The Dallas Stars made an unexpected move on Tuesday morning by announcing the firing of head coach Jim Montgomery. And upon GM Jim Nill, interim head coach Rick Bowness, and various Stars players addressing the media, there’s still a matter of uncertainty lingering as the team tries to get past the shock and prepare for the road ahead.
On Monday afternoon, Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery addressed the media following the team’s practice in Frisco. He acted as his usual self, cracking jokes with several media members about lineup changes and talking about the team’s preparation for their game against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.
On Tuesday morning, it was announced that he had been fired by the team and assistant coach Rick Bowness would take over as interim head coach.
And if you’re wondering why this all happened so suddenly, you’re not alone.
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What about Montgomery’s track record? After being hired on May 4, 2018 and becoming just the fifth coach in history to jump directly from college hockey to the NHL, Montgomery had done nothing but good things for the team.
After a shaky start in the 2018-19 campaign, the Stars surged in the second half of the season and secured a playoff spot for the first time since 2016. They defeated the Nashville Predators in six games in the first round and took the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues to double overtime of Game 7 in the second round before falling in a 2-1 loss.
To begin the 2019-20 season, the 50-year-old coach had his team on an unexpected and disastrous 1-7-1 skid before righting the ship with a 16-4-2 surge that now has them sitting sixth in the Western Conference standings and holding the first wild card spot.
His track record had been uprightly positive and he seemed to be molding the Dallas Stars into a legitimate contender for years to come.
Now, he’s unemployed and Bowness is taking over behind the bench.
Shortly after the press release was sent out and the news was made official, Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill addressed the media following the team’s morning skate.
Nill pointed out that he was made aware of a situation on Sunday evening regarding a Stars employee that had happened a few days prior. That prompted an internal investigation, which led to various conversations with the Stars’ ownership team, management, and other general counsel. Upon concluding the investigation and meetings, he made the decision to fire Montgomery.
“It was determined that there was a material act of unprofessionalism contrary to the values and standards held by the Dallas stars organization,” Nill said. “It’s very clear that this cannot be tolerated. Therefore, we have relieved Jim Montgomery of his duties immediately.”
Nill clarified his statement and assured the media that it was not based on the team’s on-ice performance (which makes sense, considering they are 17-11-3 at the moment) nor did it have to do with any past or present players.
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) December 10, 2019
“It’s an honor and a privilege to work in the NHL and it’s the standard we’re all held accountable to as an employee of the Dallas Stars organization,” Nill said. “This decision was not, I repeat, was not based on on-ice performance. And there’s no connection to any past or present players.”
But as the microphones were passed around the media in attendance, there were a lot of questions left without direct answers.
What was the act of unprofessionalism?
“I’m not going to discuss the act. Unfortunately, we can’t. That’s where I stand on that comment.”
Why can’t you discuss it?
“It’s out of respect for everyone involved. As I mentioned per my statement, we decided it was unprofessional, so a decision had to be made.”
What did the investigation entail?
“We went through all the records and the information we received. This all came to light on Sunday and once I received all the information, we sat down to digest everything. We talked to general counsel and made our decision.”
Nill clarified that the act had nothing to do with any other employees or players (both past and present) and that it was also not in violation of the NHL’s four-point initiative to help further stop player abuse. In addition, Nill said that there would be no criminal investigation and all happened internally.
“I have a lot of respect for Jim Montgomery,” Nill said. “He’s a very good coach. Unfortunately, sometimes in life, the hardest decisions are the toughest and this is one of them.”
This was a blindside for the entire organization, from the coaches and players down to everyone in the media.
Bowness found out about the firing and his promotion on Tuesday morning. The players realized something was out of the ordinary when they arrived at the American Airlines Center and found the Stars’ top officials and executives waiting for them before a team meeting was held to announce the changes. Everyone was, well, shocked.
“It’s confusion and shock,” Tyler Seguin said. “It’s definitely sad. I really liked Monty. He’s a great coach. I was saying all along that I was looking forward to this being the last coach of my Stars career. Like I said, stuff happens that’s not in my control or the guys’ control.
“We trust our management and our GM Jim Nill. Whatever happened, that was a decision made by them. We support them and it’s time to get to work tonight.”
“It’s a huge shock,” Benn said. “Definitely didn’t expect that one and still shocked. It’s pretty crazy that we are talking about this, but we’re going to try and focus on this game tonight.
“We all want to know all of the answers, but that’s not the case. We believe that Jim Nill and the organization made the right move, so we’ll trust in them and move forward.”
In addition, the players were not told about the details of the event or what Montgomery did.
How this all came about is still uncertain, but that is how it’s supposed to be sometimes. Being curious is expected, but demanding answers isn’t going to get you very far. Nill released very little new information, and that’s likely for a good reason.
The question now is: how will the team move forward?
With Montgomery now out of the fold, assistant coach Rick Bowness will take over behind the bench. Bowness last served as a head coach in the NHL during the 2003-04 season when he was with the Phoenix Coyotes and said that he asked for a little patience from the forwards in tonight’s game as he ran the forward lines.
“It’s a huge shock for you and for all of us to come in here this morning and find this news. Usually when a coach takes over a team, they’re struggling or in the process of selling everything. But I’m in the fortunate position that Monty is an excellent coach and has got this team playing very, very well. There’s no question it’s a shock to all of us, but the cold reality of it is we have a game to play tonight and we’re men and we’re professionals. This is what we signed up for. As much of a distraction as it is, we’re going to have to set it aside and get ourselves mentally and physically prepared to play tonight.” — Stars head coach Rick Bowness
“That’s where we’re fortunate,” Nill said. “We sat down as a staff and discussed that we had some different options. Rick’s been around a long time and has done a great job. I think he manages his staff very well, and I just think he was the right choice for the organization with where we’re at right now.
“But we’re very fortunate; all three of them could be head coaches, including Derek Laxdal. So, we’re in a good position that way. I think that’s going to help our transition as we move forward.”
“We’ve got a good team, and I’ve talked to enough of the players and they’re confident we have a very good team,” Bowness added. “If we play like we have the last six weeks, we’re going to be fine. That’s our goal as a staff, just continue what we’re doing. We just have to stay focused and execute.”
Bowness had run the defense and penalty kill for the Stars during Montgomery’s tenure and mentioned that he will still play a role in the defensive and penalty kill game. But for now, he will take over the forward lines, while Stevens will run the defense. In addition, Laxdal will coach the power play and Nelson will continue serving as an “eye in the sky” during games and providing the team with tips and rundowns during the game.
And now, the Dallas Stars have a hockey game to play against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night. That in and of itself can be daunting enough when you step back and look at it. This team just unexpected wrapped up a 60-43-10 stretch with a brand new head coach and had their sights set on big things. And while the end goal remains the same, there’s a new breath of uncertainty lingering.
But the Stars’ top leaders on the ice are prepared to not let it get in the way.
“Say what you want about whatever’s going on here,” Seguin said, “but Monty built a great foundation here and he’s put us back in a great position. We’re fighting for the playoffs here. We’re not getting four new coaches here. Everyone has been here, the players have been here, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity tonight.”
“It’s just one thing after another,” Benn added. “A big part about our group is that we’re resilient and we have a lot of character. When obstacles get thrown in our way, we manage to deal with it and figure out a way to get through it together. That’s what we’ll do again with this situation.”
“We’re going to keep playing Dallas Stars hockey.”