Let the National Hockey League offseason coaching shuffle begin.
Late Tuesday morning, the Dallas Stars announced that head coach Glen Gulutzan and assistant coach Paul Jerrard were dismissed from their posts with the club.
“I would like to thank Glen Gulutzan and Paul Jerrard for the work they provided to the Dallas organization over the past four seasons,” recently hired Stars General Manager Jim Nill said to the team’s website. “They are both quality coaches and men, but we have decided to go in a different direction with our coaching staff and we wish them well in their next endeavors.”
Gulutzan was the 21st head coach in team history and took over the reigns at the start of the 2011-2012 season to replace Marc Crawford who had been fired Gulutzan was another coaching “call-up” as he was the head coach of Dallas’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars for the two seasons prior to being named the Dallas bench boss. Dallas had hoped Gulutzan could change the team’s postseason fate as Bruce Boudreau did with the Washington Capitals when he was given the call up from the Hershey Bears, the Capitals AHL affiliate early in the 2007-2008 season.
Obviously, that was not Gulutzan and the Stars’ fortune.
The Stars went a combined 64-57-9 in Gulutzan’s 130 games at the helm. In both seasons, the Stars failed to miss the playoffs, finishing 10th and 11th in the Western Conference in the 2011-2012 and 2013 seasons, respectively. Gulutzan is the first head coach to be let go since the conclusion of the regular season, but is the fourth since the lockout-shortened campaign began.
The Buffalo Sabres dismissed long-time head coach Lindy Ruff in late February after the team started the season a dismal 6-10-1. Tampa Bay was the next squad to wave good-bye to their head man as they fired Guy Boucher just a month later as the Bolts were 13-18-1 through 32 games of their 48-game schedule. The Avalanche made Joe Sacco the third coach to be shown the door, but first (at least in the NHL) via Twitter. Colorado went 130-134-30 in Sacco’s four seasons with the team. Minus an eighth seed playoff birth in his first season, the Avs never got beyond third place in the Northwest Division.
Now the big question is who will take over the helm of this Stars franchise, who hasn’t seen postseason action since 2008 when they finished fifth. There are plenty of candidates, but which one will be the right fit and willing to take on the task of righting a Dallas ship that’s seen less postseason action than Tony Romo and the Cowboys the past half decade. The 2007-2008 regular season was also the only time franchise legend Mike Modano played in every one of the 82 games while in Dallas.
As previously mentioned, there are already two candidates with NHL coaching experience presumably looking for work. There are also options within the Dallas organization that could be promoted to the top job.
Ruff is the former longest tenured head coach in any of the four major North American professional sports. He spent all 14 and part of a 15th season(s) as a head coach behind the Buffalo bench. During that time, Ruff led the Sabres to two Northeast Division championships, four Eastern Conference finals and one Stanley Cup final, and the infamous 1999 game seven de”FEET” at the hands of Brett Hull and that championship Stars squad. A move south might be a challenge Ruff would be willing to accept for the right price. The obvious irony would be that Ruff would take over the very franchise that “robbed” him and the Sabres of the closest chance he’s had to Lord Stanley now 14 years ago. Ruff may be happy enough in retirement or not wanting to build this now Modano, Morrow and Jagr-less Stars squad from the ground up, that’s down to the grass beneath the concrete ground up.
Boucher doesn’t have nearly the same amount of time behind an NHL bench as Ruff, but in his first season with Tampa Bay, he took the previous 12th place Eastern Conference finisher all the way to the conference final where they would fall to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion, the Boston Bruins in an epic 1-0 game 7 defeat. Unlike Ruff, Boucher is familiar with coaching in a southern/”non-traditional” market and has a more recent pedigree for turning around a playoff-less bunch. Minus Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavlier type players, Boucher would have a similar type of roster and challenge to work with if Mill were to offer the job.
Sacco has a little more experience than Boucher behind the bench and did last through the entire 48-game 2013 season. He hasn’t had near the postseason experience as Boucher or Ruff, but neither have the current Dallas Stars players. Like Boucher and to smaller extent Ruff, Sacco is fresh off of his first NHL job and is coming from a similar type of squad as the Stars will have next season– young, raw, talented, and inexperienced skaters in fron of a veteran goaltender. He’s currently coaching Team USA in World Championships, which is a very young squad much like Dallas.
Within the Stars organization, they have two viable options in their current assistant coach, Curt Fraser and Texas head coach Willie Desjardins.
Fraser has NHL head coaching experience, when he was the first head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers from 1999-2002. Over the course of those three and one quarter seasons, Fraser compiled a 64-169-31-15 record (Note for younger readers: The NHL used to not do the ratings driven shootout so teams could tie or lose in over time. i.e. your record was wins-losses-ties-overtime losses). Since the initial flight with the Thrashers, Fraser has coached in a variety of roles including assistant roles with the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues. Prior to joining the Stars, he was the head coach of Detroit’s AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, Mi. where he coached the Griffins to a 146-130-40 record over four seasons making him first amongst Griffins bench bosses for regular season wins. Fraser was also the head coach of the Belarus National team from 2006-2008, leading the Belorussians to qualify in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Despite their days in the Detroit organization when Mill was the assistant GM and Fraser in Grand Rapids, it doesn’t appear Fraser will be getting the promotion any time soon as the Stars’ GM was quoted as
Desjardins also has NHL experience and was an associate coach on Gulutzan’s staff during the now dismissed coaches’ first season behind the Dallas bench. He took the head job in Austin this past season and led the AHL Stars to a 42-22-11 record for first place in the AHL’s western conference. The T-Stars are currently trailing two games to one in their conference semifinal series with the Oklahoma City Barons. If Tuesday afternoon’s comments are any indication of where Nill might be leaning, Desjardiens is the front-runner.
“Willie is definitely going to be one of those people, but they are still playing,” Nill said to reporters. He’s done a great job down there, coach of the year. He’s definitely going to get consideration,” Nill said. “I think it’s important anytime you go anywhere to look internally first and he’s definitely going to be one of the people on the list.”
In addition to his time with Dallas, Desjardiens previously coached the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers for eight season from 2003-2010. His squads made the playoffs each year he was at the helm, including WHL championships in 2004 and 2007. Dejardiens has experience and winning experience at that as a head coach, something Dallas is in need of if they want to change their recent trend.
Mill also noted in his meeting with reporters that he didn’t have too specific criteria in terms of NHL versus non-NHL experience. It’s safe to expect at least a few wild-card candidates as the Stars begin their search for their 22nd head coach in franchise history.
Paul Maurice– hasn’t coached in the NHL since being let go from the Hurricanes for the second time after Carolina’s 8-13-4 start to the 2011-2012 season. He is currently the head coach of the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
Craig Ramsey– current assistant coach of the Florida Panthers. He has loads of NHL experience mostly as assistant and associate coach. His previous head coaching experience includes: head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers during the 2010-2011 season and interim head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2000 season.
Alain Vigneault– if the Canucks do in fact can him after their first sweeping at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, Vingneault could be the second former Vancouver coach to take the reigns of the Stars. (Oh, yeah, that didn’t work out to well, before.)
John Stevens– current assistant coach of the Los Angeles Kings; former Coach of the Year recipient from the Hockey News who turned around the Philadelphia Flyers from worst to first in the 2006-2007 season (Wait, they finished dead last in his first season. This one might be a long shot, too)
Jacques Martin– former head coach of the Ottawa Senators, Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens; He hasn’t been out of coaching too long and has experience in southern hockey markets.
Mike Modano– former Stars great & all-time leading scorer for American-born NHLers; This is the point where wild-card becomes “No-Way-Never-No-How.” It’s HIGHLY unlikely, but even Gretzky coached the Phoenix Coyotes, which he was part owner of.