Last night, Joe Nieuwendyk was fired from his position as General Manager of the Dallas Stars and replaced by Wings assistant GM Jim Nill. He is just the latest example of a star player that failed to effectively translate into the general manager’s role and he will most certainly not be the last. But there are definitely some lessons to be learned from Nieuwendyk’s four-year tenure. Namely being a hometown star, pun fully intended, doesn’t necessarily translate into the front office. Dallas has learned this all too well, and now will need to do some legitimate work to get back to the place they were in 1999.
Nieuwendyk took the position of Stars GM in May of 2009 relieving the tandem of Les Jackson and Brett Hull, perhaps an even more notable star, from the position. He actually began his tenure fairly well, inheriting a team that failed to make the playoffs the season prior. His first real trade of note was a good one, acquiring goalie Kari Lehtonen from the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth round pick. Nieuwendyk did little of note in free agency early on in his tenure, although overall he probably lost more than he gained. On the ice his team gave a lacklustre performance, finishing twelfth in the Western Conference and last in their division.
It was truly the next year that changed Nieuwendyk’s reputation with the Dallas Stars. In fact it could all be attributed to a single trade. In the second year he didn’t do anything of note save for one trade. The free agency period for Dallas was once again uneventful as were the other trades he made. But at the trade deadline he would swing a blockbuster deal to try and improve the Stars defensive corps. This particular move would see him acquire Alex Goligoski from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for James Neal and Matt Niskanen. So far, the move has backfired terribly for the Stars as Neal has gone on to become one of the league’s top scorers and Niskanen has become a very serviceable defender for his new club. In his second year the Stars would once again fail to make the playoffs, finishing 9th and once again last in the Pacific Division.
In his third year as GM, 2011-2012, Nieuwendyk finally decided to explore free agency; again only making one trade of note which saw Nicklas Grossman join the Flyers for a 2nd and 3rd round pick. Before,no major losses or gains in the free agent department had been made during his time at the forefront of the franchise. But as usual with almost everything he delved into during his GM career he would end up losing more than he gained. Michael Ryder certainly turned out to be a nice addition. He added both a nice scoring touch as well as Power Play ability to the Stars. Sheldon Souray, a player who had been locked up in the minors because of his contract, also turned out to be a savvy signing. But both of these were overshadowed by the team losing Brad Richards for no compensation. It was a massive loss for the franchise, especially since a trade could have truly brought a decent return. While the Stars moved up one position in their division last year they still finished outside of the playoffs.
Fast forward to this year, a shortened season with Nieuwendyk yet to lead his team into the playoffs. It spelled desperation from the Stars GM who knew he needed to make an impact – now. This led to a couple of puzzling off-season moves as the Stars got, well, older signing both Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. But it would be the trade market where Nieuwiedyk would truly be busy in 2012-2013 and it turned out to be a tale off two parts. To begin the season the moves spelled an aggressive approach. The Stars acquired Cody Eakin and a 2nd round pick from Washington in exchange for Mike Ribeiro. Then they would go out and get Derek Roy from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy. Midway through the season he would make another desperation move. This time it would see him acquire another older player, Erik Cole of the Montreal Canadiens, in exchange for Michael Ryder and a 3rd round pick.
The move made no sense and may have been the beginning of the end for Nieuwendyk in Dallas. Michael Ryder was the team’s leading scorer and had a salary that was one million less than Cole’s. The ageing Cole also had one more year on his contract while Ryder is a UFA this summer. So if you are doing the math the Canadiens got the better player at a cheaper price, a shorter term and a 3rd round draft pick. The move was confusing to say the least. Thus began the second part of the two part tale of 2013, the buyers becoming sellers. Captain Brenden Morrow, Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy were all dealt for a handful of prospects and picks. Fuel to start the rebuilding fire. But what was most shocking was how quickly Nieuwendyk turned around and dealt players he had acquired during the offseason. The ending was the same, as the Stars missed the playoffs once again. Something they never made during Joe Nieuwendyk’s tenure as general manager of the Stars.
All in all the Stars needed a new direction and relieving Nieuwendyk of his duties was the right way to deal with the issue. Now it will be intriguing to see whether they truly embrace a sort of “trade everyone” rebuild or attempt a partial rebuild. But either way after missing the playoffs for the entire Nieuwendyk era the Stars will need a reversal.
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