Nieuwendyk a savvy choice for new Stars GM, despite curious timing
New GM Joe Nieuwendyk has front-office experience with the Leafs and Panthers
Brett Hull will remain with the club, but away from executive personnel decisions
DALLAS -- It's been an active week for Tom Hicks.
On Thursday, he announced a willingness to sell off controlling interest in baseball's Texas Rangers, but not the Dallas Stars, as a concession to his personal economic meltdown. Today, while everyone in north Texas was at the lake or the pool trying to stay cool, he revealed there would be changes to his hockey club, as well. Hicks announced that he had hired former Stars center Joe Nieuwendyk to serve as the team's general manager, while former GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson would be re-assigned within the organization.
Apparently, not everyone was able to beat the heat.
Though the timing is curious, the decision for change was not. The duo's hiring back in 2007 invigorated a club that was swirling the drain, but they took much of the blame for the team's failings both on and off the ice in 2008-09.
There were rumors swirling back as far back as December that Hicks had had enough with his two-headed GM monster, particularly Hull. It was the former sniper, after all, who insisted on signing loose cannon Sean Avery despite what was said to be universal resistance to the idea in the front office. When that deal blew up in his face -- let's assume there's no need to recap the particulars of that debacle -- it was thought that the stain on the organization was so great that Hull would have to go.
That he was allowed to finish out the season now looks like nothing more than professional courtesy to a player who'd done so much for the team -- including scoring the Cup-clinching goal back in 1999 -- and a devoted long-term employee who'd done nothing to deserve this embarrassment.
Of course, Hicks also had to wait for the guy he wanted to become available. Nieuwendyk may be cut from the same cloth as Hull, but he's got a little more on his post-hockey resume than a few months work as a team's Ambassador of Fun. He spent the past season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he served as special assistant to the general manager and was said to be instrumental in the signings of coveted free agents Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozek. Those are the kind of results that might earn a promotion elsewhere, but his position became redundant when Brian Burke became the team's GM and brought in his own right-hand man, Dave Nonis.
Prior to joining the Leafs, Nieuwendyk worked in a similar post with the Florida Panthers. Not quite a distinguished history of building Stanley Cup champions, but a little on-the-job training is better than none.
Still, this hiring seems to follow a similar pattern of risk as the last one. You won't find anyone in hockey with a bad word to say of Nieuwendyk. He's thoughtful, well spoken and all class. He'd make for a fantastic son-in-law. He may also make an excellent GM. You'll have no problem finding people willing to attest to his potential. But his paucity of front office experience (remember, he just retired in 2006) suggests a bit more seasoning might have helped him. And a more seasoned executive (for example, recent Minnesota Wild hire Chuck Fletcher) might have been a better choice for the Stars.
We'll have to see how it plays out. In the short term, Nieuwendyk can meet with the team's scouts regarding the entry draft -- the Stars hold the No. 7 pick -- and can start planning for free agency. With his reputation, he can't help but be an asset as he tries to fill some gaping holes in Dallas' lineup. One of the players he'll be observing is Jonas Gustavsson, the Swedish netminder that he courted while with the Leafs. With Marty Turco's deal up after the 2009-10 season, the Stars have just as much need for his talent as did the Leafs ... and now they may have a leg up on signing him.
Hull, meanwhile, will be staying on as executive vice president (essentially, an extra voice in the room when Hicks and team president Jeff Cogen need a hockey guy around) and alternate governor. Jackson, a well-respected student of the game who did nothing to damage his credentials if he chooses to pursue any future GM opening, will return to his old position as the team's director of scouting and player development.
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