I have been asked quite a bit in the last few days what the new Stars General Manager is going to have to focus on in the days and nights ahead before the 2009-10 season hits.
Well, first, let's establish this one truth: He has taken a good job. There is little doubt in my mind that this team is not far away. Yes, they have issues, but if you offer anyone in the NHL a chance to take over a team with this much under-30 talent, with more on the way, I don't think you would have to twist their arm.
On the other hand, they finished 12th in the West this year, and their owner has decided that this team needed a new look at the top. That seems to speak volumes on some level, and it also makes you wonder about the underlying messages that were sent by Tom Hicks by doing this move. If Hicks thought the only issue last year was a few various injuries then there is no way that he makes this hire. What am I saying? I am not sure, exactly. But, I feel like we are getting about 40% of the story. Nieuwendyk is a talent for sure, but if this thing was headed in the right direction, then I doubt this team is looking for a new leader the second the season ended.
With all of that in mind, one adjustment he might be asked to make is a new accountability amongst the organization, one in which we further demonstrate the t0-and-fro of pro sports; Go with a real tough disciplinarian (Doug Armstrong) who keeps everyone on their toes. When you fail under that, you get rid of him and bring in a guy who keeps everybody loose (Brett Hull) and doesn't take every game as life or death. When that works, people say that is the breath of fresh air everyone needed. If it fails, then we are running to loose a ship around here. So, then you go back and get a no nonsense guy who reminds people of Bob Gainey. Rinse, Repeat.
The good news is that we will never really see or feel most of that attitudinal change. Unless you are a player or coach, you won't really care about the work environment, so let's move on to the real issues:
1. Who is his coach? - I assume this will be Dave Tippett, but clearly, when you bring in a GM with no ties to his coach, you do at least entertain the possibilities. I would think that Tippett is safe for now, but his leash into the new season might not take him past the holidays if things don't go well. I do wonder if am adjustment to the coaching staff on some level might be happening. Some assistants have been here for a very long time and you obviously do not want coaches who are "set in their ways" if you want to teach a new style of playing the game. Also, the issue of "does Marty Turco need a goaltending coach" will be considered again, too.
2. Who do the Stars take at #8? - In this month's NHL draft, the Stars have a chance to go get a very nice piece for their future. They have not had a chance to pick this high since 1996, and for years guys like me have complained about the fact that the Stars have not grabbed enough from the draft and therefore have to scramble elsewhere. It is proven that most of the best players in the NHL were all taken in the Top 10 of the draft. Sure there are some exceptions, but the majority of the talent is taken at the top. And the Stars have not been there. Now they have a rare chance, and must hit on this chance. Jared Cowen is my choice, but I am note sure he will make it to #8. If he does, the Stars will pounce, in my opinion.
3. What free agents do they keep? - Pretty interesting summer as far as Stars free agents-to-be: Only 4 players who were Stars property made more than a million dollars last year: Sergei Zubov ($5.35 million last year), Jere Lehtinen ($4m), Brendan Morrison ($2.75m), and Darryl Sydor ($2.5m). All are older players, and none are assured that the Stars really want to keep them. With Nieuwendyk, he has connections as a teammate to Zubov, Lehtinen, and Sydor. Will that affect his judgement? I hope not. He needs to only keep players who can help the Stars in 2009, not 1999. And, honestly, I am not sure you can say that with confidence about those players at this point for various reason. This will be a key decision for Joe.
4. What free agents do they go get? - Let me help you with this answer. In my opinion, the Stars are not going to do anything approaching major. The time is not right to spend money, but in reality, I wonder if that is a league-wide view. I do wonder if this is a horrid year to be a free agent, but as we always see, you only need one team to overpay to get someone big bucks. I don't see the Stars in this mix at all. Since the economy turned last fall, Liverpool, the Rangers, and the Stars have not handed out any cash to speak of to acquire talent. Don't look for that to change this summer. But, if they can land Jonas Gustavsson, the Swedish goalie who can push Marty Turco - in Turco's contract year, then everything else would have to come from within. Perhaps they can make a deal for a veteran defenseman, but the idea that they will go find a free-agent on the market in July of any substance seems like a long-shot.
So there you have it. Figure out your coach. Your draft. Your goalie. Your desire to keep the old guard around. Your budget. And, your staff at your new AHL home in Austin. When all that is done, play a few holes of golf, and then the Joe Nieuwendyk Dallas Stars will be due to take the ice.