The Dallas Stars finished 11th in the West, seven points out of a playoff spot. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
Dallas Stars owner Tom Gaglardi wasted little time shaking things up following his club's elimination last Thursday from playoff contention, replacing Joe Nieuwendyk as GM over the weekend with former Detroit Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill.
Nieuwendyk had been GM since 2009-10, guiding the Stars through a difficult period transitioning between owners, which saw popular veterans Mike Modano and Marty Turco depart via free agency.
Though hampered by tight budgets for most of his tenure, Nieuwendyk traded for goaltender Kari Lehtonen, re-signed scoring winger Loui Eriksson to a long-term contract, and restocked the Stars’ depleted farm system, which produced promising players such as Brenden Dillon and Alex Chaisson.
Following Gaglardi's purchase of the Stars in November 2011, Nieuwendyk re-signed franchise forward Jamie Benn to a lucrative long-term contract, added veteran free agents Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr last summer, and last June swapped Mike Ribeiro for promising center Cody Eakin.
Unfortunately, Nieuwendyk also made some moves that hampered the Stars, which included firing coach Dave Tippett in 2009, shipping James Neal and Matt Niskanen to Pittsburgh for Alex Goligoski in 2011, and trading Michael Ryder to Montreal midway through this season for a fading Erik Cole.
Having failed to make the playoffs during Nieuwendyk's four-year tenure, Gaglardi believed it was time for a change, noting the Stars failed to significantly improve statistically this season except on the power play.
Hiring Nill, who'd been with Red Wings management for 19 seasons, was a major coup, as he'd turned down previous offers from other clubs. Stars CEO Jim Lites, however, had connections with the Red Wings organization and convinced Gaglardi to pursue him.
Nill was an integral part of the Red Wings organization, rising from scout to assistant GM, playing a key role in building their championship teams over the past two decades. That experience should serve him well with the Stars.
His first order of business is determining the fate of coach Glen Gulutzan. It's widely assumed he'll be replaced, but Nill intends to meet with Gulutzan and his staff before making any decisions.
During Nill's introductory press conference, he wasted little time identifying his new team’s problem areas, citing the need for a change in the team's culture, along with its lack of depth at center and poor defensive play.
He inherits a payroll north of $44.6 million invested in 17 players, leaving him with about $19 million in cap space, provided he's allowed to spend up to next season's $64.3 million ceiling. With all the Stars’ core players under contract for next season, Nill doesn't have to worry about expensive re-signings this summer.
If Gaglardi is willing to spend, Nill will have some room to pursue potential unrestricted free agent centers such as Stephen Weiss or Tyler Bozak, or a veteran defensive blueliner like Ron Hainsey or Robyn Regehr.
He could also draw from the club's pool of prospects as trade bait for a second-line center or a physical shutdown defenseman, especially from clubs forced to dump salary to become cap compliant.
Considering how the Stars’ recent futility has affected their gate, Nill should get the go-ahead from Gaglardi to aggressively pursue the missing pieces to turn them into a playoff contender next season.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).