, ten years of competitiveness instead of just two or three. That is a wise and good way to approach things, but sports are also a results-based business.
3. Lindy Ruff is receiving similar expressions of confidence. This is a veteran coach who was brought in to steward a team as they grew into a force, so it's highly unlikely that his multi-year deal will get short-circuited by one season of underperformance.
3a. And that confidence in Ruff is what has made the line mixing so strange. Putting Spezza with 91/14 consistently isn't a move of a coach confident that he is putting players in the right position as they fail to execute. The "jump starting" technique is all well and good, but repeatedly drawing from the same Basket Line well just has a funny smell to it. Moving Eakin up and displacing Seguin from the top line center is similarly odd. However, I have a theory on that...
3b. With Spezza locked up now, the Stars don't need Eakin to be anything more than a third-line center, right? So why has he been a preferred choice for the top line lately instead of, say, Roussel? (Or Hemsky, but apparently that ship has sailed for some reason.) I'm wondering if Eakin is being shopped/showcased in hopes of using him to acquire a defenseman at some point (likely next summer). Obviously he couldn't bring in a top-flight guy on his own, but there's a lot to like about a young, strong, two-way center with speed who is locked up for a little while, and if you add some gaudy point totals to the mix, perhaps he starts to draw even more interest from teams with the D the Stars are looking for. I'm not trying to start rampant speculation here; maybe Ruff genuinely just thinks Eakin is a better fit on that line right now than either the winger he and Nill both said was procured specifically to play there or literally anyone else on the team. Maybe Seguin is breaking all sorts of secret "center" rules that we don't know about, and Eakin and Spezza are tutoring him in-game. But on a team that preached center depth right up to the day they acquired Spezza, I can't really figure out why you would continually play your other centers up on the top line instead of letting them gel in their designed roles. It all seems rather, well, impatient.
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The Stars decided to make the first period their ugly one last night instead of the third; thankfully, Kari Lehtonen didn't get that memo. [Canucks Army]
Stephen Meserve expands on the relationship between the Dallas and Texas Stars in this "mega-post." The big news here is obviously the potential for a mascot in Texas. [100 Degree Hockey]
Razor has a good-but-shaky vlog from the Vancouver game. [Stars]
Mike Heika thinks the Stars need to stand up for each other to really get back on track. [DMN]
I do not think Tyler Seguin should receive the gift suggested in these power rankings. [SportsNet]
Tom Gaglardi says his philosophy of empowerment will apply to the newly-acquired Texas Stars organization. [Dallas Business Journal]
With word coming down that Mark Stuart will be the latest injured member of the Jets' decimated defense corps, Winnipeg traded a sixth-round pick to Carolina for Jay Harrison. I will give you a high-five if you knew what team Harrison played for before reading this sentence. [Pro Hockey Talk]
Colorado has bad possession numbers, and here are all of the reasons why. Rather, here are all of the people contributing to those numbers. [Mile High Hockey]
Calgary is glad they have locked up the coach who was with them through a few ugly years to shepherd them through what might be another ugly few years. [Pro Hockey Talk]
The Oklahoma City Barons will be no more after this season. Any chance that the Oilers eye Houston for their next AHL affiliate? [100 Degree Hockey]
Great moments in interim coaching history, from Sean McIndoe. (Sadly, Marc Crawford does not qualify for this list.) [Grantland]
Don't be surprised to see another lockout the first chance the owners get, says Donald Fehr. [THN]
Referee and Linesman (respectively) Eric Furlatt and Steve Miller (not of the band) have returned to official officiating action after having the mumps. [SportsNet]
Finally, check out this great piece about a couple of old friends of the Benn brothers. [CTV]