Joe Nieuwendyk,  Marc Crawford

Report: Dallas Stars will make Glen Gulutzan their next head coach

It’s been quite some time since the Dallas Stars franchise has been at a crossroads like this. Some might even say that they haven’t seen uncertainty like this since they moved from Minnesota because Mike Modano was there to shepherd them to relevance in Texas from day one.

However you look at their predicament from a historical standpoint, GM Joe Nieuwendyk & Co. need to dictate the future of the franchise. The team is still in ownership limbo and must acknowledge life without top scorer Brad Richards, but it sounds like they’ve reached a conclusion on who will take over Marc Crawford’s job as head coach.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports that the team is expected to announce that they have hired Glen Gulutzan as their next head coach later this week. (Note: this post’s main image is of Nieuwendyk and Crawford, not Gulutzan.) While Gulutzan is far from a household name to hockey fans, he should be familiar to Stars devotees and the franchise itself. He was the head coach of the Texas Stars (the team’s AHL affiliate) for two seasons and achieved considerable success in his short time in that position, including taking the Stars to the  2010 Calder Cup finals.

While Paul MacLean represents the trend of hiring experienced NHL assistant coaches, Gulutzan’s hiring follows another pattern of teams hiring successful, young AHL coaches. Brad Gardner of Defending Big D explains that Gulutzan differs from Crawford in various ways.

Coach Gulutzan is said to be more of a players coach and relates to the younger guys, which is surely a key component in the decision. He coached the likes of Jamie Benn, Philip Larsen and Tomas Vincour as well as many others who could be on the short list of call ups next year.

Coach Crawford was thought to be more of a system guy and less of a motivator and was seldom seen interacting with the players one on one, so on one hand, the “players coach” makes sense and that’s supposedly the way things are done these days. On the other hand it was thought that the players needed to be held more accountable, and that will be on him as well as Willie Desjardins (assuming he’ll stay) is not thought to be the “bad cop” kind of guy. Maybe a bad cop assistant is the next hire.

There will be a great deal of talk about the style of play because Gulutzan’s Texas Stars were known as a defense first team that worked from the goaltender out and tried to win low scoring games, but those in Cedar Park say he was working with what he had that first year, and that talent was geared toward defense.

With more offensive tools at his disposal he’ll be able to guide the Stars toward Joe Nieuwendyk’s vision for up-tempo hockey while providing the structure needed to be sound defensively, which he’s been practicing at the AHL level so successfully.

Heika discusses Gulutzan’s likely strengths and weaknesses.

The biggest hurdle Gulutzan might have at the NHL level would be quickly earning the respect of veteran players, but if he can give them a system in which they’re successful then that’s the majority of the battle. He has done that in Cedar Park and earned the respect of the veteran players there.

The guess is that any AHL coach is going to experience a learning curve when moving up to the NHL, but Gulutzan was faced with the same challenge last season in the AHL (a big leap from the ECHL), and stepped forward quickly.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.