The Dallas Stars made it official today: former Star fan favorite and alternate captain Joe Nieuwendyk has been named the Stars General Manager, replacing Voltron co-GM Hulkson. A fan favorite and alternate captain –as well as the Conn Smythe winner in the Stars’ only successful Cup Final win– Nieuwendyk is considered a rising star in themostly insular world of NHL front office politics.
With the move, co-GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson were “reassigned” to positions that actually seem to make sense: Hull will now be an Executive Vice President and special advisor to owner Tom Hicks, while Jackson will return to the scouting department. While these may be slaps in the face of both men, these moves make plenty of sense from the organizational standpoint: Hull’s not yet (ever?) GM material, while Jackson is far too competent at player development and selection to be worrying about the day-to-day crap GMs are overwhelmed with.
But is this a good move for the Stars? Impossible to tell: Nieuwy’s managerial experience is extremely limited, with just a few years’ worth of helping on on an assistant level for the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs — not exactly the well-oiled model franchises of the NHL.
What is known is that Joe is a proven winner on every conceivable level: from the Cornell lacrosse team, to three Cups in three decades (Calgary in 1989, Dallas in 1999, New Jersey in 2003), Nieuwendyk has made a name for himself as a leader capable of carrying his team to greatness.
In that sense, it’s practically a ‘can’t miss’ decision by the financially-beleaguered Hicks. Just as importantly, the Stars know that everything rises and falls on leadership: Detroit’s had two decades of success because of a strong ownership that filters down through the front office, down through the coaching staff and onto the ice. Les Jackson was certainly extremely competent, but hardly rally-the-troops inspirational; Hull was precisely the opposite. And it doesn’t hurt that the new leadership has nothing whatsoever to do with Sean Avery, either.
Timing the move right before the Stars’ first top-ten draft pick since the Truman administration was no coincidence, either: Hicks obviously wants the #8 pick to fall in with the rest of Jackson’s successful high-round draft picks since the lockout (Mark Fistric, Matt Niskanen, James Neal and Ivan Vishnevskiy), all of whom have played or will soon play a pivotal role as the core of this team. And having Jackson concentrate full-time on this while Nieuwendyk re-vamps the season ticket holder base makes plenty of old-fashioned horse sense.
Time will tell if this works out or doesn’t, but on paper, at least, this move couldn’t have been planned better. At the very least, Stars fans might feel better about the chances of re-signing Niewuwendyk’s former Cup-winning teammates Sergei Zubov and Jere Lehtinen to affordable, team-building contracts this summer.