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Nieuwendyk Heads To Lone Star State

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
In Texas, it isn’t unknown to look up for relief.

Joe Nieuwendyk will be doing just that in his new job as general manager of the Dallas Stars.

The 42-year-old Nieuwendyk, long one of the game’s best management prospects was handed the reins to the Stars on Sunday. He had been an assistant to Leafs’ GM Brian Burke, but he obviously faced a logjam at the top with the arrival of Burke’s right hand man Dave Nonis.

The Stars put Les Jackson back into his old role as director of scouting. Brett Hull, who shared the GM job with Jackson, was bumped upstairs.

Nieuwendyk will have to deal with rapidly shifting realities. Thanks to owner Tom Hicks, the Stars have long been one of the NHL’s most profligate spenders and their free agents have ranged from Ed Belfour and Pat Verbeek to Hull and Pierre Turgeon.

Nieuwendyk might not have the benefit of Hicks’ largesse.  These are not good times for venture capitalists and Hicks is heavily invested in Liverpool in the English first division. He has put his baseball team, the Texas Rangers up for sale.

If a suitor for the Rangers is found, Hicks can run the rest of his empire as lavishly as he likes. But Star gazers say there is no final word on whether the club will be putting on the chintz at the league minimum or the Ritz.

Certainly, under Jackson and to some extent Hull, the Stars moved toward youth and austerity on the blue line. Defenceman Trevor Daley, Nicklas Grossman, Ivan Vishnevskiy and Mark Fistric are all under 25 and all should play next year.

Winger Loui Erriksson was listing badly until Jackson insisted he play more. The 23-year-old ended up leading the club with 36 goals.

Nieuwndyk won’t be lacking for tenure-defining decisions. Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov, are 35 and 38 and coming off injury decimated seasons. The two, both free agents, have been central to the club’ success over the last decade.

The Stars have substantial financial commitments to Brad Richards, Mike Modano, Brendan Morrison, Marty Turco and Mike Ribeiro. And the monstrous error that was signing Shawn Avery did more than precipitate the shakeup that ended with Nieuwendyk back in Dallas. The new GM will have to deal with a legacy cost of nearly $2 million over the next three years. The Stars will have that automatically put against their cap for the next three years and if the salary cap shrinks, as has been widely predicted, the impact of that disastrous contract redoubles.

That said, Nieuwendyk will have a new American League team to draw on in Austin and the team has drafted shrewdly. Just a game under .500 last season, Dallas will draft eighth, right behind the Leafs.

Nieuwendyk is competing with the Leafs and the Colorado Avalanche for the services of Swedish goaltending star Jonas Gustavsson. Marty Turco will be 34 in August and the Stars, like the Leafs, need someone to either challenge or succeed their starter.

It’s no stretch to imagine the Stars in the playoffs next year but Nieuwendyk’s return to Dallas sets up a built-in conundrum.

Traded to Dallas from Calgary in 1995, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stars won their only Cup four years later. But the player he was dealt for, Calgary’s Jarome Iginla, remains a star.
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