A year after surprisingly capturing a Central Division title and an appearance in the second round of the postseason, the Dallas Stars have stumbled this season to a 19-20-10 start and are currently three points out of a potential playoff berth. While there is still plenty of time to right the ship, it’s nonetheless fair to say the team has failed to meet preseason expectations. It’s at least conceivable that barring a deep postseason run the Stars could look to make some significant changes this summer. However, as Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News writes, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild may have already provided a solid blue print the Stars could follow in their search for success.
Currently Columbus and Minnesota reside among the best teams in the league, which is a far cry from where the were last year. While the Wild made it to the playoffs, they were eliminated in the first round and looked nothing like a Stanley Cup contender. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets were once again one of the worst teams in the league and appeared to be at least a few years away from contention. However, as Heika points out, each team has benefited immensely from recent coaching changes – with John Tortorella taking over early last season in Columbus and Minnesota turning to Bruce Boudreau this past summer – and that could provide the Stars with a more palatable option than potentially making wholesale roster changes.
Current bench boss Lindy Ruff has had a long and accomplished career as a head coach in this league, first with the Buffalo Sabres and then for the last four in Dallas. On the heels of what can only be considered a successful 2015-16 campaign it might seem unwarranted to move on from Ruff after a season derailed by injuries to several key regulars. Nonetheless, Ruff is in the final season of his contract and it’s feasible general manager Jim Nill may conclude a fresh voice and approach is needed at this point.
However, despite some calls from fans to make a move now while the current campaign can still be saved, Heika advises against such a decision, and suggests waiting until after the season when more candidates will be available. As the scribe notes, Gerard Gallant certainly qualifies as an appealing option and any team interested in hiring might be best served doing so now with so few jobs open. But as Heika points out, a veteran bench boss like Gallant would require a three or four-year guaranteed commitment and it might be best to wait until after the season instead of caving to immediate pressures to go that direction.
Heika also identifies goaltending as an area the Stars could look to upgrade and while their are long-term options available now – Marc-Andre Fleury jumps immediately to mind – he cautions that the team might be better off trying to identify a young, up-and-coming net minder that represents more of an upside play rather than taking a chance on an expensive veteran. Martin Jones and Cam Talbot are two goalies that the scribe references that fit the former category. With teams looking ahead to the expansion draft, several backup types could be made available at a reduced rate as opposed to potentially losing them for nothing to the Vegas Golden Knights.
There is no questioning the impact that Tortorella and Boudreau have had on their respective team’s fortunes this season and it makes sense that the Stars could look to duplicate that success by bringing in their own new coach. It’s an easier move to make than trying to trade an expensive core player and/or trying to reshape the organization with blockbuster acquisitions. Yet there are no certainties regardless of what direction the Stars take. Hiring a new bench boss could pay off in Dallas as it has for Minnesota and Columbus. Or, as has been the case in Florida, the move may not yield the dividends the team hopes for.