I’m going to preface this with this will not be objective. I will use as many facts as I can dredge up, but the fact of the matter is, I am biased towards Jim Nill and the work he has done to put the Dallas Stars back on the radar. I’m not to say the finalists are not worthy; each are in their unique ways, but when you sit down and examine what each team started the season with (from the moment Chicago hoisted the Cup, not from the first day of the season) then you have to agree that not naming Nill as a finalist is nothing short of a travesty.
I think it’s fair that I start with the one of the three finalists that I have the least issue with, and that is Marc Bergevin of the Montreal Canadiens. For just the 2nd time since the 1992-93 season, the Habs notched 100 points. Perhaps his greatest move this past year was the acquisition of Danny Briere when the Flyers bought out the remainder of his contract. He added Dale Weise, Mike Weaver and Thomas Vanek (not that anyone has noticed thus far), which Weise has paid off handsomely during these playoffs. Credit Bergevin for his work with Dustin Tokarski and the decision to go with Tokarski over Peter Budaj could be viewed as perhaps the riskiest gamble to payoff in these playoffs.
Dean Lombardi from the LA Kings was also named a finalist. Again, no significant issue with him being considered for a post-season award, but for the most part, the Kings are returning the same team they’ve had on the ice for the last 2-3 years. They are in the conference final for the 3rd consecutive season, winning the Stanley Cup 2 years ago. At the trade deadline, the Kings added Marion Gaborik, but outside of that, Lombardi signed his impending free agents. As important as it is to keep the core of a Cup-winning team together, I think as I’ll illustrate later, its mearly, “meh.”
Bob Murray from Anaheim started his offseason by producing a cheesy youtube video of Teemu Selanne by convincing him to return for one final season. He signed some of his worker bees like Palmieri and Koivu and made moves to bring in former Stars Mark Fistric and Stephane Robidas. However, the Ducks found themselves a couple of minutes away from being taken to a game seven by the 8th-seeded Stars whom many would have to had to think the Stars would have stood a good chance at taking a game 7 and sending Bruce Boudreau to another 1st-round exit.
Then, you have the Dallas Stars’ general manager, Jim Nill. His first item of business was to trade for and re-sign veteran defenseman, Sergi Gonchar (no, this is not the part where I’m making a case for Nill’s decisions…this was definitely a mulligan situation). Just 2 weeks later, however, Nill hired Lindy Ruff to replace the outgoing Glen Gulutzan. What makes this most impressive is Jim had his pick of every “top” head coach candidate that was available. Dallas Eakin, John Tortorella and Alain Vigneault were all available along with Ruff, but Nill knew after speaking with Ruff the first time that Lindy was the perfect candidate to lead the Stars young roster.
Another 2 weeks passed and Jim Nill put his stamp on the Stars and let the entire league know that the Stars were not going to accept the status quo. On the 4th of July, Nill created fireworks that could be seen from space as he sent Stars favorite, Loui Ericsson along with youngsters Riley Smith and Matt Fraser to the Boston Bruins and in exchange, the Stars addressed their need for a true number one center and brought in Tyler Seguin along with veteran Rich Peverley. On the trade deadline, Jim made the first trade deadline move in the last 5 years for Dallas by obtaining a 4th round pick for Stephane Robidas who, as a 36-year old defenseman was nursing a broken leg and was in the last year of his contract. On the same day, in perhaps the “what did he do” move of the day, Jim was able to make a straight up move with the Florida Panthers, sending back-up goaltender Dan Ellis for former Conn Smythe winner, Tim Thomas.
When all was said and done, the Dallas Stars returned to the post season for the first time in 5 seasons and took the number one-seeded Ducks to nearly another postseason upset. Most pundits had the Ducks dispatching of the Stars in 5 games, however it took an extra game and I think most would feel that all the games the Stars lost, with the exception of game 5, had a chance to win every one.
Though I’m sure none of the following is considered, but in the Texas Stars’ previous playoff series against the defending Calder Cup champion, Grand Rapids Griffins, Jim Nill offered their AHL affiliate some valuable insight that resulted in their advancement to the West Final. Nill, after spending 19 years with the Detroit organization, he is credited with building the Griffins, who are Detroit’s primary feeder team.
There are a lot of moving parts in the GM of the Year award. All 30 GMs along with several members of the hockey media choose the winner. There are obviously conversations that take place that those of us don’t hear. Nill is very adamant about not commenting on potential player moves, but the shear fact that in less than 3 months, Jim Nill with just 3 specific moves (ok, let’s face it…the Gonchar pick up helped Valeri Nichushkin in the beginning with the language barrier) made the Stars a force to be reckoned with. Of course, perhaps the Stars will go on and win the West a couple of times and mix in a Cup. Maybe then, Jim Nill will be considered as one of the best in the league. After all, apparently you have to show success as a general manager as opposed to build success before one is recognized.