The layover between these posts is entirely related to the fact that writing about hockey is not my full time job, no matter how much I wish it was. Maybe that’ll change one day.
So I knocked Brad Treliving out of the way back in April and since then it’s been… Well more of the same really. He ended up buying out that albatross Troy Brouwer contract, only to take half the money he saved and throw it at paying James Neal to bring his sniping skills to the frozen north. Derek Ryan was signed in there too, but that gets lost under the weight of the Dougie Hamilton/Michale Ferland(and Adam Fox) trade to Carolina for Noah Hanafin and Elias Lindholm. This trade was talked about ad nauseam and I only have about 2 sentences to really say on it. For left handed defenders in Calgary you had Brodie and Giordano who are difficult to trade with no trade clauses. You drafted Jusso Valimaki 16th overall in 2017 (also left handed). I’m just not sure why they felt the need to turn Hamilton into Hanafin. It’s just puzzling.
Now with the Treliving update out of the way we move to GM Hot Seat Candidate number 2. It’s not Peter Chiarelli, Pierre Dorian OR Marc Bergevin, because they’d all be too obvious. Though I do intend to write a spirited defense of Chiarelli shortly. No, the number 2 guy in my GM hotseat list, is Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars.
Jim Nill took the job back in April of 2013. His early days were simply masterful. Within months of taking over Jim cemented the Tyler Seguin trade in which he gave up nothing of consequence (Except maybe Loui Erikkson) in return for Tyler Seguin. Just over a year later he obtained Jason Spezza in a similar deal where little of consequence was surrendered for a current franchise cornerstone. In the 2015 offseason he made a move to get Antti Niemi and that’s about where the wheels start to come off. His only substantial trade move since then was the May 2017 shipping of a 4th round pick to LA to get Ben Bishop, whom he promptly resigned ending 2 years of goaltender purgatory.
The goaltender dumpster fire of the 2015-2016 season is really the first nail in the coffin for Nill here. That Stars team simply outscored people to win games. The goaltending save percentage of the unfortunate tandem of Lehtonen and Niemi was well below league average. Yet the Stars were able to cover it up with dynamic offensive play upfront. Aside from the big 3 of Benn, Seguin and Spezza, the Stars saw nice point output from Hemsky, Klingberg, Goligoski, Sharp and Eakin. The goaltending returned to bite them in the playoffs, but the core was there. So what happened from 2015-2016 to 2017-2018?
Nill started the 2016-2017 campaign with the exact same goaltending duo. Except Goligoski was gone in a trade to Arizona for a 5th round pick. Hemsky got hurt, Sharp regressed, Eakin didn’t play as well. Nichushkin went back to Russia. It was a regression all around for a roster that had made a 2nd round playoff push only the season before. Ultimately it cost Coach, Lindy Ruff, his job. But should it have? The Failure of Nill to acquire anything or anyone to spark help the team was, instead, laid at the feet of a well respected coach.
The big fix for the 2017 campaign? Alex Radulov, Ben Bishop and Marc Methot with Ken Hitchcock back for a final finale of coaching. It wasn’t enough to help Dallas even get back to the playoffs. He had finally fixed the goaltending and gotten another top end talent to round out his top line, but now the core depth had deteriorated beyond salvaging. To make matter worse, none of the young players in system were really able to step up and take on depth roles, while also contributing offensively.
This is where my primary beef with Nill comes in. His drafted talent has not been able to graduate to the NHL in a time effective manner to help the franchise. Nill was brought on board in April of 2013. That means that at the start of the 2017-2018 campaign, his draft picks from 2013 had 4 years in system. That’s round about the “put up or shut up” time period for NHL draft picks.
Prior to the start of the 2018-19 season, Dallas Stars players drafted by Jim Nill have account for:
Valeri Nichushkin(F): 166GP 64PTS
Remi Elie(F): 90GP 21PTS
Julius Honka(D): 58GP 9PTs
Jason Dickinson(F): 38GP 5PTS
I won’t even get into the Valeri Nichushkin saga, because I don’t really have to. Nill drafted him. Nill has failed to be able to find a way to keep him with the team. One has to wonder if Nichushkin is even worth the song and dance at this point. Then again, many of us said the same things about Radulov for a few years and he’s proven many of us wrong.
On top of failing to graduate players, Nill has failed to make any kind of value or depth signings during free agency to help improve his team. If you look around the league at other successful GMs, you’ll see guys who actively pursue undrafted NCAA free agents and undrafted overage players from Canadian Juniors. They have scouts scan the overseas leagues for players in their early 20s who could possibly play depth roles for the franchise. Dallas has none of these.
Since the disastrous move to acquire Niemi, no big-time trades, no value signings and failure to graduate youth has left Dallas as a stagnant franchise. They are entirely reliant on how far their top 3 forwards, top 2 defenders and goaltender can carry them. This is the fault of the man who built the team. He’s had 5 years to build a contender around one of the most dynamic 1-2 punches in the game with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. This is the year that his chickens come home to roost. They’ve got a few players that have come up from the system to fill out their ranks. This season will be the indictment of Jim Nill and his time with the Dallas Stars. If the Stars fail to see improvement on their last 2 seasons, Jim Nill should probably be out as GM of the franchise.