If the Dallas Stars continue to follow the path they’ve laid out over a surprisingly successful first 31 games, a lot of people will be eating some Marc Crawford crow. I must admit that I would be a member of that group.
For a while, there was a slight feeling that Crawford was largely the right guy in the right place in the beginning of his coaching career. After all, he happened to coach a Colorado Avalanche team that boasted the likes of Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Rob Blake. How many coaches would fall short of the mark with a roster that includes those stars plus plenty of great support players, really?
After a nice (if ultimately a bit disappointing) run with the Markus Naslund/Todd Bertuzzi Vancouver Canucks, Crawford fell flat with the the Los Angeles Kings. After earning a winning record in 10 of his first 11 years as a head coach between Los Angeles and Quebec/Colorado, Crawford went 59-84-12 with Los Angeles.
It seemed to me that he was a coach who had either lost his touch or was lucky to be so successful in the first place and his debut season in Dallas didn’t dispel that, as the club missed the playoffs once again.
Yet the NHL’s 11th all-time wins leader among coaches is putting together one heck of a season in 2010-11. The Stars hold a paper-thin lead for first place in the Pacific Division right now and with 39 points on the season, they only trail the Red Wings for first place in the West.
But 31 games into this season, Crawford is looking a lot smarter. His players seem to be buying in. His system doesn’t look all that challenging after all. GM Joe Nieuwendyk has made some tweaks to the roster and added a nice complement to the coaching staff in Willie Desjardins. And, to be honest, Crawford has had a year to get his message across.
It might just mean that the guy still can coach a little. He tossed Tom Wandell up onto the checking line Thursday and was rewarded with a goal from the speedy and versatile forward.
There’s probably a lot of reasons the Stars are 18-10-3 this season, but don’t doubt for a second that Crawford is one of the biggest. He has handled the pressure well. He has kept a positive attitude. He has walked the line between motivator and supporter.
Crawford moved to 525-402-173 all-time. He has won a Stanley Cup. He has been coach of the year, he has coached in the Olympics … and it looks like he still has a few things left to accomplish.
Now, I might say that the combined brilliance of Brad Richards and Kari Lehtonen might rank a little higher than Crawford’s coaching, but let there be little doubt that Crawford has done an excellent job with the Stars. Honestly, I felt like the team’s defense was such a huge weakness that the team would be doomed, but so far they’re making it work.
Crawford deserves plenty of credit for that and other components of the Stars’ success. If he can keep this balancing act together to win the Pacific, then it’s quite possible that he might add another Jack Adams Trophy to his resume.