Sometimes you are left to make grand assumptions about a given story. For instance, we are still operating under the assumption that there really was major division and tension in the Cowboys locker-room in December - because if there was not (as certain guys who wear #81 tell us) then why would the Dallas Cowboys have sent their most explosive offensive player to Buffalo for nothing?
So, It seems that we are left to make our assumptions and draw our conclusions right now in the wake of the 2009 Dallas Stars mystery. Because otherwise, did the Stars need to do this?
Yesterday, word broke that they fired their long-time head coach Dave Tippett. Tippett had served the team since 2002, and in 6 seasons and 7 years with the team, he made the playoffs and finished with more than 97 points every year except this year.
This year, Tippett and the Stars missed the playoffs, but many of us who watched every second of every game certainly felt the season could be explained away rather simply - injuries and bad fortune.
Injuries, injuries, injuries. Brenden Morrow missed 64 games. Sergei Zubov missed 72 games. Jere Lehtinen missed 34 games. And Brad Richards played only twice after Valentine's day - breaking a wrist in each of those 2 games - missing 26 games in all.
Let's be clear here, with the exception of Mike Ribeiro and Marty Turco, just about everyone in hockey would tell you that Morrow, Zubov, and Richards constituted 3 of the top 5 players on the Stars roster heading into 2008-09.
I would have to tell you that in any sport, if 3 of the top 5 players would be stripped from a team for a majority of the season, that team would fall well short of its expectations. They fell considerably short and Dave Tippett appeared to pay for it with his job (Like Les Jackson and Brett Hull before him).
I understand that you don't want to excuse a season to injuries if you are running the team. Injuries or not, you have a payroll to meet and you have tickets to sell.
Your Power Play was ranked 27th; The Penaltky Kill 24th. These stats are very poor. The team's Goals-against-average was 24th and the team's save percentage was 29th. Marty Turco did not play well and he didn't get a ton of help. But I could easily justify the Power Play ranking by saying huge chunks of your PP were wearing street clothes during games. Morrow, Zubov, Richards? There is 3/5ths of your 1st PP unit. How about PK? Zubov, Lehtinen, and some Morrow.
But was it all injuries? Of course not.
There were personnel gaffes last summer. The Sean Avery move gets all the credit, and make no mistake, that was a large one. But, what about the mishandling of the blueline?
In 2007-08, the Stars had a very stellar blueline. The defense corp was led by veteran stalwarts like Zubov, Mattias Norstrom, and Phillipe Boucher, and they made it all the way to Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals - 2 games away from playing for the cup. But over the summer, Zubov - who also missed 36 games that year - was a health question, as was Boucher who missed 44 more. Norstrom retired back to Sweden, and suddenly, unless Boucher and Zubov both rebounded health-wise, you would lose your top 3 defensemen.
Zubov did not bounce back, and the Stars clearly lost the gamble on Boucher and Zubov.
The Stars made a run at Wade Redden in free agency, but when they did not get him, they perhaps over-estimated the growth of the youth back on D with Nicklas Grossman, Matt Niskanen, and Mark Fistric. Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley played admirably all season long, but in the end, one would have to admit that the defense group was undermanned. That affected the goaltending, penalty kill, and many other departments - and that had very little to do with Dave Tippett.
So, what can Dave Tippett be blamed for? A few things.
I thought he horribly mishandled the goaltending last year. It seemed the Tobias Stephan experiment will long be remembered as an unmitigated disaster. One key reason is that most of us are still not sure if Stephan is any good or not. Tippett seemed to decide that he wasn't good enough in practice, because he showed no confidence in playing him in games. Trouble is, if a coach feels that way, then his personnel department better agree with him and get him another option. They did not do that, and we are left to believe that Hull/Jackson disagreed with Tippett on this issue. Either way, Marty Turco played by far a career high 74 games, 2nd in the NHL to Miikka Kiprusoff - who routinely starts 70+ games. Turco, however, performed erratically for much of the season, and when you finish 12th in the West, you can only suggest that the experiment of playing Turco until he drops failed.
Beyond his handling of the goalies, you could also suggest that part of his short leash is based on the fact that he had since 2002 to compete for a Stanley Cup. If you suggest that it is an odd over-reaction to fire a guy who had this team in the Western Finals 13 months ago, you are right in my opinion. However, if you look at it from a much larger perspective, you could say that he had 6 shots at the playoffs, and besides the 2008 run, he was 1-4 in playoff series.
Which brings me to assumptions. Are we naive if we just look at the injuries and not dig a bit deeper? Wouldn't we be wise to assume there are things we don't know? Was there unrest in the organization? Was there concern about the perception of Dallas Stars Hockey in this city? Why would Tom Hicks blow out the GMs and the Coach? I feel like we are not getting all of the information, because if we do have it all - I would call this a pretty strong over-reaction to fire Jackson, Hull, and especially Tippett, one year after they gave us a magical playoff run. If there is a firing that you can understand, it would be at General Manager, or at least an adjustment to the unstable "Co-GM" idea. And I suppose that is what then cost the coach his job. Because they wanted a new GM.
I like Dave Tippett quite a bit. I hate to see him fired. But, once you see Joe Nieuwendyk as your solution as the head of your franchise, then you must abide by his wishes. Otherwise, why hire him?
If Nieuwendyk has a specific guy in mind, then I am completely fine with it. He wants his guy to carry out his system. Great. However, if we find out that he wasn't sure who he wanted to hire - he was just sure he didn't want Tippett back - then I am back to wondering what we don't know about the 2008-09 season underneath the surface.
Regardless, I don't see the Stars deciding to publically disclose any further information that might further explain these moves, any more than the Cowboys did last December. The Cowboys made changes, and now the Stars have made theirs.
As fans of the organization, I guess all we can do is hope that Tom Hicks and Joe Nieuwendyk know what they are doing. Because on the surface, it would appear that they are firing a pretty good head coach, and I would anticipate that he will be hired before the summer is over to coach someone else.
Who is next? Everyone is saying Marc Crawford. We shall see. But, this morning, I wanted to focus more on the former coach of the Dallas Stars, and the fact that this morning, he is out of a job.