Hits and Misses of the Joe Nieuwendyk Era
With the era of Joe Nieuwendyk as general manager of the Dallas Stars officially coming to an end on Sunday with the announcement that he had been relieved of his duties, it’s time to reflect on what exactly the now-former GM accomplished or didn’t accomplish during his time at the helm of the Stars front office. So, here’s a rundown:
Trading Michael Ryder (2013) — We all loved Ryder’s production two seasons ago, when he led the Stars with 35 goals. But with the affable Newfoundlander approaching age 33 and his contract expiring at the end of the year, Nieuwendyk traded him back to where his career started, in Montreal. While it did take Erik Cole a bit to find a spot with the Stars, he is under contract for the next two seasons and should be a definite asset going forward.
Signing Ray Whitney (2012) — Sure, many hockey pundits chortled when the Stars added two guys north of 40 in Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney last summer, but both moves worked out pretty well. Whitney missed a good chunk of the shortened season with a foot injury but finished with 29 points (11-18-29) in 32 games, not bad numbers for the veteran winger. The Wizard was also a very positive veteran voice in the room, something which can never be discounted with a young team like the Stars currently have.
Signing Jaromir Jagr (2012) — While No. 68 wasn’t a Star for all that long, being dealt to Boston ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline, bringing Jagr in for a few months, which allowed local fans to see one of the greatest ever to lace ’em up skate at American Airlines Center, a tenure including his 1,000th career assist, was a win-win. And Lane MacDermid, the player the Stars got from the Bruins in the Jagr deal, gives them some much-needed edge on the ice.
Acquiring Cody Eakin for Mike Ribeiro (2012) — When the Stars dealt Ribeiro on draft night last summer, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone. The talented center had been a steady performer but his contract was expiring. Eakin has been nothing short of a true revelation this year for the Stars, playing up and down the lineup and doing whatever it took to help the team out, get an assist, score a goal, dig a puck out of the corner, this kid’s work ethic is unquestioned and he’ll only get better from here.
Signing Antoine Roussel (2012) — Not many knew what to expect from the feisty Frenchman when the Stars inked him to a two-year, two-way contract last July, but No. 60 not only became a fan favorite for his readiness to drop the gloves, but he also endeared himself to local hockey fans by contributing on the offensive end with 14 points (7-7-14) in 39 games. Roussel could even be front and center with France in the upcoming World Championships.
Signing Brenden Dillon (2011) — When the Stars inked Dillon to a three-year entry-level deal in Feb. 2011, few knew much about the big d-man other than he’d been playing for Seattle of the Western Hockey League for the last three seasons. But No. 4’s ascension has been a rapid one and he stepped right in at the blueline this season as a rookie and while he took his lumps like all rookies do, the humble BC native clearly has a very bright future ahead of him in the NHL.
Signing Vernon Fiddler (2011) — Now when the Stars inked Fiddler, who had been playing in Phoenix, to a three-year deal in the ’11 off-season, it was a move that earned decent marks from those who knew what sort of player the Edmonton native was. Fiddler was a face-off specialist who could occasionally chip in on the offensive end but whose true stock and trade was in being a guy other teams hated playing against and someone who does all the dirty work that never shows up in a box score. He has been every bit of that and more for the Stars as he heads into the final year of his contract at age 32.
Acquiring Kari Lehtonen from Atlanta (2010) — This move has to rank as Nieuwendyk’s best move as GM. Dallas not only acquired its goaltender of the future in Lehtonen, who has been rock solid as the Stars No. 1 netminder practically since arriving except for a few minor injuries, but they also offloaded a supreme bust in Ivan Vishnevskiy, the 27th overall pick in the 2006 draft who appeared in just five NHL games with the Stars. Vishnevskiy is now playing in the KHL in his native Russia while the player the Thrashers took with that pick, Ivan Telegin, appeared in 34 games for the Jets’ AHL affiliate in St. John’s, Newfoundland last season.
The 2009 Draft — The Stars took both Alex Chiasson (second round) and Reilly Smith (third round) in the 2009 NHL Draft. Chiasson definitely showed a hint of good things to come during his limited audition late in the regular season, a solid run of form that was unfortunately cut short by injury, but he’ll definitely be back in 2013 and beyond. Smith saw his first extended NHL action this season and while he looked lost at times, at other times showed every bit the potential that Nieuwendyk and company saw in him. Shedding such inconsistency is part of every young player’s development no matter the sport.
No Playoffs (2009-13) — Of course, the first year of the playoff drought doesn’t fall on Nieuwendyk’s shoulders, but the final four do. To see this franchise slip to its current status among the NHL’s also-rans has been tough to watch. And while definite strides have been made in building up the stock of prospects in the organization, the results have yet to come, namely in the form of playoff appearances. That alone is the biggest reason why Nieuwendyk has been replaced above all others.
Trading Steve Ott for Derek Roy (2012) — Now, this one could shift to a hit depending on how defenseman Kevin Connauton, whom the Stars acquired from the Canucks in the pre-deadline deal that sent Roy to Vancouver, develops or doesn’t develop. But Roy wasn’t all that consistent during his time in Dallas. Maybe not being healthy and the shortened season were part of that, but when you ship a fan favorite like Ott out of town, the return should be substantial and it simply wasn’t there.
The Hiring of Glen Gulutzan (2011) — With the announcement that Gulutzan will no longer be behind the Dallas bench likely coming later this week and with the Stars missing the playoffs in each of his two seasons here, Gulutzan’s tenure has to be considered disappointing at best. On one hand, it’s tough throwing someone behind an NHL bench with no experience in the league, but when few on his staff have any NHL coaching experience to speak of, that makes it even tougher. Gulutzan made some definite strides this year, but as he has said himself on numerous occasions, this is a results-based business and those results simply weren’t there.
Trading James Neal to Pittsburgh (2011) — When the Stars dealt scorer James Neal to the Penguins before the 2011 deadline, it was a trade fans immediately panned and for good reason. Neal, one of Dallas’ top offensive players, was gone along with defenseman Matt Niskanen, who had struggled to find a place in year two of the Marc Crawford era, with the Stars getting puck-moving defenseman Alex Goligoski in return. Neal and Niskanen have both flourished in the Steel City while Goligoski has been inconsistent with the Stars. Sure, he rebounded to have a much better year this season, but the one-sided nature of this trade will always be one of the black marks against Nieuwendyk’s tenure as GM.
Trevor Daley’s Contract Extension (2010) — Call this one another head scratcher. Nothing against Daley as he is a solid defenseman, but to lock him up for six more years, where he doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2016-17 season when there didn’t seemed to be any other bidders for his services seemed like a misstep. With the addition of Alex Goligoski in 2011 before the deadline, the recent arrival of Philip Larsen and veteran Stephane Robidas already being in place, the Stars seem to suddenly have a glut of puck-moving defenseman, meaning at least one of them could depart this summer. It could be Daley or Larsen.
The Drafting of Jack Campbell (2010) — Some might say this pick wasn’t all that bad from a big-picture standpoint and maybe that was right. Maybe Campbell was the best player Nieuwendyk felt was available at 11th overall in the 2010 draft so he stuck with that tried and true adage of drafting, but the Stars could have had current Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler or Blues center Vladimir Tarasenko, two guys who have already made an impact in the league, or gone a completely different direction. Now if Campbell is the young netminder many think he can be at the NHL level, then this pick becomes a hit if and when that ever happens.
The Drafting of Scott Glennie (2009) — Glennie has battled injuries and overall inconsistency in his game ever since the Stars took him eighth overall in the 2009 draft. He had just 14 points (9-5-14) in 37 games this year for the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League and if he doesn’t start showing some of that immense potential we all heard so much about when he was drafted, his time in the organization could fast be coming to an end.
The Firing of Dave Tippett (2009) — The Stars had just missed the playoffs for what would be the first of five consecutive seasons and counting without postseason hockey here in Dallas when Nieuwendyk decided to fire Tippett in June 2009. Of course, Tippett has gone on to do great things in Phoenix and leading the Coyotes to the 2012 Western Conference Finals was a feat in itself considering the incredible financial constraints currently facing that club.
The Hiring of Marc Crawford (2009) — Of course, hiring a coach with a Stanley Cup on his resume like Crawford had when hired in 2009, is always a good thing. But Crawford’a approach never really seemed to resonate all that well with the Dallas players. We had heard that the fiery coach had mellowed a bit as he had gotten older but as the Crawford era wore on, tales of there being two Crawfords, the often affable one who talked to the media, and the one who grated on players nearly constantly. He had one year remaining on his contract when Nieuwendyk fired him after the 2010-11 season, a campaign where the Stars missed out on the playoffs after failing to beat the Wild in their season finale in a win and you’re win game.