Lindy Ruff must have woke up Friday morning thinking he had died and gone to a real hockey heaven. His new team needed help down the middle and within a few hours on the eve of free agency, three centers were on their way to Dallas as if they were ordered on Amazon for next-day delivery.
Ruff spent 14-plus seasons in an organization that generally moved at a glacial pace toward mediocrity before getting progressively worse in recent years. The Stars aren’t looking to turn around the franchise as soon as possible. New General Manager Jim Nill has aggressively turned good ideas into action.
It’s quite a concept, albeit a foreign one to a guy like Lindy. You can almost imagine him smiling and shaking his head in disbelief, like a kid who found his name on the biggest box under the Christmas tree.
If this week is any indication, Ruff is going to enjoy his time in Dallas. Nill made two trades Thursday that allowed the Stars to acquire Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley from the Bruins and Shawn Horcoff from the Oilers. They cost the Stars four-time 20-goal scorer Loui Eriksson and four prospects who are 23 or younger.
Was it too much? Maybe. Nobody knows whether the deals will work out, but the Stars deserve credit for taking a gamble and making an attempt to improve. The same can be said for the Bruins. They traded Phil Kessel four years ago for a first-round pick that turned out to be Seguin in an attempt to get better.
Dallas and Boston could be wrong, but at least they’re trying.
Buffalo fans have been conditioned to believe that it takes several years for a team to turn in the right direction. No, it just takes the Sabres several years. For most teams, patience and suffering aren’t requirements so much as common sense and a backbone. Almost every team made an honest effort to significantly improve or keep a good roster intact.
Look at the players who signed on the first day of free agency Friday. Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss landed in Detroit. You never hear about the Red Wings going through a rebuilding phase. They’re continually making moves to win the Stanley Cup, which is what made them attractive to Alfredsson and Weiss.
Nill was hardly the only general manager who was active in the trade market with the idea he could markedly improve his team. Something tells me Jamie McBain wasn’t part of his master plan. Then again, Andrej Sekera probably wasn’t, either. You need assets worth trading in order to acquire players worth having.
Cory Schneider was traded to New Jersey during the draft Sunday. Dave Bolland was sent to Toronto after winning the Stanley Cup with Chicago. He’ll join goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who was acquired from Los Angeles.
Bobby Ryan was shipped Friday from Anaheim to Ottawa for Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first-round pick.
Ruff had to be impressed while watching Nill work Thursday, less than a month after adding veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar in another swap. Seguin has the potential to become a star if he ever gets his act together. He and Peverley helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011. Horcoff is a solid veteran who should be rejuvenated in Dallas.
Evidently, deals were there to be made by teams looking to make them.
Many teams were looking to add scoring. Thomas Vanek should have been traded last season, but he’s still here along with Ryan Miller. Both are losing value, not to mention their desire to stay, with every day they’re stuck in Buffalo.
It goes back to management.
And that starts with … the owner.
Canadian businessman and lifelong hockey fan Tom Gaglardi pulled the Stars out of bankruptcy two years ago and watched them miss the playoffs in his first two seasons. He was raised knowing the importance of keeping customers happy. His family made its fortune in the hotel and restaurant business.
Gaglardi’s biggest decision was firing GM Joe Nieuwendyk, a Cornell-educated and widely respected Hall of Famer who as a player led the Stars to the Stanley Cup over the Sabres in 1999. Ownership didn’t need a lame interview with team media to tell him what Nieuwendyk did wrong. Gaglardi looked at the standings and knew it wasn’t right.
That’s why he turned toward Nill, who spent most of the past 19 years working with a real genius in Ken Holland. You never know how a man will respond in the big chair until he’s forced to build his own team, but Nill is getting results. He hired Ruff, a proven coach who for years was asked to do more with less.
Gaglardi now has an organization that’s inspired to make it work. His players should know the organization is doing whatever it can to improve the roster, but he’s also injecting a healthy dose of discomfort when it comes to job security. Nobody should get too comfortable in Dallas, including the head coach.
It’s another new concept for Ruff, who is moving forward with the Stars while his old team continues to be left behind.