1. ‘Joe Who?’ Takes Center Stage In Dallas
The Dallas Stars finally rectified one of the most convoluted front office situations in recent NHL history this week when they installed four-time all-star Joe Nieuwendyk as general manager. Les Jackson and Brett Hull, who had served as co-general managers since November, 2007 were reassigned to other positions within the organization.
Last season Nieuwendyk served as special assistant to GM Brian Burke in Toronto. Nieuwendyk played for the Stars from 1995-96 until 2001-02, when he was traded to the New Jersey Devils. The personable center affectionately dubbed “Joe Who?” during his time with the Calgary Flames enjoyed a distinguished playing career in which he tallied 1,126 points in 1,257 games and won Stanley Cups with three different teams. While many NHL pundits expected owner Tom Hicks to award Les Jackson with the full-time position this offseason, the hiring of Nieuwendyk seems to be a case of the organization recognizing an emerging talent and locking him up before missing their chance. A relative newbie to the world of front office management, Nieuwendyk did serve as a special consultant to the GM in Florida before joining the Leafs’ brass and further bolstered his resume with a turn as assistant GM on Canada’s silver medal-winning 2009 World Championship squad.
Dallas bench boss Dave Tippett was an associate coach on that team and told the Canadian Press this week he is thrilled to have Nieuwendyk on board. “Spending the last month or so with him, I believe he's ready for this," said Tippett. "He is very methodical, very thoughtful in his approach. He thinks things through before he reacts to them. He was a hard player to play against because he would outthink you. I would imagine it's going to be the same as GM."
Nieuwendyk will take over a squad that presents an interesting mix of veterans, youngsters, grit and talent. The Stars’ core consists of captain Brendan Morrow, who missed all but 18 games last year with a torn ACL, Brad Richards, who tallied a disappointing 48 points in 56 games and Mike Ribeiro, who posted a total of more than 75 points for the second year in a row. Richards and Ribeiro are 29 years of age and Morrow turned 30 this winter. Only Richards’ contract is a millstone for the club as the P.E.I. native is set to make $7.8 million in each of the next two seasons before becoming a UFA. Morrow and Ribeiro’s deals are much more manageable, by comparison.
In addition to those three, Dallas boasts talented young forwards James Neal, 21, Loui Eriksson, 23 and Fabian Brunnstrom, 24, each of whom will earn less than $1 million in 2009-10.
That’s the good news.
The bad news comes on the blue line and between the pipes.
Incumbent goaltender Marty Turco will turn 34 this August and suffered a decline in performance for the second season in a row, posting a rather abysmal 2.81 GAA and a sub par .898 save percentage last season. Turco was especially horrific to start the year, notching a 4.26 GAA in October and a 3.15 mark in November. That Dallas missed the postseason for the first time since 2002 can largely be attributed to their awful even strength goaltending Goal Versus Threshold (GVT) total of -25.6. That mark ranked them second-last in the league, ahead of only the Leafs.
On defense, the Stars will need to get younger and faster if they want to be playing spring hockey in the coming season. Matt Niskanen, 22 and Trevor Daley, 25, are nice pieces, but the team will need to get more help for those two and stalwart Stephane Robidas in order to offset the likely departure of 38-year-old UFA Sergei Zubov and 37-year-old free agent Darryl Sydor. Zubov barely played last year due to injury while Sydor contributed 13 points in 65 games.
Given Nieuwendyk’s prior relationship with Jay Bouwmeester in Florida, there is speculation that the Stars will let both veterans walk and take a shot at acquiring the smooth-skating Panther rearguard, who is a UFA this summer. However, the Dallas Morning News reported that Nieuwendyk is determined to build his team through the draft rather than splurge on free agents. “What normally happens is you end up overspending on Day 1 and I think a lot of teams have fallen into that over the years,” said Nieuwendyk. “With all due respect, our team was one of them. You have to be careful.”
Without Sean Avery around to antagonize teammates and make sexually suggestive references about past girlfriends, the Stars were likely to be a better team this year even if the roster returned intact. As it stands, Nieuwendyk will have more than $7.5 million to play with if he does not re-sign Zubov and Sydor. Whether or not he acquires Bouwmeester, the Dallas blue line should look significantly different come training camp.
2. Vinny In La La Land?
Speaking of young superstars possibly on the move, the Vincent Lecavalier trade rumors refuse to die. After enduring a winter chock full of speculation that Vinny would join the Habs, Montreal fans were forced to endure not only the reality that their native son was not returning home, but the ultimate humiliation of a first round exit at the hands of the hated Bruins. The rumor du jour these days is that Kings GM Dean Lombardi is a huge fan of Lecavalier and has contacted Tampa GM Brian Lawton about a deal. Lawton has denied that Lecavalier is available, but given the Lightning’s tenuous financial situation it would make sense for the team to move the young forward and his $10 million salary for a bundle of prospects and draft picks. With defenseman Jack Johnson reportedly unhappy with the Kings and kicking the tires on a potential move to the KHL in Russia, this might be a deal that makes sense for both clubs…therefore it probably won’t happen.
The Oilers have also reportedly shown interest in Lecavalier.
Whether or not the Habs wind up getting their man, Quebec hockey fans can take solace in the fact that Jacques Martin was named head coach of the Canadiens this week. Excuse me, that should have read “Quebec hockey fans who like boring, trapping hockey and teams that perpetually underachieve in the playoffs can take solace in the fact that Martin was named head coach of the Canadiens this week.”
Martin vacated the Florida front office to take the job in La Belle Province. In doing so, he leaves a bit of a mess in Florida, especially since he either chose not to or was unable to deal the aforementioned Bouwmeester before last year’s deadline.
3. Hit The Road, Tony
The other shoe finally dropped in Colorado this week. After offering their head coach and GM positions to former goaltender Patrick Roy, who turned them down, the Avs mercifully terminated current head coach Tony Granato on Wednesday. Under Granato, the Avalanche stumbled to a 32-45-5 record last season, sealing their fate as the worst team in the Western Conference. They not only had the worst goal differential in the conference (-58) but also were the only Western team to post a losing record on home ice. Their even strength GVT was –43.8, good for, you guessed it, last in the conference.
Clearly Paul Stastny’s injury and the club’s sub par goaltending would have been difficult for any coach to overcome, but such a debacle is not tolerated in Denver, where the city has grown used to successful seasons during the team’s 13 years in the Mile High City.
Granato was one of six members of the staff let go on Black Wednesday. Longtime assistant Greg Sherman will take over as the team’s new GM. The interesting thing about Sherman’s promotion is that his background is not in hockey operations; he is an accountant by trade. The Avs followed this interesting hire with another on Thursday. They named former player Joe Sacco (no, not Joe Sakic) as the team’s head coach despite the fact he has only two years experience behind the bench with the team’s AHL affiliate.
4. Pens Turn Final Into Best Of Three
The Red Wings’ second period meltdown in Thursday night’s game four belied their reputation as an unflappable veteran squad. As composed as Detroit has been all playoffs, they allowed three goals in less than six minutes to turn a 2-1 lead into a 4-2 deficit. Detroit looked old, tired and rattled and desperately need a healthy Pavel Datsyuk back in the lineup for game five. To a man, the Red Wings said prior to game four that they’d had enough of playing without their best forward, regardless of their 2-1 series lead.
Boy, were they ever right.
Datsyuk, who ranked sixth overall in regular season Player GVT, is an especially strong defensive forward, as evidenced by his stellar 7.3 Defensive GVT and nomination for a second consecutive Selke Trophy. Detroit’s regular season points leader will likely be back in the lineup for game six, as he went so far as to take the pre-game skate on Thursday before being sent to the press box.
Bill Duke is a guest author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact Bill by clicking here or click here to see Bill's other articles.