The first offseason item for the Dallas Stars will be to remove head coach Lindy Ruff. The Stars’ season of hot smelly garbage concludes on Saturday night against Colorado, and it would be a shock to see Ruff last beyond Wednesday.
Of the major sports leagues, the head coach in the NHL is the most diaper-like. He is he the easiest change to make, even if it smells. A Stars source told me earlier this season if the Stars did not make the playoffs he would be let go.
On Thursday morning, I asked Ruff if he and GM Jim Nill have had any discussion about next season.
“No,” Ruff said. “We’ll worry about that stuff after the year.”
Yeah ... he’s gone.
There is no way this is not happening one year after the Stars were the best team in the Western Conference and now will miss the playoffs. The team checked out on him long ago. General manager Jim Nill is going nowhere.
But make no mistake, this season is a red-Sharpie “F” from the top to bottom.
With two games remaining, the Stars have 77 points. They are primed for their worst point total in a full schedule since they finished with 83 in 2008-’09.
“We had injuries, and all of that can be a good excuse but we didn’t play good enough. It’s plain and simple,” All-Star forward Jamie Benn said Thursday morning. “For the most part, it was our top guys, myself included, that were not good enough.”
Nill will have many items to address this offsesason, beginning with flushing one of his Finnish goalies, and then finding a coach who will instill defense all over the ice.
Goalie Kari Lehtonen has one year at $5 million remaining on his wretched contract the Stars gave him back when Abe Lincoln was President. Expect the Stars to buyout Lehtonen and go with Antti Niemi, and a young player in net.
The Stars’ trash season is not all on Fin 1 and Fin 2; the defense in front of them was consistently terrible. Name a defensive statistic this season and the Stars were near the bottom in the NHL. Start with the Stars allowing an average of 3.13 goals per game, tied for third worst in the NHL, and go from there.
Ruff said the decision to change this team’s structure in December was a necessity and that it must remain in place for the future. The idea the Stars can win by simply out-scoring teams without putting a premium on defense is crack pipe dream.
Much to the disappointment of the NHL offices, which desperately wants scoring, NHL teams have once again figured out a way to defend the game against high-scoring offenses.
“I think you see every year the team that wins the Stanley Cup pays attention to the defense the most,” Benn said. “If you don’t do that you are not going to win. I think that’s a fair comment to say — we need to focus more on defense. The league has adapted to the things teams do to score goals. We have to find a way to be more defensively minded.”
After Ruff and Lehtonen are shipped out, expect Nill to focus on finding few defenders. Expect him to look for a defensive oriented forward. Don’t be shocked if he leans on Valeri Nichushkin to return to the Stars after his one-year stay in Russia.
Then expect the Stars to fully embrace that if they are to return to the playoffs they must defend. It’s the only way to avoid another smelly, hot garbage playoff-less season.