Much has been made in the media of late about how Jim Nill has completely revamped the Dallas Stars in such a short time, and rightfully so. On the Fourth of July 2013, Nill took the Stars from a team with virtually no depth at center to a team who suddenly had a legit top line scoring threat in Tyler Seguin, a former NHL captain in Shawn Horcoff and an underrated utility man in Rich Peverley, all in a single day. This summer, Nill gave the Stars depth with the trade for Jason Spezza and the free agent signings of Ales Hemsky, Anders Lindback and Patrick Eaves. Many hockey outlets are already championing Nill as an early GM of the Year candidate.
While Nill has done some great things in his short tenure, Stars fans should take a second to thank Joe Nieuwendyk. The revitalization of Dallas is in large part to Nill, but GMJN1 laid the foundation that has helped to enable Nill to do what he has. Of course there were clear misses (like letting go of Dave Tippett), and GMJN1 had some very tough decisions to make, such as moving on from former teammate and friend Mike Modano, team captain Brenden Morrow, and fan favorite Steve Ott, but with the hindsight that time allows, I believe in the long run this franchise is better off due to Nieuwendyk’s moves.
First and foremost, Nieuwendyk traded for Kari Lehtonen, giving up Ivan Vishnevskiy in the most lopsided trade in the Stars favor since acquiring Sergei Zubov for Kevin Hatcher. Lehtonen has proved to be among the elite goalies in the league today, and the Stars wouldn’t be anywhere close to where they are without his ability to carry the team at times.
While he certainly got some heat at the time of the trade (and for a long while since), trading James Neal and Matt Niskanen in exchange for Alex Goligoski doesn’t seem as lopsided now as it did then. Sure Neal has put up some fantastic point totals, but playing alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin tends to increase production. Niskanen just got a big contract from the Washington Capitals in a case of free agent frenzy and limited options. Goligoski meanwhile just had his best season not just as a Star, but arguably as a professional, and is locked in as the top defender for Dallas.
Nieuwendyk also had the foresight to exchange Mike Ribeiro for Cody Eakin and a second round draft choice. The Stars would have been lost without Eakin last season, who filled in admirably in a second line role, and has found a real chemistry with Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt. A case could be made that the trio is the best third line in the NHL. Ribeiro meanwhile had a good season with the Caps (thanks in large part to some unknown player by the name of Alex Ovechkin), but struggled to the extent of becoming a buyout casualty with Arizona.
GMJN1 brought on Brenden Dillon, who has blossomed to the third best defenseman on the roster, and one that the Stars will likely see on their blue line for years to come. On a team with a smaller blue line, Dillon is quite possibly the most physical defender Dallas has, and a key piece this franchise is building around.
Perhaps one of the most important things Nieuwendyk did was stock up on talent and depth at the AHL level, and turn the Dallas prospect pipeline from one of the worst to the best. Nill has mentioned repeatedly during his press conferences that the Stars have the depth of prospects to be able to give to get a top tier player like a Seguin or Spezza. During the tenure of GMJN1, the Stars drafted Alex Chiasson (used in the Spezza trade), Riley Smith (used in the Seguin trade), Jack Campbell, Patrik Nemeth, Scott Glennie, John Klingberg and Jamie Oleksiak among others.
While most will remember Nieuwendyk’s tenure with Dallas as a black period for the Stars, he did some very important work for the future of the franchise. Keep in mind that GMJN1 operated in large part without a true owner to sign checks, leading to a league floor payroll and while the Stars missed the playoffs each season during his tenure, they were very close on multiple occasions to breaking that barrier. He did the best he could with what he had, and while Nill deservedly gets praise for what he has done, Nieuwendyk deserves a share of the credit as well.
As always, I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading and go Stars!
Tags: Dallas Stars