Jim Nill’s job status comes down to someone who is not legally old enough to drink a Shiner.
The general manager of the Dallas Stars enters his sixth season knowing this is it. The Stars either make the playoffs, or he’s out.
His tenure mostly depends on a kid. A big kid. A talented kid who has been compared to one of the best players in the history of the game.
But Miro Heiskanen is still a kid. He’s 19.
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The third overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft is scheduled to make his NHL debut on Thursday night in the Stars’ season opener.
Miro is Jim Nill’s version of Niklas Lidstrom, and will save the franchise much the way Lidstrom did in Detroit for more than a decade. If he’s not, Nill will be out of a job in the spring.
“It’s the toughest position to play. A little bit of it is the system,” Nill said, “and it’s patience.”
Nill does not have the luxury of the latter.
No team continues to deliver combination of hope with disappointment quite like the Stars. Every year “It’s going to be different” and it never is; Heiskanen is the kid good enough to make it all different.
The only thing Nill has not done since he arrived to the Dallas Stars in April of 2013 is either find, or develop, a dominant defenseman.
The NHL has evolved from all about the skating forwards, to the goalie, to the state where it is now: If you don’t have a great D man, go home.
As a result, for now nearly a decade, the Stars have floundered between hope, irrelevance and disappointment.
Since we are at the season opener, here is the hope: Nill has the goalie in Ben Bishop. Nill has All Star forwards in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Nill has a top tier defenseman in John Klingberg.
The need: Heiskanen to be great. Nill needs that for the Stars to break out of their Carolina Hurricanes/Edmonton Oilers pattern of being good enough to miss the playoffs.
This is unfair to the kid, but Heiskanen has to be more than just a talented rookie for this team this year.
Staffers love him, and are quietly confident he is the The One. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, Heiskanen is hardly a monster. Neither are Drew Doughty or Erik Karlsson, two of the best current defensemen in the NHL.
And Heiskanen is just about the exact same size as Lidstrom.
Lidstrom won seven Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best defenseman, and ... enough of Lidstrom.
Heiskanen is not Nik Lidstrom.
He doesn’t have to be, but he must be a big hit for Nill and this franchise. The team cannot afford to have missed when they selected him No. 3 overall.
Nill has had his share of hits with the franchise, but finding a D-man has been a Dee-saster.
It’s a tired point but the Stars can’t afford another playoff-less year. Specifically Nill can’t. His teams have been in the playoffs two out of his five seasons.
Owner Tom Gaglardi, who is from and lives in Canada, is a hockey guy who won’t wait forever for Nill’s plan to yield the results he needs. Gags is not going to show Jerry Jones-like patience towards Jason Garrett. He already has.
Nill is now on his third coach, this time Jim Montgomery who has never coached in the NHL but thrived at the University of Denver.
Having been in the game for 40 years, Nill does not say it but he knows this is it.
“I don’t worry about it; I know that’s the business,” he said. “Do I feel it? No. My job is to make the best decision for the team, and ownership. That’s sports. That’s life.”
He needs Miro Haiskenen to hit right now.
Nill’s job depends on it.