Dallas Stars owner Tom Gaglardi said he hates the cliché term “culture change” that is thrown around at the news conferences of a struggling organization.
But after his team missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, that’s just what he got in the Stars’ front office.
On Monday, Gaglardi announced the hiring of general manager Jim Nill during a news conference.
Nill replaces Stars on-ice legend and former general manager Joe Nieuwendyk after spending 20 seasons in the Red Wings’ front office, the last 15 as assistant general manager. In his tenure as Detroit’s assistant GM, the Red Wings flourished as one of the best organizations in the NHL, winning four Stanley Cups, six Presidents’ Trophies, 12 Central Division titles and seven Western Conference titles. Detroit never missed the playoffs in those 15 years.
Interestingly, the last time the Red Wings failed to reach the playoffs, he was a right wing on the team.
“The last time the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs I was a player, so just so you know, you got the manager, not the player,” Nill joked.
Nill received numerous offers from other teams throughout his career in Detroit, but it was Gaglardi and Stars president Jim Lites’ pitch that sold him on leaving for Dallas, Nill said.
“It’s been so great in Detroit that it had to be the right fit,” he said. “I met with Jim and I met with Tom, and I new this was the right fit.”
Nill’s arrival in Dallas will begin his first stint as a general manager, but his background with Detroit made him the prime candidate for the job. Charged with heading up Detroit’s draft operations and player development, Nill could be credited with the current success of players such as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Jimmy Howard and Johan Franzen.
Operating under a new collective bargaining agreement, Nill believes solid drafting and player development are the only ways to stay competitive in the continually changing NHL.
“In this new CBA, [the league] evolves every two or three years, and you have to stay four or five years ahead of that,” Nill said. “The teams that do best are going to be the teams that stay consistently in the playoffs. To really build a successful team, you need two or three drafts where four or five players come up at the same time.”
Nill said he believes the young group of Stars players can lay a foundation for future success, which is why he is heading to Cedar Park very soon to watch the Stars’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars, in the Calder Cup playoffs. That short trip between the two affiliated clubs was another huge selling point for the Stars’ GM job, Nill said.
Over the next two weeks, Nill will get to know all of the current Stars staff and said that only after that would he begin to make decisions on who will remain next season, most notably head coach Glen Gulutzan.
Before the puck hits the ice for the first time in the 2013-14 season, there undoubtedly will be change in and around the Stars’ organization, “cultural” or otherwise.
“I’ve been in hockey too long,” Nill said. “I’m from Canada. I didn’t want to go to a market where you’re on the back page. I know in Dallas, if we get this going, we’re going to be on the front page.”