Two years and one month. That is how long the Dallas Stars have had Joe Nieuwendyk at the helm, and it could continue for many years. The former Stars center and hero during the glorious playoff years of the late 90s has brought about some changes, and looking back now, they have been some big changes.
Joe came in as the GM, bound and determined to change the Dallas Stars and get this team back into their former competitive ways. And while many of the changes Joe made have been questioned over the last two seasons, most everyone agrees now that almost everything he has done has been good for the team. It all of course started with the firing of then coach Dave Tippett during his first week on the job. This may be the one thing that has been questioned the most in Joe’s time here. While things had not been great under the final days of Tip’s time in Dallas, he did have a system that had produced numerous trips to the playoffs for the team, even if they only had one successful run once they got there.
While the two seasons with Marc Crawford as head coach did not go as good as hoped, we did see the Stars start to fully rebuild the team. This should have probably been done in the past already, but for years the team tried to remain competitive and brought up new players as needed. Nieuwendyk changed that, and started switching out veterans for youth and giving players chances to grow. Under Joe we have watched the departure of long-time cornerstones Mike Modano and Marty Turco, the team trade for young but injury-prone Kari Lehtonen, the addition that then seemed minor of fan favorite Adam Burish, and then the trade this last season that brought over Alex Goligoski.
Looking back at trades and moves, plenty of people questioned things Joe did when he did them. I was one of the first to question openly letting Modano leave. While I wanted to let some of the young kids get more ice time, I did not think letting Modano leave town was right. Turns out he did very little for Detroit (mostly because of a serious injury), and it looks like he is going to retire after trying to just give it one more run. Lehtonen? At the time I was okay with the deal, and a lot of the fanbase was split down the middle. We needed defensive prospects, and Vishnevskiy was a promising looking offensive-dman. But fast forward and the Stars now look like they came away like bandits in the deal. Vishnevskiy was traded by Atlanta to Chicago just a couple months later, and this summer left North America by signing to go play in Russia. Kari responded by showing he could be healthy and becoming the Stars workhorse this last season. He compiled a 34-24 record with a nice 2.55 GAA, and showed that he still has that promise that once made him a top prospect.
Then this last season he made the deal for Goligoski. Right away plenty of media members and fans said that the Pittsburgh Penguins pulled a fast one on Nieuwy. The Pens received a top-six, young power-forward in James Neal and a former first round pick in Matt Niskanen. Dallas took home a blueliner that was the 3rd or 4th best on the Pens. But when you really looked at the deal, you could see that the Stars might have made a smart deal for them too. Niskanen had a good rookie year, but since had been very disappointing and it was not getting any better. Neal was a nice young forward, but at times had problems with consistency when you really looked at it and moving him saved the Stars a little more money. What really started to change some minds was when Alex started anchoring Dallas down the stretch and immediately became the Stars top PP and puck-moving defenseman.
While a lot of people still question Joe (especially on the whole Brad Richards saga that ended poorly for the Stars), when you look back on some of the moves he has made and tough decisions, then you have to feel a little confident with Nieuwendyk at the helm. He has done all of this with limited resources and financial flexibility, and then you throw on top how the team drafted the last two summers, and I look forward to the future when he actually has resources and backing that many other GM’s have.