It’s easy to look over the Joe Nieuwendyk tenure as General Manager of the Dallas Stars as a failure. Five straight seasons outside of the top-8 and of course, there’s the James Neal/Alex Goligoski trade that no one seems to be able to look past Neal’s goal numbers.
Bottom line, the very thing that hampered Nieuwendyk during the majority of his GM years, was the very thing that was his demise:
Joe Nieuwendyk spent most of his years as Stars GM playing 5-card stud with only 4 cards at times. When Nieuwendyk was named GM in 2009, he wasted no time in cleaning out a team that missed the playoffs for the first time in 7 years by firing head coach, Dave Tippett. However, it was Tom Hicks’ financial issues which handcuffed the Stars’ ability to be competitors, let alone contenders. In Joe’s first season as GM, the Hicks’ financial tailspin limited the Stars spending to $45 million dollars, which was approximately $10 million below the cap floor.
In February 2010, Nieuwendyk made his first largest player move by trading Ivan Vishnevskiy to the Atlanta Thrashers for goaltender, Kari Lehtonen. The end of the season also saw the end of an era on the ice as Mike Modano, Marty Turco and Jere Lehtinen each saw their final games as Stars.
During the 2010-2011 season, the Stars were dominate in the first half of the season, but when the All-Star Break came around, the Stars went downhill fast. Perhaps a panic move, as seen by many, Nieuwendyk pulled off a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins that sent Matt Niskanen and James Neal to Pittsburgh for Alex Goligoski. In desperate need of a true number one defenseman since the retirement of Sergei Zubov, this seemed like a perfect move, considering the Stars had up-and-coming superstar, Jamie Benn. The Stars would go on to lose in Minnesota on the last game of the regular season, thus missing out on the 8th and final playoff spot for the 3rd season in a row.
Joe made his second coaching change during the offseason by firing Marc Crawford and hiring current head coach, Glen Gulutzan. In the mean time, Nieuwendyk added top talent such as Jack Campbell, Brett Ritchie, Jamie Oleksiak and last year’s number pick, Radek Faksa.
Despite the over abundance of young talent who are currently gaining an immeasurable amount of playoff experience in their respective leagues (Idaho Steelheads in the ECHL and Texas Stars in the AHL), the fact the Stars have missed the playoffs now for 5 straight seasons was enough for new owner, Tom Gaglardi. Joe spent 4 years running a team with no owner. Now that an owner came in, the status quo was no longer acceptable.
So, where do the Stars go from here? As we first confirmed via email here last night just an hour or two after the Stars final game, the new General Manager will be current Assistant GM with Detroit, Jim Nill. Word has already started to travel through social media that Nill has already made his first decision which will be not re-signing Glen Gulutzan as head coach. I would assume this news could come down as early as the scheduled press conference to name Jim as the GM, officially. Names that have been tossed around as possible successors to Gully are former Buffalo head coach and current Team Canada bench boss, Lindy Ruff and former Tampa head coach, Guy Boucher.
Of course, there’s also the AHL coach of the year, Willie Desjardins down with the Texas Stars. This is an interesting scenario as it puts the Stars in a very tight spot. Do they go with an inexperienced coach and give Willie a shot at his first head coach position? What if other teams in the league are willing to give him that opportunity if the Stars are not? Are they willing to lose Desjardins altogether? Willie has coached a grand majority of the Stars roster at one point in the players’ careers.
I think one mistake the Stars can make is to hastily give Desjardins the Stars head coaching position just because other teams come calling and flash their benches at him. Gulutzan had minor league success and was supposed to relate to the younger players. Willie is older and has had sustained success in several leagues. He was also quite the magician with a white board when he was an assistant with the Stars during Gully’s first season. A better move for Nill and the Stars would be what many NFL teams have started doing with their bright assistants and naming them “head coaches in waiting.”
Make no doubt about it: Tom Gaglardi is here to win. I know I’ve heard many question his desire to win as it appears as if Gaglardi has been slow to make any significant moves to greatly improve this team and return them to the playoffs. However, as a former manager (on a much lesser scale) it is potentially the worst move a new manager can make is to come in and making sweeping moves. Gaglardi is a successful businessman, one of which includes the Kamloops Blazers. You don’t get to be successful without being patient.
Tom Gaglardi has been patient. Time has run out. It is time to win. Now.
I think the opening video shown at all the games this year is perfect, given the situation. It shows the beginning and the success and the present. It says that this ride as a fan of a sports team is cyclical and is constantly evolving. The next 20 years starts Monday.