Over this week we will be breaking down and grading the Dallas Stars, looking in depth at players and grading their season while looking at both their numbers and the things that don’t show up on the scoresheet. But first I wanted to start the series by looking just above the players, and give my thoughts on their head coach and his first season.
When Joe Nieuwendyk stepped forward and fired Marc Crawford last offseason, the Stars and GM Joe had some options when looking for the next coach of the Dallas Stars. In the end Nieuwendyk picked his next head coach from within the franchise, picking Glen Gulutzan. Gully of course was the head coach of the Texas Stars for two seasons before taking the leap to the NHL, with a 87-56-17 record and two playoff appearances while coaching the Stars’ AHL affiliate.
In the Stars’ first season under Gulutzan, things definitely looked up compared to last season under Crawford. Maybe it was that the team was not expected to make it far, or that they were “bottom-feeders” with Brad Richards and an owner. But in the end Gulutzan led this year’s Dallas Stars right back to where they were last April: right outside of the playoff picture. The Stars were in the chase with another strong start to the season and some surprising stretches in the middle, but after the final buzzer of regular season blew, they again were done for the year.
So what are my thoughts on his first season? If I had to give a pass or fail grade, I think most of us would agree that Glen Gulutzan passed. And I know he did in my book. Did they miss the playoffs again? Yes. Did he and the coaching staff miss on some things? Yes. But the one thing I know for sure is that I’m satisfied with his results, where I wasn’t with Crawford’s.
The penalty kill for the most part was improved and acceptable, compared to lackluster and weak before this season. He implemented a zone-coverage type of setup to the PK, helped bring young guys like Mark Fistric and Philip Larsen along defensively, and it likely helped that Sheldon Souray finally gave the Stars a big body to clear the crease. He also showed that he was willing to change up the lines often during even strength play when things weren’t working, and surprised me when Brenden Morrow was thrown down to the 4th line when things weren’t working out after he returned from the IR.
But there are two things that will definitely need to improve. First the powerplay. By now we all know that the Stars finished with the worst powerplay ever. Think about that. Worse than expansion teams, worse than the Columbus Blue Jackets, worst ever! It was puzzling to me why Jamie Benn did not see more time with the man advantage and why the Stars did not try some different things. It is obvious that they are lacking in talent compared to many NHL teams (and that will change now), but it was still painful to watch many nights. Along with that the Stars have to figure out something about their play in back-to-back situations. A record of 1-11-2 during the second games of back-to-backs is awful as well, and simply one or two wins in those 13 defeats could have earned the Stars a playoff berth.
In the end, I think Gulutzan did okay and he definitely earned a pass from me. But the pressure to improve and change things for the better will definitely be there next season. Final Grade: C+, Good enough to pass but needs improvement.