The Dallas Stars pieced together a successful campaign during the 2018-19 season, and a large part of that success was due to the efforts of the coaching staff. Those efforts were noticed across the NHL, and now it could lead to some eventual movement behind the bench.
Exactly one year ago today, the Dallas Stars made the second big move of their 2018 offseason by hiring assistant coach Todd Nelson.
The hiring came just 26 days after the Stars brought Jim Montgomery on board to be the next head coach, leaving him with a high bar to meet and a new coaching staff to form using his own discretion.
One of the first people he called was Nelson, who had initially been rumored to be a candidate for the Stars’ head job. And while Nelson only had limited NHL experience (he served as an interim head coach for 51 games with the Edmonton Oilers in 2014-15), his AHL resume with the Grand Rapids Griffins was extensive.
And so, Montgomery brought another young mind into the fold as he prepared for a new era of Dallas Stars hockey. A few weeks later, the Stars also brought in Rick Bowness to round out the staff alongside Nelson, Stu Barnes, Jeff Reese, and Kelly Forbes.
As the Stars entered the 2018-19 season, there was plenty of cautious uncertainty about where the team could be going. Much of that caution had to do with another brand new coaching staff coming in and whether or not it could immediately succeed.
And while the organization hit some bumps early on, the staff pulled through as Dallas qualified for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, secured a series win in the opening round, and took their second round series against the St. Louis Blues to double overtime in Game 7.
While the players (and even GM Jim Nill for making some sizable moves at the Trade Deadline to improve the lineup) are given much of the credit, we can’t pass up an opportunity to commend the coaching staff.
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In his first year, Montgomery built a playoff-caliber squad behind the Dallas bench. With Montgomery running point, Nelson covering the power play, and Bowness focusing on the defense and penalty kill, the staff found a way to click and keep the team rolling.
What’s perhaps most fascinating about the staff in their first year, though, was their ability to make in-season adjustments. Neither the head coach nor assistants were afraid to change something up within the scheme if they didn’t think it was working out properly and made various changes in an effort to get things clicking again.
As a result, the Dallas Stars put together a playoff-caliber coaching squad that boasted a mixture of young and veteran minds and turned it into one of the most talented squads in the NHL.
And when that happens, you can be assured that other teams are watching.
Shortly after the Stars wrapped up their campaign with exit interview day, it was announced that the Ottawa Senators had set up an interview with Rick Bowness for their head coaching gig. As we now know, he didn’t get the job. But even so, it just goes to show that the interest is there from teams needing new leadership around the NHL.
On Wednesday afternoon, reports arose that Dallas assistant Todd Nelson is a candidate for the Anaheim Ducks’ head coaching spot. It’s an interesting report for a few different reasons.
For starters, Nelson has been an NHL head coaching candidate for a few seasons now. After managing a failing Edmonton Oilers team on an interim basis and setting an impressive standard in the AHL with Grand Rapids, the 50-year-old seems ready to make the jump to the head role.
On another note, the Ducks are the only team still searching for a new head coach. Teams like the Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, and Edmonton Oilers have already hired new coaches on board, leaving Anaheim as the only club that still needs to make a decision before the 2019-20 season (considering St. Louis and Boston won’t be firing their coaches following the Stanley Cup Final).
And so, Nelson’s name is in the mix. Under his leadership, the Dallas power play finished 11th in the NHL with a 21.0 percent success rate. That was 1.7 percent higher than in 2017-18 when the Stars finished in 19th and is their highest finish since the 2015-16 season when they finished fourth and led the NHL in overall goals scored.
“I can’t say enough about the staff. They were great, supportive, and also helped push me to be better. If they get opportunities to leave, I hope they do because that’s what we’re in this business for. That would be a good reflection of the Dallas Stars and what we did.” – Montgomery on his staff during exit interview day
Nelson did a commendable job with adjusting throughout the season, mixing his units up and building a two-headed attack that helped push the Stars through the playoffs at important times. The Dallas power play used creativity and unpredictability throughout the season and met every drought with a surge.
As a result, Nelson proved further proved his NHL worthiness. That’s why he and Bowness are potential head coaching candidates and likely will be down the road as well, assuming that neither one is hired this summer.
But that’s all a part of the game. They’ve earned a chance to take the next step in their career and move on to bigger opportunities. That being said, it’s up for the Stars to take advantage of their expertise while they are with the club and be prepared to make proper changes.
Make sure to keep an eye on the Anaheim Ducks over the next few days. They just might end up bringing in a bright young mind from Dallas. And if they do, that’s only natural. From there, it will be up to the Stars to adjust properly.