FRISCO, Texas– It’s hard to judge Jim Nill as the Dallas Stars’ General Manager seeing how he’s only been on the job for just over two weeks, but considering that the 55-year-old career hockey man is taking his time and using an approach to finding a replacement for now-former head coach Glen Gulutzan, who along with top assistant Paul Jerrard was relieved of his duties on Tuesday, that can best be characterized as diligent, it’s safe to say he’s in no rush to find Gulutzan’s replacement behind the Dallas bench.
Evidence of Nill’s attention to detail surfaced almost immediately after he was hired to replace Joe Nieuwendyk on April 29. At his introductory press conference on that final Monday in April at American Airlines Center, Nill iterated that he would not make a decision on Gulutzan’s future as head coach of the Stars for at least two weeks.
The new Dallas GM said that he first wanted to conduct exit interviews with players as well as with Gulutzan and the rest of the coaching staff before he made a decision either way. Dallas was 64-59-9 in the two seasons with Gulutzan at the helm and the Stars have not made the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2008.
In the end, Nill used a very bottom-line approach when deciding not to retain Gulutzan and Jerrard. “Unfortunately, we’re in a results-orientated business,” Nill said. “Results haven’t been here. We just decided that we’d make some changes.”
And at Tuesday’s short afternoon press conference at Stars headquarters in Frisco, the new GM wanted to thank Gulutzan and Jerrard for all they did for the organization during their two full seasons on the job.
“I just want to thank them for their fine service. They’re both very great men and great coaches,” Nill said. “They’re going to be big coaches down the road and they’re going to do a good job moving forward.”
While Gulutzan and Jerrard will be heading elsewhere, the new face of the Stars’ front office did state once media were allowed to ask questions that top assistant Curt Fraser, a former head coach in Atlanta who joined the Dallas bench prior to last season and goaltending coach Mike Valley, who was hired by Marc Crawford, would be retained.
“Yeah, Mike [Valley] does a great job. I had a good talk with Kari Lehtonen. He has a great relationship with him. He’s done a great job, so that’s something we want to move forward with. He does a great job with our younger goalies,” Nill said. “Curt Fraser, I know Curt going back to Detroit days, have strong rapport with him and I know he’s real good assistant coach and I look forward to working with him.”
Nill was a bit evasive when asked to name the specific criteria he plans to utilize in finding the Stars’ next head coach, but he did say that he does know what he’s looking for and that he will know exactly when he has found someone who has the right fit.
However, whether that happens in a week, a month or maybe even two months from now is anyone’s guess as how long the process takes is not something he’s terribly concerned with.
“Not a definite timeframe. There’s a lot of games going on still. There’s playoffs going on and a lot of hockey still to be played,” he said. “We have a list of names we’re going to start looking. I will start interviewing coaches over the next probably week or 10 days and we’ll go from there.”
With the Stars trading away veterans like Michael Ryder, now-former captain Brenden Morrow, Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy last season, it’s clear that a definite youth movement is underway in Big D. And given how young the Stars’ roster currently is, Nill realizes that hiring a coach with a reputation for helping young players maximize their potential is another key attribute that whoever he chooses to replace Gulutzan must have.
Of course, with this being one of the first major decisions he will make as GM, Nill isn’t about to rule anything out when it comes to hiring his first head coach.
“I’m going to be wide open. As we’ve seen, there’s been some great young coaches come in and done some great things with teams. So, I need to be wide open to that aspect,” he said. “We’re going to look at every option.”
And one option the Stars plan on exploring is current Texas Stars head coach Willie Desjardins, who was named 2013 AHL Coach of the Year. Desjardins was an assistant coach under both Marc Crawford and Gulutzan before taking the job with the Stars’ top minor league affiliate after last season.
Desjardins does have a great reputation when it comes to working with young players and many of the players currently on his roster in Cedar Park figure to be in the NHL as soon as next season if not in the near future, so that will definitely work in his favor.
Of course, the Stars already did promote from within, bumping Gulutzan up from the AHL two summers ago in a move that could have gone better. But to be fair to Gulutzan, two years is far from enough time to judge his worth as an NHL head coach. However, as Gulutzan said several times this season and as Nill has reiterated, this is a results-based business and when a franchise misses the playoffs five straight seasons, heads will roll and they have.
But Nill has been around the game a long time and knows plenty of coaches, a rolodex he is sure to tap into during this process to find Gulutzan’s replacement.
“I know a lot of coaches. I’ve worked in two World Championships. You get to know coaches that way also. I’ve been very fortunate that way. Working in the minor leagues, you get to see some of these young guys that come up as no-names and all of a sudden they show up in the NHL and they’re the real deal. I’ve been fortunate that way. I have a lot of experience seeing winning teams and how they operate, so it’ll be good,” Nill said.