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Nill embracing challenge of turning around Stars

by Steve Hunt /

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars on Monday announced Jim Nill had been hired as the team's general manager. The move comes one day after Joe Nieuwendyk was let go after four seasons.

Nill, 55, worked in the Detroit Red Wings' front office for 19 years, including the past 15 as assistant general manager, where his main role was overseeing the team's amateur scouting department and running the team's draft.

He was flanked at a press conference at American Airlines Center by Stars owner Tom Gaglardi and president Jim Lites. Gaglardi opened the proceedings by thanking Nieuwendyk for his four years of service.

The process to hire Nill actually began several weeks ago with a phone call from Lites, and Nill said that after meeting with Gaglardi and Lites, he knew heading to Dallas was the right decision.

"I've had other opportunities to go with other teams," Nill said. "It's been so great in Detroit that it had to be the right fit. I met with Jimmy, I met with Tom, and I knew this was a fit. I’m excited about this."

Nieuwendyk was let go Sunday after a four-season run that saw the Stars miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs each year. The Stars finished 11th in the Western Conference this season and never finished better than ninth in four seasons under Nieuwendyk. In all, the Stars have missed the playoffs for five straight seasons.

"He's nothing but a class act," Gaglardi said of Nieuwendyk, who played on the team in 1999 when it won the franchise's only Stanley Cup. "I enjoyed working with him. He has represented our franchise very well and we appreciate his dedication and hard work."

Now it's Nill's turn, and Monday he made no bones about exactly what his goals and expectations are with the Stars. Not only does he want to help the franchise end its current playoff drought as soon as next season, but he wants to re-establish Dallas as a perennial contender in the race for the Stanley Cup.

"The bar's set high," Nill said. "We're going to restore this franchise back to what it was in Mike Modano's years, Derian Hatcher's years. We want to win here. We're going to change the culture a little bit."

Dallas has gone 64-57-9 the past two seasons under coach Glen Gulutzan, whose original two-year contract is set to expire. The Stars hold an option for a third year but there is some doubt whether he will return. Gulutzan was not at the press conference Monday, but Stars assistant coaches Curt Fraser and Paul Jerrard and goaltending coach Mike Valley were.

Not surprisingly, the first question Nill was asked was about Gulutzan's status going forward.

"I'm going to sit down with all the staff and we're going to go through everything," Nill said. "It's going to be about a two-week process and we'll make decisions from there. But right now, I'm going to be very patient making decisions. I'm not going to rush into anything."

Nill said he knows what sort of players he wants to see hitting the ice for the Stars.

"I like smart hockey players and guys that play hard," he said. "I think a great part of that foundation is in place already and we're going to continue to build that. You need good size in today's game. We want consistency, but I want smart hockey players and guys that play hard."

Nill didn’t rule out the Stars being active in free agency to add a player here and there, but he did emphasize he expects to build the organization by drafting then developing those players. Most of Nill's time with the Red Wings was spent overseeing their amateur scouting department.

"With the salary cap, you can't have four lines and you can't have a fourth line with Igor Larionov and Brett Hull anymore," he said. "Those days are done, so we're going to be very diligent about who we sign. The biggest part of this game is drafting and developing, and we're going to be one of the best at it."

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