Nominal Moves by Nieuwendyk Raise Questions on Tippett Dismissal

Elbow Murderpants@@ElbowmurderpantCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2009

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 27: Joe Nieuwendyk of the Dallas Stars photographed during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at the Bell Centre on June 27, 2009 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

One can certainly understand the logic in limiting the amount of transactions the Dallas Stars would execute in the offseason prior to the 2009-10 campaign, but it does raise an interesting question regarding the firing of former head coach Dave Tippett.

It might seem a little late for speculation now, but it may, indeed, be worth a moment of reflection for the purpose of uncovering the true reasons behind replacing such a talented coach.  

This ponderance is in no way meant to criticize Joe Nieuwendyk’s performance as GM, or Marc Crawford’s potential value as Tippett’s replacement.

Joe Nieuwendyk a born winner who seems to possess the measured optimism and sensible hockey acumen it takes to be a very successful GM in the NHL. And Marc Crawford appears to be ready to return to his winning form despite a distinct lack of recent accolades.

Still, after a dismal performance by the Stars last season and a reasonably good free agent market this summer, it was interesting to watch Nieuwendyk take a very conservative approach to changing the roster. 

There’s no doubt that the poor season posted by the Stars in '08-'09 was chiefly the result of injuries to key players. Brendan Morrow was out for most of the season, Sergei Zubov missed the year, Brad Richards was mostly absent with an injury and re-injury, and then there were a handful of ancillary rehabs for a couple of other players.

That’s why, even though the franchise had the perfect alibi, it was surprising to watch Nieuwendyk state that injuries were not an acceptable excuse and then summarily dismiss Dave Tippett.

Though one could argue that six years without a serious Stanley Cup run is reasonable grounds for a coaching change in this competitive league, the numbers put up by Tippett over his tenure (271 wins/156 losses/28 ties/37 OTLs) hardly warrant getting the toe after an injury-riddled season.

With the exception of the 2008-09 schedule, Tippet never failed to post more wins than losses and posted back-to-back 50 win seasons. So why the brush-off after one failed campaign?

Good question.

Going into this summer’s free agent signing period, Joe Nieuwendyk seemed poised to make a few serious roster additions or subtractions. But it never really happened.

His lack of action, so far, (there’s still time and potential opportunities for significant changes before the season begins) seem to suggest that Nieuwendyk believes that the proper players are already in place, and that this will be a “do-over” year for the Stars.

Fair enough! But this same point-of-view intimates that the blame for last year’s performance lies directly at the feet of Dave Tippett. Again, Tippett’s stats over six seasons fail to make a truly compelling argument for dismissal.

Clearly something went wrong between Tippett and the players…something that the win/loss stats of '08-'09 can only allude to.

Now consider this: Since he first donned a green and gold jersey in Minnesota and on until today, Mike Thomas Modano Jr. has been the “Golden Boy” of the franchise.

Though years of flashy play with defensive liability, and forward into an era where he became a more well-rounded player, (thanks to the efforts of Bob Gainey and Ken Hitchcock) Modano has perpetually skated somewhere a few feet above any negative criticism from the lips of his hometown fans—in either Texas or Minnesota.

For the most part, Mike Modano has been protected from any discouraging word by Stars management, local fans, local media, and his teammates like a special needs child. —Or he was, at least, until Sunday, Mar. 8, 2009.

After a particularly frustrating loss, Tippett did the unthinkable. He pointed a finger (though not exclusively) at the mighty Mo. 

This, my friends, is just not done here in Dallas. 

Removing the “C” from his jersey in 2006 was one thing, but finally calling him out for not living up to his legend after years of no accountability, only adoration, is quite another.

Even though Modano, the reputed best player on the team, was a horrid minus 13 for the year (led the team) and was ranked fifth in points (after even Brad Richards who missed 24 games) it is extremely plausible that Tippett’s finger pointing was one of the things that led to his ultimate demise.

On a local sports radio interview, just before Tippett was fired, Nieuwendyk stated that he, “wanted to get Dave’s (Tippett’s) side of the story...”: This logically suggests that there was a story with two sides going on behind the scenes at the American Airlines Center—one that may have had less to do with a losing season and more to do with a sacred cow in the locker room. 

Speculation? Absolutely.

Impossible? I wouldn’t bet on it.


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