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Nill trying to bring Detroit success to Dallas

by Dan Rosen /

Like the 28 other general managers who are not named Ken Holland, Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill will have quite a bit of job security if he replicates the success and stability the Detroit Red Wings have had during the past two decades.

"Half of [Detroit]'s success would make me happy because they've done something that is hard to do in today's sporting business," Nill told earlier this week.

Nill is in a better position than just about anybody -- except ex-Red Wings great Steve Yzerman, now the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning -- to make it happen. He learned from Holland and Red Wings Senior Vice President Jim Devellano for 19 seasons, including 15 as assistant GM, and now is getting to put his on-the-job experience to use in his first role as the leading man.

Jim Nill is running the show in Dallas. (Click to enlarge)
Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI

Earlier this month, Nill took his first steps toward recreating some of Detroit's success in Dallas by hiring longtime Red Wings chief amateur scout Joe McDonnell, who was a scout for the Red Wings since 1995 and their director of amateur scouting for the past 10 years. Nill also hired Mark Leach, an amateur scout who worked in Detroit for more than a decade.

Familiarity and friendship were two major points of emphasis in the hirings. Nill and McDonnell are close friends and have worked together for years, with McDonnell reporting to Nill and Holland admittedly leaving the two of them alone.

"They know what my expectations are and I know how they operate," Nill said. "I don't have to spend a year evaluating what they're doing. When Joe says, 'This guy is a good skater, but he does this and that's a little weak,' I have a picture and I know what Joe is thinking because I have been around him long enough. If he likes a guy, there's something I like also and I'm going to pursue it."

Nill said he treaded carefully before hiring McDonnell and Leach out of respect for Holland, who offered to re-sign the scouts. Holland understands why McDonnell and Leach followed Nill to Dallas.

"On one hand you'd like to see people stay, but I understand relationships and friendships," Holland told "Joe McDonnell has a relationship and a friendship with Jimmy Nill that Joe and I don't have because we have different job descriptions. They did a lot of great work that's been left behind for us."

In addition to the scouts, Nill worked with Stars coach Lindy Ruff to hire Curt Fraser as an assistant coach. Fraser was the coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate, from 2008-12.

"I don't think it's any secret that I would love to replicate what the Red Wings have done," Nill said. "I don't know if it can be done."

He's trying.

Holland hoping he found the Wright replacement for McDonnell

Holland didn't have to look far to find McDonnell's replacement. Tyler Wright, formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets, has a summer home on the same lake in Vernon, British Columbia, as Holland.

"I've talked to him a lot through the years about hockey," Holland said of Wright. "I know he's got a tremendous work ethic."

That work ethic coupled with his experience and the fact that he was drafted in the first round of the 1991 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers was enough to convince Holland to hire Wright, who spent the past six years with the Columbus Blue Jackets; the first four as the team's development coach and the past two as the co-director of amateur scouting.

Holland was not deterred that Wright came from an organization that has struggled to gain consistency through the years.

"I like to think I'm a better manager today then I was in 1997 [the year he started as GM] or in 2005, when I was eight years into the job," Holland said. "There is nothing like experience. That's how Joe McDonnell became Joe McDonnell. That's how Ken Holland became Ken Holland. That's how Jim Nill became Jim Nill. Somebody gave us an opportunity and we went with it.

"Tyler Wright is bringing qualities and experience to us that are going to be very valuable. I hope that being around us, we've got some things to provide that he can build on. We're in the people-development business. The more experience you get, the better you're going to be."

While Wright will be the new McDonnell, former NHL defenseman Jeff Finley will be the new Leach. Finley has been with the Red Wings for three years and now will assume a larger role in the scouting department as Wright's right-hand man. They will report directly to Holland, who in the past had Nill as the guy in between the scouting department and him.

"Their job starting in 2014 is to draft some players that will one day put on a Red Wings jersey," Holland said. "I believe the model for success is the people that do all the work should be making the selections. That's what they're hired to do."

A numbers game for Clarkson in Toronto

Although the optics would suggest otherwise, Toronto Maple Leafs right wing David Clarkson insists he didn't choose No. 71 just because it was the reverse of 17, the number his idol and former Leafs power forward Wendel Clark wore.

"I wore 71 when I was younger," Clarkson told "I've always loved the No. 7. It's just a number I have always loved. I obviously wasn't going to pick the No. 7 [honored number of King Clancy and Tim Horton]. I wanted to have a seven in my number, and 71 is something I wore in ball hockey and other hockey when I was young. I've always enjoyed that number."

David Clarkson
Right Wing - TOR
Goals: 15 | Assists: 9 | Pts: 24
Shots: 180 | +/-: -6
He's always enjoyed No. 17, too -- mainly because it was Clark's number.

Clark was Clarkson's favorite player when he was growing up in the Toronto suburbs -- so much so that Clarkson wore No. 17 with the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League and would have liked to wear it with the New Jersey Devils.  Instead, he was given No. 27 when he came up to the NHL in 2006-07 because Mike Rupp had No. 17 and the Devils don't give out high numbers.

Clarkson was switched to No. 23 starting with the 2007-08 season, and it stuck with him until he signed with Toronto on July 5.

"You really don't get to pick your number in New Jersey," Clarkson said with a laugh.

He did in Toronto and it created a stir as most people just assumed he picked 71 because of the Clark connection, adding fuel to the already gassed-up comparisons between the former Toronto power forward and the city's newest power forward.

Clarkson wanted to set the record straight.

"I've always enjoyed No. 7 and when you're going to pick a new number for a team you're going to be with for seven years, you've got to like the number," Clarkson said. "It's not because of Wendel Clark. You can make sure people understand that."

One more note on the Maple Leafs' newest right wing

Clarkson grew up in Mimico, Ontario, and settled in the Toronto area with his wife long before he was signed by the Maple Leafs on July 5. That hasn't stopped the neighborhood kids from welcoming him back home since signing his seven year, $37 million contract.

"There are kids who have come to the house and given my wife and I cards and gifts to say welcome to Toronto," Clarkson said. "They're really cute. As an athlete, to be lucky enough to do what I do, I always think I was that kid one day so you always have to give them time. You set the right precedent so when they're older you hope that they're answering the door and doing the same thing."

Who could be headed to an arbitration hearing?

The NHLPA last week released the list of 21 players who elected salary arbitration, but that number already has dwindled to 14, as seven of the players have re-signed with their teams.

Josh Bailey agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on a five-year deal. Jake Muzzin (Los Angeles Kings), Alec Martinez (Kings), Erik Condra (Ottawa Senators) and Brendan Smith (Red Wings) signed two-year deals. Ryan White signed a one-year deal to stay with the Montreal Canadiens, and Eric Tangradi agreed to a new deal with the Winnipeg Jets.

Salary arbitration hearings will be held in Toronto between July 22 and Aug. 6 for players who do not sign in advance. Here is rest of the list:

Sam Gagner (Edmonton Oilers), Trevor Lewis (Kings), Jordan Nolan (Kings), Nick Spaling (Nashville Predators), Mats Zuccarello (New York Rangers), Robert Bortuzzo (Pittsburgh Penguins), Chris Stewart (St. Louis Blues), Mark Fraser (Toronto Maple Leafs), Carl Gunnarsson (Maple Leafs), Dale Weise (Vancouver Canucks), Zach Bogosian (Jets), Bryan Little (Jets), Paul Postma (Jets), Blake Wheeler (Jets).

Odds and ends

* Holland said the Red Wings are "capped out," meaning their roster is pretty much set. He still has to re-sign restricted free agents Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist, which will give Detroit 16 forwards under contract. He said he made contract offers to Daniel Cleary and Damien Brunner prior to July 5, but they were turned down, and the Red Wings instead signed Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss.

* Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is looking for a new director of amateur scouting after firing Wayne Smith, The Hockey News reported earlier this week. Chiarelli told The Hockey News that the organization was looking to "freshen up our amateur scouting and shift things a little bit." The Boston Globe reported that Keith Gretzky, Wayne Gretzky's brother, is a candidate to replace Smith. Keith Gretzky is an Ontario-based scout for the Bruins.

* Tim Leiweke, President and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, told Bloomberg News in a story published Tuesday that the contract for Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis is being renegotiated and there likely will be news on that soon. "I'm a big Dave Nonis fan, and I want a culture here that is different than the one I stepped into," Leiweke said.

In the same Bloomberg article, Leiweke said he has the championship parade route planned should the Maple Leafs end their Stanley Cup drought, which currently is at 46 years.


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