The difference between the Dallas Stars making the playoffs and missing out for a third straight season came down to one win. And Marc Crawford sees one win as being the difference when it came to him losing his job as the head coach of the team.
“One more win and we’re in the playoffs, and you also have to realize that if you don’t make the playoffs that’s kind of a no-no in our business,” Crawford said Wednesday, one day after Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk relieved him of his head coaching duties. “The tough one is two more wins, we’d be home ice and I might be coach of the year.”
But those wins didn’t come and Nieuwendyk made the change two days after the season ended. Crawford said he didn’t see it coming, but when you’re in the coaching business job security can be tenuous.
“You’re always worried, but I knew if he was going to do something he was going to do it right away,” Crawford said. “I appreciate that he didn’t let me twist in the wind. That’s just the right thing.”
In explaining his decision to dismiss Crawford, Nieuwendyk said he wasn’t confident that Crawford was the guy to take the Stars to next level.
“He’s a good person, a good man and I have nothing but good things to say about him,” Crawford said of Nieuwendyk. “I am a little disappointed that he doesn’t think I am the guy because I really believe I am. I feel really strongly about that because of the success we had this year.”
The Stars finished the season with 95 points, tying the mark for most ever by an NHL team that didn’t make the playoffs. It was a seven-point improvement over last season, Crawford’s first at the helm of the Stars. But it was two points short of that so important trip to the postseason tournament.
“I did so many good things and the team is in a better place right now. I am just sorry I don’t get to see it to the next step. I know they’re going to get to the next step. They’re really close,” said Crawford. “I think we improved so much in how we played away from the puck this year and how we were a tougher team to play against. You do the statistical thing and we had so many one-goal or equivalent losses. You become a good team when you have less of those and you start to win more of those. We’re there because we won 23 of them.”
The Stars were one of the great stories of the first half of the season, and Crawford’s name was high on the list of Jack Adams candidates. But they slipped coming out of the All-Star break as the injuries mounted, the team’s thin organizational depth couldn’t fill the void and the Stars ended up going through a 1-8-1 slide.
“We didn’t have enough depth. When the injuries hit, it killed us,” Crawford said. “My failure probably was that it took two or three games in that 10-game period before we got the guys regrouped and that ended up costing us.”
And that stretch played a role in costing Crawford his job. Still, the 50-year-old said he relished the opportunity in Dallas.
“First of all, I am really pleased that Joe gave me the chance and that he forced me to be different and reinvent myself. I just saw how good I became again. I really mean that,” he said. “I’ve heard so many good things from our trainers, the coaches and a lot of the players about how I’ve been. I saw the value in it. Not easy as you get older. Not a lot of guys are able to do it. At least I am at ease and comfort with the fact that I didn’t screw this up. It just didn’t work out.”
And the two-year journey in Dallas wasn't always smooth sailing.
"Quite truthfully, I had to step on too many toes the year before to change the culture here," he said. "Some of the leftover guys from the previous year were a handful. I probably stepped on a few too many toes along the way, but I think and I think everybody was appreciative of the changes I made this year. But in the end, it’s such a delicate balance."
As for what’s next, time will tell.
“I don’t know. You dig the shrapnel out of your [butt] for the next day or two. That’s, unfortunately, what you do. You rely on the good people that you’ve come to know and you try to keep moving forward,” Crawford said. “From that standpoint, I did reinvent myself here because the L.A. experience was bad. I’ve changed in a lot of ways. I talked with the guys that have coached with me and they don’t even recognize me anymore. I am so vastly different now. It’s good. It’s the way that you should be. Now I am looking at what I can do to continue to move forward.
“I am really happy that I got the opportunity here. It’s a great, great group. The saddest part is that you don’t get to keep moving forward with them because I really thought I could have done the job moving forward.”