The Dallas Stars recently named Jim Montgomery as their new head coach. Here is why it is a watershed moment for the organization.
As we watched the Dallas Stars collapse out of playoff contention, new questions arose. How could a team so laden with talent fade so fast? Would the team retain Ken Hitchcock as their coach? How do they pick up the pieces of a season that once showed so much promise?
In the case of the talent on this team, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one. Sure, you can point to the goaltending once starter Ben BIshop went down with a knee injury. Backup Kari Lehtonen was exposed to starter’s minutes and the results were pretty predictable. Try as they might, their efforts to cover up their backstop’s shortcomings clogged up their offense. If you can’t score and can’t stop the other team from scoring, it makes for a short and miserable spring.
For his part, Hitchcock answered his question almost immediately. One week after the season ended, he announced his retirement from coaching in order to take on a consultant’s role with the organization. While this move was part of the plan all along, I don’t think the brass expected it to occur exactly one year after his rehiring. The advent of the second Hitchcock tenure was supposed to yield postseason results immediately.
As for picking up the pieces, enter new coach Jim Montgomery. Montgomery brings a winning pedigree to his new team. Most recently, he won a collegiate national championship with the University of Denver in 2017. In his own words, his plan is to play a relentless, puck-possession game that relies on pressure to gain the puck and make plays.
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On paper it sounds like a winning formula. Furthermore, the talent on the roster suggests the Stars need more of an uptempo pace to their game to achieve success. To that end, Montgomery theoretically provides the shot in the arm they need. In fact, the only negative aspect of this hire is his time frame. You see, the Stars find themselves at a distinct crossroads. This bunch has been in “win now” mode for some time. We are told the pieces are in place, yet more often than not, we find ourselves on the outside looking in once playoff hockey starts. Something isn’t clicking, and the answer to the problem must come soon. Otherwise, some really uncomfortable changes might become very necessary.
Namely, the Tyler Seguin situation is the elephant in the room. Seguin played himself into elite status last season. He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018-19 season. He’ll probably be up for top dollar whether he has another good year or not. If the Stars cannot or do not sign him to a new contract, he’ll be able to walk after they’re done next spring, no matter how far they go. Here’s the problem: if they underachieve under Montgomery, and the playoffs are an improbability, the front office must realistically look at blowing this whole thing up and starting over. Without putting too fine a point on it, it’s do-or-die time for the inhabitants of American Airlines Center.
I know this all sounds fatalistic and reactionary, but if the Dallas Stars wish to see a future with familiar faces intact, they have to win now, no matter who is coaching them. It is up to Jim Montgomery to extract as much as he possibly can out of what he has on hand. And he probably has one year to do it. It’s not fair, but it is the hand he has to play. It all adds up to a heightened sense of pressure for the neophyte, first-year coach.