By Allan Muir
The Dallas Stars are in the market for a new head coach.
Glen Gulutzan, who'd manned the bench for the past two seasons, had a third year on his contract at the team's option. New general manager Jim Nill informed him today that the team would not extend the option.
Although it took a little longer than was expected, the decision to go in a new direction didn't catch anyone by surprise. After five straight playoff DNQs, including both years under Gulutzan, the Stars are a team in the midst of a significant organizational shakeup. Nill was brought in last month to replace Joe Nieuwendyk and tasked with not just changing the makeup of the team, but the culture of the franchise.
Part of that has to be establishing an identity. Gulutzan's hands were tied there by the mixed bag of players he was handed, but there was never a sense of what this team was supposed to be under his watch. Like a lot of the youngsters on his roster, he might not have been seasoned enough for this level of play.
Assistant Paul Jerrard also was let go, but Curt Fraser and Mike Valley were retained. Valley makes sense. He's developed a close relationship with Kari Lehtonen and helped elevate him to the ranks of the league's top goaltenders. No reason to risk upsetting their star netminder just for the sake of change.
Fraser, the former Atlanta Thashers coach who joined Gulutzan's staff last season to add some veteran presence, is a little more interesting. When Nill was with Detroit, he hired Fraser to coach the Red Wings' top farm team in Grand Rapids, so the two have an established relationship. Fraser looks to be the top internal candidate to replace Gulutzan.
The Stars also have Willie Desjardins, recently honored as the AHL's Coach of the Year, in their system. He's shown a real knack for getting the best out of the organization's prospects -- Philip Larsen and Alex Chiasson blossomed under his tutelage -- so he makes some sense, given the likely influx of these players to the big club next season. Highly regarded Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins could also be in the mix.
That said, owner Tom Gaglardi made a splashy hire in Nill because he needs to change the conversation in a town where the Stars' failures have rendered them an afterthought. The onus might be on Nill to make a similarly high-profile move. Lindy Ruff and Ron Wilson would fit that description, although Wilson's acerbic personality might make him a tough sell.
There's some speculation that Phoenix coach Dave Tippett might be available. Stars fans have bemoaned his firing ever since he was let go in 2009 by Nieuwendyk, and his track record since then speaks for itself. A second act would probably be well received.
But the question with any veteran coach is: will he be willing to work with what's expected to be a very young Stars lineup?