Jim Nill's Moves with the Dallas Stars: A Comprehensive Review, Part One
Let's talk about everything Jim Nill has done with the Dallas Stars.
Note: This is part one of a series. Part 2 may be found here.
April 27, 2013 - As the Stars prepared to finish their lockout-shortened season against the Detroit Red Wings, word began to leak that that Joe Nieuwendyk would be replaced as general manager. Two days later, the Stars officially hired Jim Nill.
April 27th was a bitter day all the way around. The Stars would end yet another futile season with a 3-0 shutout loss at home against the same Detroit franchise that had drummed them out of the playoffs during Dallas's last appearance in 2008. To end the season with a loss against that same team (again) while also losing Joe Nieuwendyk (again) was a rough full stop on a season that began with a glimmer of hope behind the additions of Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney and Derek Roy.
Nieuwendyk had become a franchise icon as a player during his first stay with the team, bringing the Stars to glory with his 1999 Conn Smythe Trophy performance in what is still the franchise's only Stanley Cup victory. Shortly thereafter, Nieuwendyk was traded to New Jersey along with Jamie Langenbrunner for Jason Arnott in what is still one of the most painful trades for Stars fans to recall.
I have a particular memory of my friend's dad, Brian (who was also my first hockey coach) standing in his driveway on that fateful day and sadly shaking his head. "Joe Nieuwendyk is one of the most underrated players in the NHL," Brian told me. I wasn't historically literate enough at the time to accurately judge the statement, but his sadness resonated with my own. It was tough to lose Nieuwendyk, particularly as Jarome Iginla was in the midst of finishing a 52-goal season at the time.
So on April 27, there was Nieuwendyk quietly disappearing from sight as the buzz around his sacking grew to a roar. Nieuwendyk has chosen to remain largely silent on his managerial tenure with Dallas, but it was surely a tough pill to swallow, being twice dismissed by a team that had plenty of issues elsewhere in the organization both times.
But while Nieuwendyk's first departure was made more painful by Iginla's rise in Calgary, his second would lead to a glorious rebirth of the franchise for which he can take a bit of credit. Grabbing the reins of the team in the midst of what we later came to know as Tom Hicks's financial collapse, Nieuwendyk would be hampered by his internal budget for much of his tenure. That doesn't give him a pass for all of his decisions, but the fact that his last year of work included trading away meaningful players like Brenden Morrow, Steve Ott and Jaromir Jagr certainly testifies to the tough position he was in for much of that time.
When he came aboard in 2009, both the franchise's pockets and talent pools were relatively bare outside of Jamie Benn, Matt Niskanen and James Neal. On April 29th, 2013, Jim Nill took an improved baton and ran with it. Jamie Oleksiak, Jack Campbell, Scott Glennie, Radek Faksa, and even the picks that were used on Jason Dickinson and Phillipe Desrosiers all happened because of Joe Nieuwendyk, however you feel about that.
The NHL trade deadline is on Leap Day at 2 p.m. Central. I once spent February 29th at Disneyland, staying until sunrise the following morning (and it was a glorious disaster I wouldn't trade for anything), but in keeping with recent trade deadline tradition, the Stars will likely be taking us all on a ride with much greater implications on this 366th day of the year.
Trading has been Jim Nill's forte ever since he announced his arrival with the Tyler Seguin swindle. Throw in the Jason Spezza* and Patrick Sharp deals, and you have to think Nill's cell number shows up as "JUST SAY NO!" on most other GM's caller ID screens by now.
*Nick Paul could become a very good NHL player, of course. If he does, the "Spezza/Nieuwendyk" comparisons will become that much more apt. It's almost spooky: Spezza and Nieuwendyk are both tall (6'3" and 6'2") 2nd-line centers acquired after about a decade as an icon with a single franchise to play behind dynamic (and handsome) star centers in Dallas who skate like the wind. If Spezza also ends up in the front office someday, he'll have to cut back on the giggling during trade conversations. That could hamper negotiations.
Anyhow, the Jim Nill Is Good at Trading column has been written and written. It will likely be written again on March 1st, but we can't know what that column will consist of yet.
However, the best way to get a sense of what Jim Nill will do is to look at what he has done. So in the next day or two, we're going to look at just about every major move Jim Nill has made since his arrival in Dallas. This won't include signings such as Cameron Gaunce, because that level of granularity will hardly be pertinent to any banner moves come February 29th. This won't include the deeper draft picks, because likely Jim Nill was not scouting Chris Martenet in person for weeks on end before last summer.
This will include significant trades, extensions and free-agent signings. This will look at how Nill dealt with Roussel, Eakin and Garbutt. This will look at entry-level deals for the next wave of prospects. In short, this will be a somewhat-comprehensive overview that tries to answer the unanswerable question: What will Jim Nill do next?