Joe Nieuwendyk and the Dallas Stars dropped a bit of a bombshell on Wednesday when they relieved Dave Tippett of his duties and hired Hockey Night In Canada’s mental midget Marc Crawford. The fallout has fans from Dallas to Canada to Los Angeles weighing in on the Stars swap behind the bench. Was it just time for a change? Did new GM Joe Nieuwendyk want to put his stamp on the team? Can Tippett really be blamed for the Dallas Stars missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-2002 season?
I could get into the merits of the actual dismissal, but I’d be chasing my tail for hours. I completely understand why Nieuwendyk made the move when he did; even though I think Tippett is one of the best coaches in the league. But all organizations need to shake things up from time to time—and that looks like the case here. But after the press conferences end and the media buzz subsides, what are the Stars left with?
Most Kings fans will tell you exactly how they feel about Marc Crawford. Under his guidance, very few of the Kings prized prospects developed as hoped. While they were strong offensively, there was nothing resembling a defensive system for the entire tenure in L.A. The fact is he was using the same coaching strategy that helped him win a Cup in Colorado and multiple 40+ win seasons (4) in Vancouver. But the stay in Los Angeles proved that his past success probably had more to do with the incredible talent on those Avs/Canuck teams and a little less to do with his Crawford’s expertise.
There’s no denying that Marc Crawford has had a successful NHL coaching career. In 13 years, his career record is 470-361-100. But a closer look at Marc Crawford’s career shows that his career statistics are a bit skewed. In 7 seasons in Vancouver, the Canucks only escaped the 1st round ONCE. With players like Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi at their peak; and the Sedin twins entering the NHL, the high flying Canucks were a regular season wonder and post-season blunder for the better part of a decade. While Vancouver was one of the most exciting and highest scoring teams in the league, they were also one of the poorer defensive teams.
The truth is that the successful Avalanche teams of the mid-90’s could have been coached by a monkey. Colorado had some of the best scoring (and scoring depth) in the entire NHL, immeasurable strength on the blueline and was backstopped by arguably the best goaltender of all time. But more important than any positional strength, they had strong LEADERSHIP in the dressing room that made Marc Crawford’s job even easier. I’m telling you, you could have put me in a suit and tie, stuck me behind the bench and I would have gotten to the Western Conference Finals with those teams. And trust me; I have NO business being anywhere near an NHL organization. They were just that good.
On the other hand, most Kings fans have a completely different opinion of Dave Tippett. When he was an assistant coach with the Kings, they had one of the best power plays in the league (the area that he spearheaded). He worked hand-in-hand with Andy Murray to lead the best King teams of the last 15 years earlier this decade (yeah, I know, that’s not saying much). Tippett was the “hot assistant coach” following the 2002 season and ended up as the head man for the Stars. Just about every King fans knew that he would succeed—and succeed he has.
The unique perspective King fans have for the Stars coaching change is that they’ve experienced both. Not only have they experienced both, but it’s been long enough that they can objectively see who the better NHL coach is in this situation. Ask a Kings fan that watched both Tippett and Crawford behind the bench, and most would take Tippett any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Hell, they’d probably taken him over current coach Terry Murray! That’s no disrespect to Terry Murray—it’s just that Dave Tippett is that respected.
With the quick 24-hour turnaround between firing’s and hiring’s, Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk obviously made the conscience decision to replace Dave Tippett with Marc Crawford specifically. For that very reason, it makes me look at the differences between their teams. Under Tippett, Stars fans had come to expect a team that was annually good on special teams, played intelligent two-way hockey and would play with a certain amount of grit. Unfortunately, if the Stars take on the personality of Crawford, all of that will go out the window.
Recently, there have be a different set of terms to describe Marc Crawford led teams. Terms like “undisciplined” and “unmotivated” will be the battle cries of the Stars fanbase. They’ll long for the days of “defensive-responsibility” and they’ll search long and wide for a coach that can mentor young players like Loui Eriksson and James Neal. That’s because Crawford has never been good with defensive philosophies and proved that he was AWFUL developing young talent in Los Angeles.
Bottom line: I see why the Nieuwendyk and the Stars made a change—but this is not the RIGHT change. Maybe they should have looked around and found someone that has a better track record of building a team—not guiding a team that’s already a Cup contender. The only problem is they probably would have found that Dave Tippett would be better than any of their other options.
No one can every really tell for sure which coaches will work out and where. Just remember, in February, there was another coach with Kings ties that we said would be a successful coach in the NHL. If you don’t remember who we were talking about, you can watch him tomorrow night lead the Penguins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Only time will tell if Crawford is the right “fit” for the Stars like Dan Bylsma was for the Pens—but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I was in Big D.