New Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery at his introductory press conference
Jim Montgomery may share the same first name as his new bosses, but he's bringing a fresh approach to the Dallas Stars.
When Montgomery was announced as the 23rd coach in franchise history on Friday morning, he shared a few laughs with Stars CEO Jim Lites and general manager Jim Nill over the nominal confusion that is likely to occur from time-time. The coach declared he will go by 'Monty' to differentiate himself from the two executives.
While the three exuded a positive attitude overall, there was a faint whiff of 'nothing to see here folks,' in terms of the discussion surrounding the team's calamitous finish last season.
On Feb. 17, Dallas occupied second place in the Central Division and third place in a deep Western Conference. Over the next 21 games, Ken Hitchcock's team picked up just 16 points before being eliminated from playoff contention on April 1.
Hitchcock, who retired last month, stressed a defense first-and-last philosophy. While Nill lauded the future hall of fame coach for his contributions, he acknowledged the franchise needed to cast a wide net in its search to find the team's third coach in as many seasons.
Nill said he had discussions with 25 to 30 coaches, but only 10 were seriously considered for the job. In his view, there's one reason among many that the 48-year-old Montgomery stood above the other finalists.
"We analyzed every team and we said 'where are they at with their coaching?' " Nill said. "That was the great part about the process is that we said 'let's open our minds up a little bit.' We knew there were going to be some great veteran coaches out there, but we said 'Is it time? Do we need to evolve a little bit here?'
In the end, you've seen the success of these young coaches and where the league is going. That brought him into the loop and he did the rest."
It's no coincidence that seven of the eight remaining playoff contenders finished in the top 10 in scoring for the 2017-2018 regular season.
Montgomery certainly fits that mold. In four of his five seasons as the head coach at the University of Denver, his teams finished in the top 10 in the country in scoring. Thanks to that consistently prolific offensive output, Montgomery compiled a record of 125-57-26. In April 2017 he helped lead the Pioneers to their eighth national championship in school history.
Judging from his comments on Friday, it seems as though he will continue to rely on what's gotten him to this point.
“It’s going to be relentless. We are going to be a puck-possession team and we are going to try to make plays everywhere on the ice,” Montgomery said. “When we don’t have the puck, we are going to pressure you so we can get it back and make more plays.”
And while his latest hire does not have any experience coaching at the pro level, Nill did not seem overly concerned. He pointed to the Red Wings decision to hire Scotty Bowman and later, Mike Babcock. At the time, he said few could have predicted that the former would become a hall of famer, and the latter will likely join him. And Nill would know, he served as an assistant general manager for 15 seasons under Ken Holland in Detroit.
In recent years, teams such as the Boston Bruins (Bruce Cassidy), Tampa Bay Lightning (Jon Cooper) and Philadelphia Flyers (Dave Hakstol), among others, have enjoyed success by hiring individuals who preach up-tempo styles and have little-to-no NHL head coaching experience.
Nill made an incredibly positive impression in their first meeting. However, despite his strictly college pedigree, landing their top choice wasn't as easy as shooting on an empty net.
Montgomery was reportedly the leading candidate to take over as the head coach of the Florida Panthers last spring until he removed his name from consideration. Longtime NHL writer Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported that the Rangers were 'very impressed' with Montgomery during their search process earlier this off-season.
Ultimately, the quality of life in the Dallas area, the enthusiasm from ownership and upper-management, as well as the chance to coach in the NHL with this team won him over.
“We loved our life in Denver and I loved my job,” Montgomery said. “The only way we were going to move from a great situation was for an opportunity that was better.”
Counting the regular season and the NCAA Tournament, college teams only play 40 to 50 games. Now, he'll need to get used to the rigors of an 82-game NHL schedule
Because the Stars' current roster has a heavy does of talent at the top of the lineup such as captain Jamie Benn and forwards Tyler Seguin and Radek Faksa. There seems to be some young talent on the way, too, including defensemen Julius Honka and Miro Heiskanen.
Montgomery recognized he's going to be juggling all of those moving parts. In addition to mixing and matching players on the ice, he'll also have to figure out how to manage players off it. Assistant captain Tyler Seguin and especially captain Jamie Benn have a well-established presence in a locker room that, by Nill's own admission, probably won't see a ton of turnover between now and the start of next season.
As a college player, Montgomery was a standout at the University of Maine. He bounced around hockey from 1993 to 2005, but only saw action in NHL 122 games for five different teams (including nine with the Dallas Stars). He spent the rest of his time playing in various minor leagues.
"I think you can always draw from your playing days," Montgomery said. "When I was in the American League I was a go-to player. When I was in the NHL, I was patting guys [saying] 'get over the boards and go get us a goal.' Watching that help me formulate my ideas."
When he was asked Friday about what team style he liked, Montgomery gave a very un-Hitchcockian response.
"I think I steal from everybody, to be honest" he said.
"If it fits, we're going to use it and it's going to make us better."