On Sunday afternoon, the Dallas Stars announced head coach Lindy Ruff, who was 165-122-41 and 9-10 in the playoffs over the past four seasons, would not return next season.
Under Ruff, hired by current Stars general manager Jim Nill in 2013, the Stars went to the playoffs twice, winning one playoff series, their first since 2008. However, after leading the Western Conference with 109 points last season after advancing in the playoffs, Dallas cratered this season, finishing 34-37-11 with 79 points, leading the Stars to not offer Ruff a new contract.
Nill hosted a news conference Monday morning at American Airlines Center where he detailed the coaching change.
“I had to make a tough decision with the coaching staff. Unfortunately, it’s part of the business,” Nill said. “They handled it like pros and we’re going to move forward from there.”
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James Patrick, Ruff’s longtime assistant who dates to his time in Buffalo, will not return. Nill said fellow assistant Kurt Fraser will get the opportunity to interview with the new head coach while goaltending coach Jeff Reese and video coach Kelly Forbes will both return.
Nill has already spoken with three candidates for the job, a list potentially including Gerard Gallant, fired earlier this season by Florida, Ken Hitchcock, who led the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup, and Michel Therrien, who was let go by Montreal in February.
“I’m looking for an experienced guy. I’m looking for a good coach,” Nill said. “This isn’t a rebuild. I think we’ve got a lot good places in place. It was a tough year. We knew we were not that far away.”
Dallas ended the season with a 4-3 shootout win against Colorado on Saturday at home. Monday also marked the final media availability of the season for the Stars players, and Ruff’s exit was a frequent topic during exit interviews with the press.
“It’s tough,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. “Lindy was a great coach and a great person. Obviously, I had a pretty good relationship with him. It’s got a lot to do with us players. We failed as a group this year and unfortunately, he took the hit for it.”
June is always a busy month for any NHL organization with the two-week window to buy out players and the draft, but Nill also has an expansion draft to prepare for with Las Vegas entering the league in the fall, so it’s understandable the Stars want to fill this vacancy as soon as possible.
“I’m hoping this is going to happen pretty quickly. These guys are all good coaches,” Nill said. “This league moves pretty past and I know there’s other teams looking at things also, so I’m hoping this moves pretty quickly.”
Benn was asked what, if any, weight his voice would carry with Nill and the organization about who should be the Stars’ next head coach. Benn handled such a query with a smile and a simple no, adding that no matter who the Stars hire, he and his teammates will be on board.
“Jim (Nill) is a smart man and I got all the faith in him and everybody in the front office and this organization, so whoever comes in here, I’m going to believe that’s the right guy,” Benn said.
No matter who the Stars hire, Nill and the players agree the current roster could contend next season.
“This isn’t a situation where everyone’s super young and inexperienced, and it’s a whole new rebuild,” Stars center Tyler Seguin, Dallas’ lone 2017 All-Star, said. “I think that we have the pieces here. We all have faith in each other still. We’ll use that to have a lot of motivation this off-season to come back strong next year.”
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Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff explains his thoughts on the new trend of NHL teams pulling their goalie earlier at the end of games (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).