Despite the expansion draft looming over teams like Freddy Kreuger waiting for your next nap, hockey GM's have been apprehensive about everything except pulling the pink slip trigger on their coaches.
The Islanders got rid of Jack Capuano. The Blues let Ken Hitchcock take his Dredd-like long walk into the desert. Gerard Gallant took a sad Keanu cab to prompt his dismissal. And now there's Claudie Julien, who Boston fired after 10 mostly successful seasons, fresh off (during) Patriot's Day.
Julien is a well respected coach, and with so many coaches suddenly finding their way onto 2017's Normandy beach, his presence on the market will trigger real demand.
Which begs the question: should Dallas be looking at Julien for a Lindy Ruff replacement? Ruff’s contract, you’ll remember, is up at the end of this season (he signed a four year contract in the summer of 2013) and there has not been much in the public sphere about an extension. And if the Stars decide to make a coaching change then, or even pull the trigger on one sooner with this season’s disappointing returns, the market for coaches ready to take on a team with a forward group in its prime is not large.
Julien would be a good fit in Dallas for a lot of reasons. It's not just his experience, coaching a successful team, with a Stanley Cup to show for it. It's also his fit for the Stars identity; a team that likes to live, and die, by its offense.
Despite his reputation, Julien shines in this regard. When it comes to goals above average, only Peter Laviolette boasts a better record regarding impact on goals.
Top 20 NHL Head Coaches since 2007 - (in terms of goals above average) pic.twitter.com/D637VLpgEl— DTM About Heart (@DTMAboutHeart) October 4, 2016
(Interestingly enough, Ruff is in the top 5.)
Dallas picked their sigil a long time ago, and it looks something like puck tears in the rain. If there's one thing that has become abundantly clear this season, it's that trying to be anything other than a north/south, run-and-gun team doesn't work. They just don't have the personnel to play a complex defensive scheme, nor do they have the goaltending (especially on special teams) to risk extended time on their own zone.
Getting back to Julien, specifically, fancy stat magistrate Carolyn Wilke also helps reveal Julien's positive role on offense, weighing coaching impacts on scoring chances prior to their hire to post-hire in a two year period.
Which begs another question: why would Boston get rid of such an effective coach?
They say that goaltending can make or break coaching, and Julien is no different this season. Boston has been a very good possession team. So good, in fact, they are the league's top possession team. As you can see below, this has accentuated their ability to generate scoring chances. What it hasn't done is help their goaltending problems.
Hey remember this chart I made just 3 days ago? pic.twitter.com/PkNI0DR7HS— Carolyn Wilke (@Classlicity) February 7, 2017
Boston has one of the worst PDO's in the league, and also happen to be 1-9 without Tuukka Rask.
Lindy Ruff has been, in my opinion, a good coach. A lot of narratives followed him around from critics before he got here; too old school, not good with prospects, unable to win the big game (Bruce Boudreau has a similar reputation, but I doubt Minnesota cares right now), et cetera.
For the most part, he's dispelled most of these notions during his Dallas Star tenure. In the beginning, he preached a creative style complete with a different way of approaching video review sessions, and trusted young talents like Valeri Nichushkin, Stephen Johns, Radek Faksa, and Mattias Janmark in defined roles. A player scratch here and there is less important than broader trends, such as possession, and there Dallas has ranged from good to elite during Ruff's run.
However, this season has been a struggle partially of his own design. Coaching for his job, he's resorted to questionable roster decisions (Cody Eakin, with his 6 points, who once again led all forwards in ice time against Toronto the other night, in a number one centerman role he clearly has been granted rather than earned). Ruff oversees a PK unit with assistant coach James Patrick so bad it literally ranks as one of the worst in NHL history (only the 1993-1994 Ottawa Senators and 1988-1989 Toronto Maple Leafs are worse). And Ruff has departed from his original habit of showing modest to deep trust in prospects by being unusually harsh on their mistakes.
The Stephen Johns sitdown for his delay of game penalty was the most unsettling, for lack of a better word. Delay of game penalties are rarely minors of intention. Usually the puck rolls over on end at an unexpected time, which leads to said mistake. They're not pattern specific, like the laziness of a classic hook, or the ill-temper of a roughing minor. It wasn't Johns’ finest moment, but asking him to relive it in the pressbox instead of looking at the real culprit, Dallas' dreadful PK, was the more telling decision.
Injuries might excuse Ruff's performance if everything else weren't in such disarray. Whether big decisions, like special teams schemes, or small decisions, like keeping Julius Honka off the roster for the type of mistake every blueliner is guilty of, it's clear that Dallas just might need a new voice in the room.
And if the Stars decided to make the move sooner than the end of Ruff’s contract, Julien would be a particularly good fit not just because he has a track record of coaxing offense out of his squads, but because it wouldn't feel like "giving up" to the players. It'd be one thing if some underperforming assistants took over, or if Nill called up one of his coaches from the minors as a stopgap. That could send the message to Dallas' core that maybe management doesn't believe in them this season.
But not with Julien at the helm. On the contrary, hiring Julien in the summer or even sooner, rather than sending mixed messages of doubt, would send a positive message of belief that with a new voice, this team can repeat a well respected coach's past success.