The Lindy Ruff era in Dallas is over.
And with that, the search for a new head coach begins.
Replacing Ruff — who, on Sunday, learned he wouldn’t be brought back for a fifth year behind the bench — will be a crucial decision from GM Jim Nill. The Stars floundered this year after a banner ’15-16 campaign, and there were constant issues about the club’s style of play, organization and structure. There were also concerns about individual players too often going off-script to search for offense.
With that said, here’s a quick look at some names making the rounds.
Ken Hitchcock: This one has been out there for quite some time, and with good reason. Hitchcock is one of the most celebrated figures in franchise history, the bench boss responsible for leading Dallas to its first and only Stanley Cup back in ’99.
At 65, he’s probably looking for a team that’s closer to competing — rather than overseeing a rebuild project — and in that regard, the Stars do fit the bill. Hitch is also still known as one of the NHL’s better defensive tacticians, which could alleviate some of the aforementioned structural concerns.
Kirk Muller: Another guy with major ties to the organization. Muller spent his final four years playing in Dallas, helping the team to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2001, and has since honed his coaching craft as the head man in Carolina, along with assistant gigs in Montreal and St. Louis (where he worked under Hitchcock).
Muller has a reputation as an innovative, creative coach. That creativity earned him praise with the Habs this year, as he helped orchestrate the NHL’s 13th-best power play.
Gerard Gallant: His ties are more to Nill than with the Stars organization, but they’re still pretty deep. Gallant and Nill played together in Detroit. A Jack Adams finalist with Florida last season, Gallant was controversially fired by the Panthers this year and has been linked to a number of jobs since, including the still-to-be-filled Vegas gig.
Paul MacLean: Currently an assistant in Anaheim, MacLean has a terrific resume (winning the Adams in ’13) and, like Gallant, has ties to Nill. MacLean was a longtime Mike Babcock assistant in Detroit — while Nill held a similar AGM title under Ken Holland — and the pair won a Cup together in 2008.
Todd Nelson: A darkhorse candidate, but one worth mentioning. Currently the head coach of AHL Grand Rapids, Nelson is another guy with ties to Nill (he actually played for Detroit’s minor-league affiliate while Nill was there) and is considered one of the better bench bosses on the minor league circuit. Nelson has NHL experience, having served an interim stint in Edmonton, and has enjoyed good success with the Griffins over the last two years.