Ruff not returning as Stars coach after missing playoffs

DALLAS (AP) — Lindy Ruff will not return as coach of the Dallas Stars after the team went from the Western Conference’s top seed last year to missing the playoffs this season.

General manager Jim Nill announced the move Sunday, a day after the Stars finished with their second-fewest points in a full season since moving to Dallas in 1993-94. Ruff didn’t have a contract beyond this season.

In a statement, Nill thanked Ruff “for his commitment and professionalism over the four years that he served as our head coach in Dallas.”

The Stars finished 34-37-11 this season, 11th in the Western Conference with 79 points.

Ruff was the first significant hire for Nill after he took over following the 2012-13 season. Nill had decided not to renew the third-year option for coach Glen Gulutzan.

At the time, the Stars had the longest postseason drought in the history of the franchise that started as the Minnesota North Stars from 1967-93. They had missed the playoffs five straight seasons, and were coming off a last-place finish in the Pacific Division during a lockout-shortened season.

Dallas was 40-31-11 in its first season under Ruff, and lost its first-round playoff series in six games to Anaheim. After missing the playoffs in 2014-15 even when winning one more game (41-31-10), the Stars won 50 games and had 109 points for the top seed in 2015-16. They prevailed in a six-game, first-round playoff series against Minnesota before losing in seven games to St. Louis.

Injuries were an issue early this season for Dallas, a popular preseason pick to challenge for a Stanley Cup title. But once the Stars were healthy at the beginning of February, they lost seven times in regulation in a span of eight games.

Defenseman John Klingberg, a budding star his first two seasons, became an illustration of the struggles of a young group at the blue line. Even Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn didn’t look much like the elite scorers they’ve been in the past.

“We could never get on a good run where you go six or seven and one, or you win five in a row. We never got that good run going,” Ruff said after Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win against Colorado. “I said yesterday that the probably the biggest disappointment was there were games we really deserved to win if we finished some of the plays, didn’t hit posts and missed empty nets to stay on a run or keep something alive. We didn’t quite have the finish we had in the previous year.”

Ruff was fired by Buffalo in February 2013, early in his 15th season with the Sabres, a time that put him on the opposite side of Dallas’ only Stanley Cup championship.

The Stars won the title on a goal Ruff had always questioned. Brett Hull’s game-winning shot came with his skate in the crease late in the third overtime of Game 6 to beat the Ruff-coached Sabres.

Ruff was the Sabres’ winningest coach (571-432-162), but was fired after a 6-10-1 start. There had been 170 NHL coaching changes between his hiring in July 1997 and the time he was fired.

This time, Ruff had been with the Stars longer than 25 other NHL coaches with their current teams.