What's next for the Stars after missing the playoffs?
Now that it's official that the Dallas Stars will miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season, there are a number of questions to be addressed. First and foremost on the minds of local hockey fans is whether or not head coach Glen Gulutzan will return for a third season or if the club will be seeking its third different head coach in four years? And there are also questions about the job security of General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. Here's a look at the issues currently facing the Stars and how they might proceed.
Will Gulutzan Return to the Bench or Not?
Gulutzan's contract runs out at the end of this season and it's unclear at best whether or not he returns to the Dallas bench. Heading into the Stars' regular-season finale with Detroit on Saturday, Dallas' record in the two seasons under the Saskatchewan native is 64-56-9, which actually isn't an awful mark that Gulutzan took the job in 2011 with no NHL coaching experience to speak of. Learning on the fly in the NHL is clearly a tall order, but Gulutzan made definite strides this season in a number of areas and the players really seem to like playing for him, which definitely has to count for something. Gulutzan also has a solid track record of working well with young players and helping accelerate their development and with the Stars currently in the throes of a full-on youth movement, having someone with such a reputation could be an asset.
If Gulutzan is Gone, Which Assistant Coaches Return?
Of course, if Gulutzan is indeed gone, then that would likely mean that assistant Paul Jerrard, who accompanied Gully from Cedar Park in 2011, is also likely gone. But the picture gets a bit murkier when it comes to the two other current Stars assistants. Goaltending coach Mike Valley was hired in the final year under Marc Crawford and the strong relationship he has built with starter Kari Lehtonen, current backup Richard Bachman as well as the other netminders in the organization can't be discounted in the least. On more than a few occasions, Lehtonen has credited his work with Valley for his recent resurgence, so it's clear Valley is an asset going forward. Equally interesting is the case with Gulutzan's current top assistant Curt Fraser, who joined the club prior to this season. Fraser signed a multi-year deal last summer and the former Atlanta Thrashers head coach has NHL coaching experience, which makes his odds of staying despite a regime change quite favorable.
What About GM Joe Nieuwendyk?
Other than the status of Gulutzan, the other biggest question facing the Stars as they head into another off-season in truly disappointing fashion is whether or not new owner Tom Gaglardi will make a change at GM and displace Nieuwendyk. It remains to be seen what sorts of dividends will result from the pre-deadline deals that sent veterans Jaromir Jagr, former captain Brenden Morrow and Derek Roy, who all had expiring contracts, to several different ports of call. But the deal that sent Michael Ryder to Montreal in February for Erik Cole appears to be paying some nice dividends as Cole has been a solid contributor to the Stars after struggling to find his niche early on after his arrival from the Habs.
While Nieuwendyk's trade history is mixed at best, there is also the question of whether or not he will be tasked with hiring a head coach for the third time in his tenure? His first hire, Marc Crawford, lasted two seasons and clearly didn't work out and Gulutzan, the man who replaced Crawford, is likely on the outs after duplicating Crow's results and not making the playoffs in either of his two seasons behind the Dallas bench. It's tough to say which direction Galardi will go with Nieuwendyk but those who cover the team can see it going either way.
Will The Stars Make a Run at a True No. 1 Defenseman?
Besides missing the playoffs for five straight seasons, another constant with the Stars has been their lack of a true No. 1 defenseman in recent history. Maybe that term's a bit overrated, but Dallas has seemingly lacked a true anchor at the blueline through the end of the Dave Tippett era and extending to that of Crawford and most recently Gulutzan, but that deficiency in the back has shown at various times over the past five seasons.
No offense to veteran Stephane Robidas, who epitomizes everything a veteran should be on and off the ice, but No. 3 will never be called a No. 1 d-man and that's just a fact. Maybe the Stars feel they could have a future No. 1 defenseman already in their system in the form of Patrik Nemeth or the hulking Jamie Oleksiak, but the Dallas D clearly needs an anchor going forward. Two possibilities for Dallas to add, Vancouver's Alex Edler and Nashville's Mike Fisher, who battled injuries for much of this season, were set to be free agents after this season. But the Canucks extended Edler in January and the Preds inked Fisher to one in 2012. It's tough to say who the Stars could bring in, but it's clear they need an upgrade in the back.
Would the Organization Part With Another Longtime Regular?
Once Morrow was dealt to the Penguins before the deadline, it made Stars defenseman Trevor Daley the club's longest continuously tenured player. Daley signed a six-year extension in Dec. 2010 and has been a solid performer on both sides of the puck although his consistent lack of offensive production over the last two seasons has been a bit disappointing. But with the trading of both Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro last summer and the dealing of Morrow earlier this year, Stars brass are slowly and methodically cutting ties to many members of a core group of players who have been constants through these lean years with no playoff experience.
Could Daley be next? It's definitely possible, especially since he and Alex Goligoski are similar players, puck-moving defensemen but Goose's offensive surge this season as Dallas' assist leader makes him much more valuable for No. 6. Not saying Daley's not a solid defenseman, this might more be a case of time for a change of scenery both for him as well as for the organization a deal that could net them a nice fellow d-man, a prospect or even a draft pick in return for the longtime Stars defenseman.
Will Eric Nystrom Get an Extension?
About the only player currently on the Stars roster who sees significant minutes whose contract is expiring is one Eric Nystrom. The son of former Islanders defenseman Bob Nystrom, this Michigan product has been a solid contributor at both ends since joining Dallas prior to last season. He had 16 goals last season and will likely finish with seven this year, solid production from a guy who has spent much of his time with the club skating on the third line. Nystrom is not only solid on the pond but he's also a great guy in the room whose work ethic and sheer determination is unquestioned. He's also likely to not want big money to come back, so seeing him get an extension would not be a big surprise for the now 30-year-old winger.