Dallas Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas (3) kneels on the ice as left wing Jamie Benn (14) skates nearby after the Minnesota Wild beat the Stars 5-3 in an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Sunday, April 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
DALLAS - This season, Marc Crawford guided the Dallas Stars to the most points of any team in NHL history that didn't make the playoffs.
It wasn't enough to keep his job, either.
Crawford was fired Tuesday after just two seasons in charge. Although Dallas' playoff bid went to the final minutes of the regular season, general manager Joe Nieuwendyk seemed to have already decided his club needed another coach to become a contender for the Stanley Cup.
"We have a lot of good things in place," Nieuwendyk said. "The hardest thing for Marc to probably accept (is) that I don't feel he's the guy going forward that takes us to the next level."
Nieuwendyk persuaded his bosses to dump Crawford with a year left on his contract. The significance is that the team is run by creditors who are trying to sell the club. By agreeing to this, they approved paying for a new coach, as well as picking up the remaining tab for Crawford unless he gets hired elsewhere.
Nieuwendyk said he is in no hurry to find a replacement. His first step will be figuring out what kind of coach the team needs, both on and off the ice. Other factors could include whether star Brad Richards is re-signed, and whether there's a new owner.
The Stars would've been on a plane to Vancouver on Tuesday, bound for their playoff opener had they won the season finale at Minnesota on Sunday. A loss by Chicago earlier in the day left it up to Dallas to determine whether it made it or not. The Stars were up 2-1 against a non-playoff team but lost 5-3.
Their 95 points matched the 2006-07 Colorado Avalanche for the most of any non-playoff team.
"We didn't lose the playoffs on the last day," Nieuwendyk said. "Teams earn their way into the playoffs, and we fell short. ... This is something that has been thought about during some of our adverse times and the way we played down the stretch. Playing in the playoffs would've been great, but my thoughts and feelings still would be there."
Nieuwendyk was irked by the way Crawford handled various rough patches. For instance, when injuries hit, the coach resorted to playing his most reliable players more than ever, which may have left them worn out by season's end.
"We have to look at how we involve more people and how we stay fresh during the course of the season," Nieuwendyk said. "Obviously there are personnel issues that we have to address. But, also, how do we sustain a brand of hockey that is up there with the elite teams in the Western Conference?"
Jamie Benn is coming off a breakout season and is only 21. Loui Eriksson is 25. Four other key players are in their early 20s. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen is 27, scorer Mike Ribeiro is 31 and captain Brenden Morrow is 32. There are no pivotal free agents beyond Richards, although he's certainly a major difference-maker.
So even though this makes three straight seasons without a trip to the playoffs, the future seems bright.
"We're close," Nieuwendyk said. "We're not coming off a 70-point season where this is in the tank. This is 95 points. There's a lot of good things in play here."
Crawford won the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 1996, but he's missed the post-season in his last five seasons—two in Dallas, two in Los Angeles and one in Vancouver. His teams have won a single playoff series in his last 11 years in charge. Over 15 seasons as a head coach, he is 549-421-103 with 78 overtime losses.
Crawford became the fifth coach fired or to retire since Saturday, which means the Stars will have a lot of competition. Florida, Minnesota, Ottawa and New Jersey also are in the market.
Nieuwendyk won the Conn Smythe Award for Dallas in 1999, when the club won the Stanley Cup for the first—and still only—time. He returned as GM and, in his first big move, fired Dave Tippett and hired Crawford. Nieuwendyk liked Crawford's tough, organized approach as Team Canada coach in the 1998 Olympics and Crawford's resume suggested good things would happen in Dallas.
Just two years later, the Stars are starting over again.
"There's not one particular theme here," Nieuwendyk said. "It's just the overall look at where we want to go, the type of style we want to play and how to get there."