By Allan Muir
Jim Lites was never very good at keeping secrets.
Less than 24 hours after the Dallas Stars president let it slip that Lindy Ruff was coming to town, the team made his hiring official this morning.
From the press release:
Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill announced today that the team has hired Lindy Ruff as the 22nd head coach in franchise history and the seventh in Dallas Stars history.
“One of the trademarks of successful organizations is their ability to have continuity and stability for an extended period of time,” said Nill. “It is clear from Lindy’s record, and from our own conversations, that we have found the right person to provide that stability and lead this club to the next level. His steady hand and experience will prove invaluable in returning our team as a top-tier contender in the NHL.”
Stability has been in short supply around the Stars, a team that's been searching for an identity since the end of the Ken Hitchcock era in 2002. Since then, Dallas has gone through four coaches and four general managers (although Brett Hull and Les Jackson served concurrently) while trying to figure out what exactly Stars hockey is supposed to be.
The hiring of Nill this spring was seen as a coup for the organization, and the first step toward redefining the struggling franchise. It doesn't mean the Stars are going to be the Detroit Red Wings South, although some elements, such as a patient and considered approach to prospect development, should be similar. Nor does the decision to go with Ruff necessarily mean the Stars will become a dull, defensively-obsessed machine, although they're certain to be a disciplined group that gets mileage out of all four lines.
Whatever vision the two men share still needs to coalesce, but it's a good bet that Nill will look to add a couple of veterans who can help sell Ruff's message in the room and buy time for a very deep prospect pool in Austin and elsewhere to properly ripen.
The challenge for Ruff will be to prove that he can adapt to new surroundings--and we're not just talking about moving to Dallas here. If his hiring is being met with considerably less enthusiasm locally than that of Nill, it's because there's a sense that his approach isn't in tune with today's game. His Sabres weren't particularly competitive over the past couple seasons, despite an influx of high-priced talent, and that drew criticism aimed at the complacency of his coaching style. Was that the inevitable result of spending 15 years with one team, or because Ruff was too slow to change to meet the emerging challenges of the sport?
More troubling is his record with young players. To his credit, he's not afraid to rely on them, but at the same time there have been some development issues under his watch. Tyler Myers won a Calder in 2010, but his game has stagnated to the point that he had to be benched last season. Luke Adam devolved from a promising first-line power forward into a player who struggled to score in the AHL. And Drew Stafford? Well...
Ruff is experienced, hard working and committed and, in time, those qualities should serve him well in Dallas. But first he has to prove he's not just an old dog. Stars fans have been promised too much, too often over the past few years and they have every right to be skeptical about yet another coach being the answer.
This isn't a slam dunk hire. There are going to be questions. It's up to Ruff now to answer them.
Original story below:
Is Lindy Ruff the new coach of the Dallas Stars?
Apparently, it depends on who team president Jim Lites is speaking to.
Lites was at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon this afternoon when he announced that Ruff would be the team's next coach, "barring unforseen hangups" according to Travis Brown, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter in attendance.
Now Lites is a very smart man, but he can get a little enthusiastic about sharing good news. If that's what he said, well, that's exactly what he meant.
But when Dallas Morning News beat writer Mike Heika got him on the phone, Lites changed his tune a little. Heika tweeted that he said to "tap the brakes," and that the Stars like Ruff a lot, but nothing is done yet.
In other words, it's okay to fire up potential ticket buyers with the news. The media? Not so much.
What's it all mean? The best guess is that they're working out contract details now, and we should have an official announcement within the next 24-48 hours.
If this is the way it plays out, is this the right move for the Stars? Ruff certainly is the antithesis of former coach Glen Gulutzan. He's one of the most experienced and respected minds in the business, a man who guided the Sabres to three conference final appearances and assisted Mike Babcock when Canada won gold at the 2010 Olympics.
But at the same time, the organization is undergoing a massive rebranding program in an effort to re-engage the community. They knocked it out of the park with the hiring of Jim Nill as the team's new general manager, and earned mostly positive reviews for their new sweaters. Handing over the keys to a man who was just fired after his team missed the playoffs for the fourth time in the past six seasons seems less likely to get the phones ringing in the ticket office.