After the Dallas Stars made a third straight exit in the first round of the playoffs last season and got off to a slow start in 2007-08 that included a stunning loss in their last game, general manager Doug Armstrong finally paid with his job.
What has been a rough week for the Stars continues when they host the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday, a day after Armstrong was dismissed after more than five years as GM.
After losing to Vancouver in the opening round of the playoffs last season, the Stars are off to a 7-7-3 start this season. The final straw may have come in Dallas' last game Saturday night, when the team blew a 4-0 lead after two periods and lost 6-5 in overtime at Los Angeles.
"I thought that the team needed a change in direction," Stars owner Tom Hicks said. "I know that change can be healthy, and it was my determination that this move needed to be made."
Armstrong had been with the Stars for 17 years, serving as assistant general manager when Dallas won the Stanley Cup in 1999. He was promoted the same day the Stars fired former coach Ken Hitchcock, and one of his first moves as GM was hiring coach Dave Tippett in 2002. Armstrong's contract ran through the 2010-11 season.
Stars captain Brenden Morrow said the team sensed a change was imminent.
"I don't know if it's shocking," Morrow said. "It's unfortunate it had to come to that. It's something we didn't get done on the ice."
With Armstrong as GM, the Stars made the playoffs four times but only advanced past the first round once, when they lost in the 2003 Western Conference semifinals to Anaheim in six games.
Saturday's collapse against the Kings seemed to indicate all isn't right in the Dallas locker room. Marty Turco, who gave up five goals on six shots in the third period, hinted at discord following the defeat.
"The whole third period was brutal," Turco said. "Other than embarrassing, it's a total lack of respect for each other. You can't just sit back and wait for it to go your way. You've got to make things happen. And we haven't been making enough happen. We were just lucky to get a point out of all that."
Dallas, loser of two straight, will try to begin turning things around Wednesday against a Sharks team that's enjoying perhaps its most favorable four-game stretch of the season. First-place San Jose (9-7-2) has so far taken advantage of a scheduling quirk that has it playing last-place Phoenix three times in four games, beating the Coyotes in its last two contests - both at HP Pavilion - by a combined 9-1.
The Sharks handled Phoenix easily again Monday night, getting 25 saves from Evgeni Nabokov and two goals each from Joe Thornton and Devin Setoguchi in a 5-0 victory.
Nabokov set a franchise record with his 25th straight start, breaking the mark first set by Chris Terreri during the 1995-96 season, and coach Ron Wilson sounded like Nabokov would make it 26 in a row Wednesday.
"The schedule was set up to play him a lot," Wilson said. "I feel confident playing him. He is fresh out there. The couple of games he was not sharp, it wasn't because he was fatigued."
The Sharks complete their Coyote-heavy stretch Thursday at Phoenix.
Turco, who made 38 saves in a 3-1 win at San Jose last Wednesday, is 17-6-2 with one tie and a 2.15 goals-against average against the Sharks. Nabokov, on the other hand, has struggled against the Stars, going 7-14-2 with three ties and a 2.61 GAA in 27 meetings lifetime.
Tippett's team hasn't fared well at home against the Sharks of late, dropping two straight and three of four. San Jose won 4-2 at Dallas on Oct. 29 in the clubs' first matchup of the season there.
Turco and the Stars will need to tighten up their defense against the Sharks, especially Thornton, who has four goals and six assists in his last nine games.