Change good for Marc Crawford, Stars

FRISCO, Texas -- Dallas Stars coach Marc Crawford is no longer the emotional volcano, ready to blow at any moment.

In his earlier days, the intense coach would simmer for a little while and then erupt with enough fire to melt the ice. But that was before he had some gray hairs and got the chance to see the game from the television booth high above the ice.

Experience and a different perspective changed Crawford when he returned to the bench before last season in Dallas. And his new methods are a big reason the club, which has missed the playoffs two straight seasons, is playing with confidence and at a higher level than many outside of the organization expected.

Even after back-to-back blowout losses where they gave up a combined 14 goals, the Stars are on top of the Pacific Division and are one of the best teams in the Western Conference.

"I think back to some of the things I used to do and shake my head," Crawford said after a recent practice. "I'm an emotional coach and a passionate guy and you never want to lose that, but maturity and experience teaches you that outbursts of any kind have repercussions.

"My level of emotion is way higher than most people. It's still there, but I deal with it better."

Crawford coached in Colorado (he won a Stanley Cup there), Vancouver and Los Angeles and established a reputation as a tough disciplinarian who wasn't afraid of the bag skate and didn't mince words with players.

He's still got that toughness in Dallas, but it's tempered by a more gentle side. Crawford realized that his outbursts weren't going to reach today's NHL players like they might have in decades past.

"They respond to information and they respond to answers," Crawford said. "There's always a place for positive and negative criticism; it has to be much more factually based. They ask why."

So Crawford adjusted, making sure that his core group of leaders became fully vested in the ownership of the club. He has regular meetings with captain Brenden Morrow and also talks to the entire leadership group -- all of the associate captains and some key veterans -- to get the pulse of the team.

"He's a lot more open, definitely a lot more open than what I heard from other players about him in the past," said Brad Richards, who leads the club in points. "He's coached a lot of years and seen a lot of different-style players, and he's adding all that to make himself a better coach just as a player would with experiences. He's been open to all different ideas, and there's been a lot of give and take."

Steve Ott and Stephane Robidas both referenced the fact that Crawford will talk to the veteran leaders about the condition of the team and if they tell him the team needs a day off, he usually listens.

"If we get a day off he expects us to be ready to work the next day, and we have been," Ott said. "He's put the onus on us to make it our team and he's been very easy to work with in the sense of talking to us and seeing what's going on. He uses us and lets us make decisions with him. We've been working extremely hard this year, which the guys have bought into."

The team has also relied more on video this season, a request from some of the players who were thirsting for more information.

"I always thought you had to keep it simple and not fill their heads with too much, but they wanted more," Crawford said.

The video sessions aren't simply a way to show players what they are doing wrong.

"It's mainly the good stuff that we see," Robidas said. "The coaches will point out what we did right and how we go about doing that more often. Or we'll look at what other teams are doing right and try to do that ourselves."

When general manager Joe Nieuwendyk made the decision to fire Dave Tippett and bring in Crawford before last season, it was met with some resistance inside and outside the room. Tippett, after all, had been in Dallas for six seasons and was behind the bench when the team went to the Western Conference finals in 2008.

Then Tippett took a Phoenix Coyotes team that had been struggling to the playoffs while Crawford's Stars sat at home.

"I think he was in a tough situation last year with personalities here that had been here a long time and were used to a certain way, a certain coach," Richards said of Crawford. "So you have to give him the benefit of the doubt that it's not a situation anybody would envy. You don't want to come in and upset everything and turn it all crazy. He had to feel his way through it, too."

Clearly, it's not just the coach that's helped foster this turnaround season.

Nieuwendyk decided last year that Marty Turco wasn't the goalie for this team. The GM wanted some of the veteran players out of the room to give the younger group a chance to seize leadership opportunities.

And he wanted a goalie tandem that he thought could instill confidence in the team, which is something Kari Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft have done.

It helps too that Loui Eriksson and Richards are playing at such a high level and the club has depth on its lines. Dallas has also figured out how to put together a winning streak, get crucial points on the road and play consistently solid defense -- three things that were lacking last season.

"It's their team," Crawford said about his players. "The coaches are here to help them. We have to keep things going on the rails and when they're off a little bit, we help get them back on. But all the best teams are self-directed.

"Everyone in the organization helps with the culture, but at the end of the day the players are the ones that get it done. They have to be on the same wavelength and page as you. That's when it works the best. Their page is powerful. That's what's happening more so here now."

Give Crawford credit for helping make that happen.

Richard Durrett covers the Stars for ESPNDallas.com.