The Dallas Stars played their final game of the season on Saturday night, and wasted no time turning the page on a devastatingly awful season.
GM Jim Nill announced on Sunday that head coach Lindy Ruff will not return as head coach, and that “the organization will immediately begin the process of hiring a new head coach.”
Ruff led the team to a 34-37-11 record this season. Their 79 points were 30 fewer than the team earned in the previous season, when it won the Central Division.
“I want to personally thank Lindy for his commitment and professionalism over the four years that he served as our head coach in Dallas,” said Nill. “Lindy is not only a highly respected coach, he more importantly is a great person and an outstanding family man whom I have the utmost respect for on and off the ice.”
Ruff is the only head coach Nill has hired, arriving in Dallas after 15 years as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. He had a 165-122-41 record, and the team made the playoffs in two of the four seasons.
Ruff had his faults as a coach, but there’s no denying the obvious here: a coach is only going to be as good as the talent he’s given, and the Stars kept handing him a thinner and thinner deck defensively.
In his first season in Dallas, Ruff had Trevor Daley, Brenden Dillon, Sergei Gonchar and Alex Goligoski among his blueliners. This season, Ruff had Dan Hamhuis, John Klingberg, Stephen Johns, Esa Lindell, and Johnny Oduya (before he was traded), and some of these players had very sub-par campaigns. Combine that with the worst goaltending in the NHL – the team’s 0.893 save percentage was No. 30 this season – and that’s how you get a minus-39 goal differential.
But as Mike Heika notes, the team’s poor overall defense may have been a byproduct of its struggles on offense as well:
Dallas will finish the season with some of the worst goaltending numbers in the league (currently 29th in GAA at 3.17 and 29th in save percentage at .894) and a penalty kill that is among the worst in franchise history (74.2 percent). Yet, the stat most referenced is the team’s drop from first in the league in scoring at 3.23 goals per game to 17th at 2.70.
As Ruff told Heika:
“We have built most of our game off of speed and creativity and being able to score three-four goals a game. But when the puck didn’t go in the net for us, we had some frustrated players who, instead of trying to stay with it and trying to play a 200-foot game, it became more of an individual try. And those individual tries a lot of times turned into opportunities for the opposition.”
By struggling with scoring, the Stars took more chances, and that created problems that led to the poor numbers in net and on the penalty kill.
So Ruff pays the price for this season, and now it’s all on Nill. Will his decision to go young on defense and experience growing pains pay off? Can he bolster this group defensively, especially in goal?
And who’s the next guy to coach this group?
Former Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant would seem the logical choice, having played with Nill in Detroit.
There’s been speculation that it could end up being Ken Hitchcock, riding back into Dallas as a conquering hero for short-term results. Undoubtedly, his systems could plaster over the defensive cracks on this team.
Whatever Nill decides to do, the fortunes have to change following this dismal season. Or else this franchise will be turning the page on its general manager next.
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