“Goal or no goal?”
That has to be the first question when the former head coach of the 1999 Buffalo Sabres is introduced as the Dallas Stars’ head coach, standing in the shadow of their 1999 Stanley Cup banner that was captured with Brett Hull’s skate in the crease, right?
Of course, there are more pressing matters for the Stars and Lindy Ruff.
After team president Jim Lites let the coach out of the bag at a chamber of commerce luncheon this week, it was obvious Ruff would become the next head coach of the Dallas Stars, and the team made it official on Friday morning.
From the Stars, GM Jim Nill said:
"One of the trademarks of successful organizations is their ability to have continuity and stability for an extended period of time," said Nill. "It is clear from Lindy's record, and from our own conversations, that we have found the right person to provide that stability and lead this club to the next level. His steady hand and experience will prove invaluable in returning our team as a top-tier contender in the NHL."
So is this the right move for the Stars?
To determine that, one must first define where the Dallas Stars organization is headed.
It’s a team clearly in transition, with veteran acquisitions acting as a bridge to a generation of bright young talent – look no further than the blueline, as Sergei Gonchar holds the fort for two years to allow players like Jamie Oleksiak and Kevin Connauton to slowly mature.
They have a solid core of Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn – maybe throw Alex Goligoski into the group as well. But this isn’t going to be a team that sees owner Tom Gaglardi spending haphazardly to win immediately. He’s not, like, Terry Pegula or anything.
It all speaks to something both Nill and Ruff share, which is a desire for stability.
The Detroit Red Wings were a model of it for over 20 years, building a core of star players, developing talent along the way, doing whatever they could to maintain a familiar line of command through the coaching staff and the front office.
Ruff and GM Darcy Regier had a similar vision with the Buffalo Sabres, and maintained it through financial and ownership challenges that would have humbled any management group. Ruff’s 571-432-162 record, eight postseason appearances, four trips to the Eastern Conference Final and one Stanley Cup Final -- give'em two in injures didn't strike down the 2006 Sabres -- are an incredible accomplishment within that context.
Although, give any coach enough years of Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller, and …
Mike Heika, as Mike Heika does, nailed why this shared vision is important to the Stars:
With the bankruptcy of Hicks Sports Group and the change of ownership to Tom Gaglardi in 2011, the Stars are on their fourth GM and about to get their fourth coach since 2006. That’s a whirlwind ride, and it clearly has not resulted in success; the Stars have missed the playoffs for five straight seasons. So Nill has been preaching consistency and patience and culture, and it’s a sermon that Ruff understands quite well.
You don’t stay in one place that long without some pretty solid people skills, and you don’t exit a place like that without a good deal of experience. So when a season is coming down to the final game, you’ve been there before. When a player is in a slump, you’ve been there before. When the rules of the games are changing and you have to adapt, you’ve been there before.
There’s some question about whether Lindy Ruff can adapt. He’s 53 years old, and has been a head coach in the NHL since 1997. Stars fans remember the last time a veteran coach arrived in Marc Crawford, and how that ended. But that was a different team with a different aim; those Stars were a veteran team hoping the window to win was still open, and Ruff’s Stars are fiddling with the lock.
Ruff’s a much more adaptable coach in that regard: Working with young players while establishing trust with the veterans over time. Is he the best developer of young talent? No. The Sabres are littered with underachieving players that came through their system. But that's a separate criticism from whether he can coach them effectively, and Ruff has in the past.
Don’t misread the Buffalo firing: His time with the team was up, but it’s hard to say that his style and system are now ineffective. It’s just that when you’ve been coaching since the Clinton Administration, sometimes the hourglass runs out.
He’s the right coach for what Nill wants for the Stars. Is he going to coach a brand of exhilarating hockey that fills the seats in Dallas? Uh, no. He’s not exactly Bruce Boudreau with the offense.
But excitement isn’t just stylistic. It’s also born from success. To that end, Ruff is a good hire because his track record shows he can, if given the horses, ride a team to the postseason.
For a team that hasn’t been there since 2009, that’s why you hire Lindy Ruff.
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