Losing, costly moves sealed Nieuwendyk’s eventual fate

Posted Sunday, Apr. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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engel Joe Nieuwendyk will forever be remembered for his contributions as a player with the Dallas Stars, and eventually forgotten for his time as a general manager.

The timing of his arrival to the team as a player was perfect but as a GM it was terrible.

Despite so many signs that this franchise may finally be in the right place to do something big with a load of talented young players, Joe had to go.

This is a playoffs league, and regardless of the reasons the Stars never made the postseason in Joe’s tenure in four years.

He whiffed on a pair of coaching hires, and it cost him.

The pathetic state of the Stars is not all on him, but he is part of the reason this franchise resides in a perpetual state of irrelevance.

“I could see it coming a little bit,” Joe said in a phone interview on Sunday afternoon. “The team that played this last 3 1/2 weeks is the team I am most proud to be associated with. They never quit.”

Longtime Detroit Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill will be introduced at a press conference on Monday at the American Airlines Center. Unlike Nieuwendyk, Nill will arrive to the Stars at the ideal time.

Joe sounded neither upset nor surprised in the phone interview. Just a little sad. This was not for a lack of effort, smarts or professionalism on Joe’s part as much as it was timing.

Unlike when he arrived as a player when the team was so close to a Stanley Cup title, when he was hired as a GM they were on an express elevator to crud.

Joe’s tenure as GM will be remembered for residing over the only time in franchise history that the club failed to make the playoffs in four consecutive seasons, which is now up to five.

Joe’s biggest mistake came not necessarily in player moves — although he had a few dogs — but in his ambition to fire coach Dave Tippett as his first move.

Much like Stars owner Tom Gaglardi waited a full season before making a change, Joe should have waited before dumping Tip.

By the way, do not be surprised at all if Tippett is considered a candidate to replace coach Glen Gulutzan, whose contract has expired. Tippett is now the coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, and managed to guide a mostly ownerless team to the playoffs in three of his four years there, including the Western Conference Finals last season.

Tippett’s children are graduated from high school, and although he and his wife built a home in the Phoenix area, it is zero secret that he loved the FW/d area.

His potential availability would depend on what out clauses exist in his contract.

Tippett coached the Stars from 2002 to 2009 when Nieuwendyk replaced him with Marc Crawford in what turned out to be an awful move.

When Joe replaced Crawford after two years with AHL coach Gulutzan, that move yielded the same type of results — no winning. GMs whose teams never make the playoffs never stick around long enough to hire a third head coach.

In fairness to Joe, when he arrived in June of ’09, the owner was basically on his way out, and sold him a bill of goods. I’m not sure Joe would have ever taken this job had he known the financial realities that then-owner Tom Hicks had slapped on this franchise.

This was no longer the owner Joe won a Stanley Cup with. In his place was a man who was trying to dump the team and eventually put it in bankruptcy.

Joe could do nothing other than sign fringe players, and commit to some prospects that weren’t good enough.

And while he was here he was the one who had to say goodbye to Mike Modano, Sergei Zubov, Jere Lehtinen and Marty Turco. There may not have been a GM who could survive such an exodus.

It didn’t help that Joe’s trade of forward James Neal to the Pittsburgh Penguins netted a defenseman in Alex Goligoski who is good, but not that good.

By the time Joe’s commitment to a group of solid prospects began to pay off there were only three weeks remaining in this season.

The team is now loaded with quality young defensemen, wingers and a goalie or two. A lot of that is on Joe’s watch.

When the Stars begin to win again Joe won’t receive any of the credit, which is how pro sports works. He knows.

In the end, this was more a case of bad timing than anything else.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @MacEngelProf

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