About three months ago Marc Crawford was getting touted as a candidate for the Jack Adams Award, which goes to the league’s top coach. Now, he’s out of a job. Just goes to show how much things can change over the course of the long NHL season.
There were lots of ups and downs for the Stars this and when you added them all up, it equaled 95 points, tying the mark for the most ever by a non-playoff team. But the bottom line is that they were a non-playoff team and that made it three straight years of no postseason hockey for the Stars and two in a row under Crawford.
“I think Marc is a terrific coach,” Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said. “I don’t know if there’s any specifics, but I think for me, it’s just, we have to look at the overall body of work. I do know that Marc, for the two years that I was around him, gave 110 percent of his energy and commitment to this team. Whether people thought it was right or wrong in the circumstances, he gave everything he had and really put a lot of heart into it, so I thank him for that.”
Let’s give Crawford some credit. He took a team close to the bottom of the league in payroll, playing in the best division in the league and an ultra-competitive Western Conference and got them within a regulation or overtime win in the final game of cracking playoffs.
Win that game in Minnesota and the focus right now would be on the Stars’ upcoming series with the mighty Vancouver Canucks. Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen. And who knows what might have happened. But all Nieuwendyk has to work with is what did happen.
And again, how much things can change. Not just over the course of a long season, but in just a couple of days. A mere 48 hours after Detroit knocked off Chicago and anticipation was high in Starsland, there’s change on the way.
But, as Nieuwendyk pointed out, the change didn’t come down to one game in Minnesota. It came down to a second half of a season. A second half when other teams shifted into high gear and the Stars sputtered. That’s what cost the Stars. And Crawford.
Maybe some lofty expectations too, especially since the Stars were leading the Pacific Division as late as January 20. That made where they ended up look that much more disappointing.
And now the search is on for someone who can take the Stars to the next level.
“The goal is to win playoff series and challenge for a Stanley Cup. I believe we are making steps towards that,” said Nieuwendyk. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough this year, even with 95 points and in an extremely tough division. This is why we have to get better and we have to be with the elite teams in the conference.”
Still, despite the failure to get the Stars into the postseason, the team did make some progress under Crawford. They were a much better team this season and far more competitive. He didn’t get them to the next level, but he got them closer.
As far as joining the league's elite, it’s probably going to take more than just a coaching change. The one guy Nieuwendyk would like to keep around and believes could help the Stars in their goal of getting to the next level is Brad Richards, who is hesitant to sign a long-term deal with the team because there’s no ownership in place.
“You look around the league teams that are consistently winning, it starts at the top,” said Richards. “It’s always that way. It makes things clearer for a guy like Joe and what he’s doing. How many times have we talked about ownership this year? There are a lot teams you don’t have to talk about, you never talk about it. You just go play hockey and things are always taken care of. … It just makes everything smoother. You are competing against teams that are going to spend $63 million next year, teams that are in the playoffs now that are Cup contenders and are going to be just as good or better next year. We’ve got to compete with that. That starts with ownership.”