Friday May 23rd, 2008

News: The Stars remove the interim tag from the titles of co-GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson and give them each three-year deals.

Views: First, a little mea culpa: When word came down of the team's bold plan to replace the ousted Doug Armstrong with a two-headed monster, I called the decision potentially disastrous. And while the jury's still out after just seven months, I have to admit that the early returns have been far more promising than all but the most optimistic could have imagined.

Under their leadership the Stars, a team that was barely keeping its head above water in early November, stunned the hockey world by upsetting the defending Cup champion Ducks and prohibitive favorite Sharks before falling to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference finals. And while all but two of the players on the roster were in place before the now-Dynamic Duo grabbed the wheel, their fingerprints were all over this success story.

It's easy to point to the bold deal to acquire Brad Richards -- one that's impossible to imagine Armstrong pulling the trigger on -- as their masterstroke. You can also credit them for getting leading scorer Mike Ribeiro inked to a five-year deal that some analysts (though not this one) considered under market value.

But their biggest accomplishment was simply clearing the poisoned air that hovered over the talented, but underachieving group Armstrong had built. Jackson and Hull pushed the reboot key, giving everyone a fresh start. They ensured that younger players like Matt Niskanen, Nicklas Grossman and Loui Eriksson were given real chances to contribute, that offense became a goal, not a byproduct of team defense, and that any ill will over the decision to strip Mike Modano of the 'C' and hand it to Brenden Morrow was a thing of the past.

They made it fun to be a Dallas Star again.

So give them credit, and give me a rap across the knuckles. Based on those early returns, they earned this.

Now that these two are in place, expect coach Dave Tippett to earn a similar extension no later than next week. Tippett has one year left on his current deal.

News: The Colorado Avalanche fill their coach vacancy with Tony Granato

Views: You could hear the moans emanating from the Rockies all the way to Texas when the Avs announced that the man who would replace Joel Quenneville was the very man that Quenneville had himself replaced back in 2004.

Sure, the demand by the fan base for someone fresh is reasonable. But you know, this might not prove to be a completely boneheaded move.

Granato, who took over from Bob Hartley in the middle of the 2001-02 season, rang up a 72-33-17-11 record during his brief tenure, leaving him with the best winning percentage in franchise history. But his failures in the playoffs, including a 2003 first round loss to Minnesota that came after blowing a 3-1 series lead, led the team to demote him after the 2003-04 season.

At the time, it was his lack of experience that was cited as the reason for his dismissal. But the reality is that there was a perception his star-studded teams had underachieved. That wasn't entirely fair. The Wild loss was a heartbreaker, but it's worth remembering what kind of roll that team got on. Sometimes you run into a buzzsaw in the playoffs, and that's what happened here.

The following year? Well, injuries to Peter Forsberg, Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya sabotaged what could have been a long run. As Quenneville learned this spring, you can only go so far without your big horses.

Obviously Granato has held the support of his higher ups during his apprenticeship. And likely, it was his willingness to accept a demotion and gain the experience he lacked while working as an assistant under Quenneville that earned him this second kick at the can.

Granato will have significantly less talent to work with than he had back in 2003-04, but if this young group simply takes on the passionate, disciplined approach that defined his own playing career, the Avs will be a tougher team to play against in 2008-09.

News: New Vancouver GM Mike Gillis retains coach Alain Vigneault ... but cans his assistants

Views: There was wide speculation that Vigneault, the 2007 Jack Adams winner, would be tossed under the bus once Gillis took control. After much dithering, likely to see what his re-tread options were, Gillis granted him a one-year extension. Hardly a resounding vote of confidence, especially when assistants Barry Smith and Mike Kelly were told that their services were no longer needed.

The truth of it is that Vigneault was no less effective coaching last season than he was the year before, but his chances for success were sabotaged by a devastating string of injuries to the blue line and an inconsistent effort from Roberto Luongo. Nevertheless, with just one year to buy out, the clock is ticking on his tenure with the Canucks.

Gillis has said he'll be hiring Vigneault's assistants, so it'll be interesting to see who comes on board essentially as his contingency plan. With their loyalty tied to the GM, rather than Vigneault, odds are one of them will be coaching the team on an interim basis before the year's out.

News: Sharks GM Doug Wilson announces next coach will have "blue-collar approach to the game."

Views: Not much to go on, really, but the announcement at Tuesday night's State of the Sharks meeting for season ticket holders still got the rumor mills buzzing about who Wilson was looking at, especially when he added, "[I want] someone these guys might not enjoy every day."

Although there's plenty of speculation that Wilson will bring in fresh blood, I'm thinking it's going to take a proven re-tread to get the job done. Maybe a re-tread who has experience knocking some sense into the enigmatic Joe Thornton.

My bet? It's gonna be Pat Burns.

A three-time winner of the Jack Adams award, Burns is as blue collar as they come. And mean? Let me tell you, worst dressing down of my career came courtesy of Burns in 1992 when he was coaching the Canadiens and didn't like the way I phrased a question about Gilbert Dionne. If he still has that fire in his belly, and indications from Team Canada's camp suggest he does, he's the man for the job.

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