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Setting The Bar High

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

New Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill has seen a lot of winning during his 19 years in the front office of the Detroit Red Wings, and he’s been essential in helping build that tradition of success. Now, he wants to do the same for the Stars.

“The bar is set high,” Nill said. “I didn’t come here to be in the playoffs one year, lose another year, be in the playoffs two years and lose two years. That’s not why I came here. I came here to restore this franchise to what it was in Mike Modano’s years, Derian Hatcher’s years. We want to win here. The bar is going to be set high.”

Nill, who was introduced as the Stars new General Manager at American Airlines Center on Monday, has been part of a Detroit franchise that has made the playoffs 22 consecutive seasons and has won four Stanley Cups during that stretch.

“We’ve got to aim higher, raise the bar higher and not be satisfied with where we’re at,” said Stars owner Tom Gaglardi. “It’s about having a winning attitude. You have to have people in the leadership roles that have the experience to know what to do, how to do it and how to get us there, and that’s really why we’re sitting here today.’’

Nill is taking over hockey operations for a Dallas team that has missed the playoffs the last five seasons.

“We’re going to change the culture a little bit,” said Nill.

That culture change involves players learning to become professionals every day, both at the rink and away from the rink, during both the season and in the offseason. It’s something young teams and young players need to learn.

“Learning how to win, being accountable to yourself and your teammates. The big thing we talk about is it needs to become a lifestyle,” Nill said. “When you come to the rink there are certain expectations; when you leave the rink, those same expectations (exist). When the season is over, that doesn’t mean things change. You’ve got to still live your life the same way. That has to happen in the dressing room. It has to happen with the players. Your profession has to become your lifestyle.

“Young players all need to learn that. I was in Detroit with Steve Yzerman and he had to learn it. Every young player – (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Henrik) Zetterberg – they all had to learn it. But once you create that, you have the winning culture you need.”

Nill’s duties in Detroit included the team’s amateur scouting department and the draft. Those areas will be key for the Stars under Nill.

“The biggest part of this game is drafting and developing, and we are going to be one of the best at it,” Nill said.

Detroit has been able to stay a consistent winner without high draft picks, and Nill said it is important to find good players with lower picks and in the later rounds.

“Everybody knows who the top players are, it’s finding those secondary players around the core,” he said. “With this new CBA, it’s easy. You get a calculator out and you’ve got three forwards making $6 million, two defensemen making $6 million, a goalie making $6 million and there’s not much left. You’ve got to fill in those holes and you’ve got to find secondary players. It’s those later draft picks.

“To really build a successful team, you need two or three drafts where you have four or five players come up at the same time. You get a (Brett) Ritchie, (Matej) Stransky, you get three, four or five guys coming up at the same time, that’s how you become a winner.”

Nill didn’t lay out how he would like the Stars to play, but he did say what kind of players he wanted on his team.

“I like smart hockey players and guys that play hard,” Nill said. “I think a great part of that foundation is in place already. You need good size in today’s game. This new CBA, it evolves every two or three years and you’ve got to stay on top of it. You’ve got to stay four or five years ahead of the curve. That’s our challenge. The teams that do that best are the teams that are going to stay consistent and stay in the playoffs. We want consistency.”

As for how long it will take to turn things around, Nill wasn’t giving a timeframe. He said the Stars would have a plan and would strive for consistency in that plan.

“None of us knows what tomorrow brings. We’re going to do the best job of developing as fast as we can, but we’re going to stick to the game plan,” he said. “So many things can change with the CBA nowadays. You are one or two injuries away – you lose one or two of your best players, I can tell you it is tough. It is tough to pull along. We’re going to stick to the game plan. What that timeframe is, I really don’t want to say what that is. We’re going to do the best we can, as quickly as we can.”

Notes: Nill will take time on staff decisions

*Nill said he will take time on making decisions about personnel, including head coach Glen Gulutzan.

“I am going to be very patient making decisions,” Nill said. “I am not going to rush into anything. I’ve been sitting on the outside. I need to get on the inside and we’ll go from there.”

When asked specifically about the head coaching position, Nill said Gulutzan is the head coach for now.

“I’ve got a head coach. I am going to sit down with him,” he said. “Right now I have a head coach and two assistants I am going to sit down and go from there.”

*Nill said he will be heading to Cedar Park on Wednesday to watch the Texas Stars play the Milwaukee Admirals in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

“It’s important to go see those kids. I need to talk to the coaches and staff down there. I need to introduce myself,” Nill said. “I know Willie (Desjardins, Texas coach) already. It’s important that those kids need to be seen. You talk about ‘why did I come here,’ that was another piece of the puzzle. A lot of teams have their AHL team six hours away by flight. In Detroit, we had Grand Rapids two, two-and-half hours away. (It’s the) same situation here. It’s important for those kids to know that the GM, assistant GM and scouts are watching them every game.”

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