Last spring, the Stars were wrapping up another near-miss in regards to making the playoffs. Finishing 11th in the West and 7 points out of the final playoff spot, Dallas and owner Tom Gaglardi knew that it was time to officially start the "rebuilding" process. In April, 2013, Joe Niewuendyk was relieved of his duties as general manager and Jim Nill was named the newest GM. Nill wasted no time in making his mark on the Stars. He made several trades that brought in the likes of Sergei Gonchar and then of course there was the blockbuster trade that sent Loui Eriksson along with some of the Stars top offensive prospects to Boston for Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley. Of course, the big question wasn't so much what player moves he'd make but who would lead those players.
In two years as head coach, Glen Gulutzan went 64-57-9 and failed to make the playoffs in both seasons. Hired for his experience for molding and leading young players, Gutlutzan failed to bring the fire that is necessary in the NHL. So as head coaches across the league began to fall short of their ultimate goals of winning the Stanley Cup, teams began to start looking to other candidates.
As the lockout season came to an end, there were a handful of head coaches without benches. It soon became apparent that the Stars would be going with one of the available coaches that recently showed success in the NHL, as opposed to looking at the minor league ranks. This was evident when the Oilers signed up Toronto Marlies head coach, Dallas Eakins.
Since taking over for Edmonton, the Oilers have once again found themselves in a position where they could potentially win the draft lottery and the 4th number one overall pick in the last 5 years. Currently, Edmonton sits last in the West and just 9 points out of the last spot in the league (ahead of Buffalo). Eakins first move since taking over in Edmonton was as bizarre as they come: banning donuts and other sugary snacks in the press box. The Oilers have gone on to be one of the most underperforming teams in the league. The number one overall pick from 2012, Nail Yakupov ranks 260th in scoring with 24 points and 853rd in +/- at a ranking of -33. Just last night, in an 8-1 loss to Calgary, there appeared to be a rift between Eakins and Taylor Hall, the 2010 number one overall pick as they appeared to have a heated exchange which ended with Hall tossing his water bottle down and splashing his coach with water.
When it became apparent the Stars were going to look to someone with existing NHL experience, the three names at the top of the list were Ruff, former NY Rangers head coach, John Tortorella and former Vancouver head coach, Alain Vigneault. Many thought that with his experience with the likes of the Sedin's and being able to get the best out of the horrible situation surrounding Roberto Luongo, Vigneault was going to be the best fit here in Dallas. Of course, living in the Vancouver area, owner, Tom Gaglardi has been able to get the closest view of Alain and his coaching style. Meanwhile, the Rangers had fired John Tortorella after so many stacked teams yet falling short of the East finals. Plus, his brash style of coaching had to rub on the egos of the superstars that were being brought in to help propel the Blue Shirts to the next level.
In an unlikely turn of events, the two teams ultimately switched coaches with Tortorella heading to Vancouver and Vigneault going east to New York. As their first seasons wind down, it seems that New York made the better decision. Currently, the Rangers sit 3rd in the Metro division and 6th in the East, however, they are just 3 points ahead of division rival, Washington which would also push them out of the top-8. Vancouver has imploded on themselves since the start of the new year. The Canucks sit 10th in the West however, despite only being 5 points back from the final playoff spot, much of the league considered the 8th spot will be contested between Dallas and Phoenix.
Granted, Tortorella has had much to overcome, having Mike Gillis as his GM and all, but there are gems like this that have to make your team question, if not your direction of the team, then at the very least your mental stability:
And then there's Lindy Ruff. Of course, the first question that was asked of him when he was introduced as the new Stars head coach on June 21st was if he was ok with the "goal-no goal" call after all this time. Showing great sense of humor, Coach Ruff acknowledged that he knew it would be the first question. Since that day, Ruff has fought through injuries to his top defensemen, a completely bone dry power play and playing in one of the toughest divisions in the league. He's had one of his top forwards have a heart attack on the bench and in the month of January, started the month with 6 losses in a row, only garnered 33% of the points available in January and currently sits 2 points out of the final playoff spot behind Phoenix with a game in hand.
I think it was simple to look at the Sabres and quickly dismiss Ruff as a potential replacement for Glen Gulutzan. Looking back over everything in the course of this season, the hiring of Lindy Ruff may be overlooked as Nill's best off-season move. Ruff probably won't even be a finalist for the Jack Adams award for the best head coach, but Jim Nill should definitely win the GM of the Year award, and brining in a seasoned NHL vet like Ruff to head up the Dallas Stars and lead them through the rebuilding transition might be considered as the move that clinches the award for Jim Nill.