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Bruce’s Brainstorming: JIm Nill’s Spectacular Off-Season and Random Thoughts

Pete DeBoer deserves accolades for the Stars fast start to the season. Jim Nill deserves even more for making the right moves during the off-season

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It seems like a revelation. The Stars are winning hockey games AND are capable of scoring with every line combination. You have to go back to the 2015-16 season to find a Dallas team that possessed both those elements on a nightly basis. The new system Dallas Head Coach Pete DeBoer has installed is exciting, based on offensive pressure, and is fun to watch. The team is ranked third in the NHL, averaging more than 3.83 goals per game and leading the league in 5v5 goals for/against.

DeBoer and his staff, Assistant Coaches Steve Spott and Alain Nasreddine, deserve credit for quickly implementing the system and having immediate buy-in from the players. After five seasons of a defense-first mentality run by three different head coaches, Stars veterans were yearning for the chance to play an up-tempo style.

Before we start ordaining this transition as the greatest hockey strategy ever, let's tap the brakes for a minute. Systems are nice, but there must be the correct type of player on the roster to make the system work. If I may mix metaphors; if your football team’s best running back is 5-10, 240lbs, and sprints a 4.9 forty, running jet sweeps all day is a recipe for disaster. Bring in a tailback who runs a 4.4, and now you’re in business. The Dallas Stars of last season could not have played this system and made the playoffs. The 2022-23 version can and will.

While the accolades go to DeBoer, there should be plenty of praise given to the General Manager, Jim Nill. In hiring DeBoer, the Stars GM decided a change was needed in voice and style of play. Out of all the applicants, Nill picked the right man for the job. Then, the GM went out and found the right players to fit the vision for the system. On the forward side, Mason Marchment, Ty Dellandrea, and Wyatt Johnston are younger and faster than the players they replaced in the lineup. Mix in a healthy Tyler Seguin, and the ability to attack in waves is now a reality. Colin Miller and Nils Lundkvist have given the blueline patrol a level of speed unheard of for the past five seasons. Nill deserves the credit for the trades and free-agent signings, while his scouting department continues to restock the pipeline.  

In addition to making the team younger and faster, maybe the best part of Nill’s off-season was the way he handled contract negotiations for Jake Oettinger and Jason Robertson. Oettinger was always going to be a bridge deal based on the Carter Hart contract in Philadelphia as a guideline. But Robo?? That could have been a long contentious negotiation. Instead,  the deal should be hanging in the Louvre. How did Jim Nill get Robertson to sign for $7.75 million per year? Was he holding hostages? Compromising photos? The way Robo is playing, this deal is too good to be true. 

Since coming to the Stars organization in 2013, Nill has done some headline-making work in previous off-seasons, trading for Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, and Ben Bishop. He signed Alexander Radulov when he was the hottest offensive property on the free agent market. Oh yeah, that Joe Pavelski deal was (as Larry David would say) pretty, pretty, pretty good for Dallas. Nill’s work this off-season may be his best work ever. 

DeBoer does deserve praise for the team chemistry and the hot start but Jim Nill, quietly behind the scenes, pulled all the right levers that made this transformation possible.

And now let’s get to some Randomness:

  • One other great thing about Jim Nill running Hockey Ops, you never have to worry about the Stars signing a player like Mitchell Miller.
  • In 1993-94, Mike Modano became the only Dallas Star to score 50 goals in a season. In the nearly 30 years since, no player has come close to matching that mark. Expect that to change this season as Jason Robertson will be the man to make a run at Mo’s record. With the offensive-minded system, improved power play, and great linemates, there is no reason to think Robo can’t create team history.
     
  • Speaking of team history, congratulations to Jamie Benn (333) on passing Dino Ciccarelli (332) to move into the third spot on the franchise list for most goals scored. Brian Bellows (342) sits in second place and is next on the list for Benn to conquer.
     
  • With 3 goals yesterday, Benn moved into a tie for 3rd place on the franchise list for most hat tricks with seven. Only Ciccarelli (14) and Bill Goldsworthy (8) have more than the Captain.
     
  • The difference in the Stars with Miro Heiskanen in the lineup is astounding. Since returning to the lineup last week, the Stars have scored 18 goals while allowing only 6. Miro has been on the ice for 13 of those goals while allowing only 2 against. Not sure what else Miro Heiskanen can do to get on the radar of Norris Trophy voters.
     
  • And finally… I don’t understand how this country went from Halloween straight into the Christmas season. Aren’t we forgetting about Thanksgiving? November used to be a prelude to the best holiday of the year. I mean, who doesn’t like a day filled with food, family, and being thankful? There should be no December holiday commercials, songs, or movies until Santa comes rolling down 5th Avenue during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. That’s a hill I’m willing to die on. Now, get off my lawn!!
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