Stars Move Forward From Jim Montgomery Firing

A Dallas coach was fired and shockingly his name wasn’t Jason Garrett. Jim Montgomery was dismissed from the Dallas Stars due to “unprofessional conduct.” Montgomery had two years remaining on his contract and had his team in playoff position.

“The Dallas Stars expect all of our employees to act with integrity and exhibit professional behavior while working for and representing our organization,” general manager Jim Nill said in a statement. “This decision was made due to unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League.”

Nill said he wouldn’t discuss the incident but he did receive a phone call Sunday which spurred an internal investigation. Many people speculated the incident was similar to Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters’ firing or the Chicago Blackhawks investigation into Marc Crawford. However, a source approached TSN and said the dismissal does not fall into those categories. Nill confirmed this during the press conference. 

Regardless, the incident was egregious enough for Nill to fire his successful head coach. Rick Bowness was placed in charge as the Stars enter a new era.

“There’s a lot of questions that want to be answered and we have some too but we don’t know much,” captain Jamie Benn said. “It’s our job to focus on this game tonight and that’s what we will do.”

Focus is exactly what the Stars did. The Bowness era began with a 2-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils and a defensive masterpiece. They out-shot the Devils 16 to 2 in the first period and renewed an old rivalry with P.K. Subban. Goalie Ben Bishop picked up his first clean sheet of the season.

Related: NHL Rumors: Montgomery, Flyers, Canadiens, Rangers, More

”It was kind of an odd day and not an easy one,” Joe Pavelski said. ”Anytime something like that happens, (playing) is the easiest part.”

Bowness: Experience and Expectations

The Stars are playing well enough to be in Stanley Cup contention and even an interim head coach will have to answer the bell. Bowness brings experience as both a coach and a player with a 123-289-48-3 record as a coach, serving time with Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, and Phoenix Coyotes (now Arizona Coyotes). It’s not the most impressive record but over the last 15 years he has built a name for himself.

As an assistant, Bowness built his name on defense and hardware. During his time with the Vancouver Canucks, they were Stanley Cup finalists and won the Presidents’ Trophy. Victor Hedman won the Norris Trophy during his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In Dallas, he was key to building the Stars’ brick wall penalty kill.

A defensive tactician, Bowness’s squads have been generally stout in their own end. Dallas ranked ninth in expected goals against per 60 minutes of five-on-five play this past season, while his Tampa Bay teams were only outside of the top-seven once in that category during his five-year term there from 2013 to 2018.

Felix Sicard | SB Nation | May 31, 2019

Bowness is a solid option to replace Montgomery. The Stars are already built on defense and he said in his press conference Tuesday that he intends to keep that strategy. The team will continue to focus on limiting opponents’ high quality scoring chances and players like Miro Heiskanen could quickly take a larger role with this game plan. The Stars are only allowing an average of 1.82 goals per game this season and with John Stevens taking the helm on the defense, they will try to continue the trend. 

Rick Bowness Dallas Stars
Rick Bowness, Dallas Stars interim head coach (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The biggest question for Bowness is at forward. The Stars are seeing production further down the lines, but some of the leaders need to take a bigger role, finding answers for Benn and Tyler Seguin. Bowness said in his press conference that he will make the forwards a focus.

Making a Shortlist

Nill says there is no immediate plans to hire a new coach and the current staff will finish the season. Bowness will essentially have his job interview on the ice but if things don’t work, there will be a new bench boss. There are a number of qualified candidates to choose from. Of the NHL’s 31 teams, 20 assistant coaches have head coaching experience, (from ‘Help not available: NHL staffs brimming with ex-head coaches,’ Globe and Mail, 11/26/2019). Four of those assistants are Stanley Cup winners, including Dan Bylsma, Darryl Sutter, and Larry Robinson. 

Darryl Sutter (Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE)

Many NHL coaches have come via the American Hockey League. Twenty-three of the coaches in the NHL have AHL experience, including three in the Central Division. The Stars are loaded with young talent like Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov and Heiskanen and player development is essential for sustained success, so a coach coming from the minors makes sense.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs fired Mike Babcock earlier this season, the franchise promoted Sheldon Keefe from the Toronto Marlies. Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal was promoted to Bowness’ staff Tuesday and could be groomed for the job. Jay Leach, who is with the Providence Bruins, is another AHL coach getting some significant buzz.

If Bowness is unable to keep the Stars in contention, there are a few options here for a new bench boss next season, when another new era might begin.