When the general manager who hired him was dumped two weeks ago, Gulutzan's firing looked like the inevitable next step in an overhaul of the staff and it came Tuesday in an announcement from new general manager Jim Nill. He nevertheless said the move wasn't a foregone conclusion in his mind.
"That's why this process took so long," Nill said. "I needed to do my homework. I needed to get to know everybody. It's tough when you come into a new situation. I wanted to be fair to everyone."
The Stars missed the playoffs in both of Gulutzan's seasons, making it five straight years without a post-season trip for a franchise that crammed 73 playoff games into a four-year stretch a little more than a decade ago.
Joe Nieuwendyk was a prominent member of those Stars teams, winning the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP when Dallas won the Stanley Cup in 1999. He didn't come close to replicating that success as general manager, finally getting replaced by Nill after four years of missing the playoffs.
Gulutzan was the second of two failed coaching hires for Nieuwendyk, who fired Dave Tippett when he arrived and hired Marc Crawford, a Stanley Cup winner with Colorado in 1995.
Crawford brought a tougher style than the player-friendly Tippett, but he missed the playoffs in both his seasons while Tippett took Phoenix to the post-season the first three years after the Stars let him go.
The hiring of Gulutzan when he was 39 was seen as a move back to the players' side. He was plucked from the Stars' top affiliate, the Texas Stars of the AHL, after eight seasons as a head coach in the minor leagues.
Dallas was in contention late in both his seasons, but faltered down the stretch. He was 64-57-9, including 22-22-4 in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. The Stars controlled their playoff fate with five games remaining each year under Gulutzan, but went 0-9-1 in those 10 games.
Assistant coach Paul Jerrard also was fired, while assistant coach Curt Fraser and goaltending coach Mike Valley will stay with the club. The new head coach will inherit a playoff drought that's now two seasons longer than the previous record of three straight from 1973-76, when the franchise was in Minnesota.
"Things have to change here," Nill said. "It hasn't been right. We're in the business to win here. We're going to put something in place to start that process."
Nill said he met with Gulutzan about five times before delivering his decision Tuesday.
"We had some good discussions," Nill said. "It's part of the business. Sometimes you have to go through peaks and valleys. In the end, this is going to make him a better coach."
Nieuwendyk tried to get Dallas back to the playoffs this year by adding veterans Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Ray Whitney, but ended up trading Jagr, Roy and longtime captain Brenden Morrow with the team languishing at the trading deadline.
The Stars made an improbable surge to stay alive with a much younger roster, and many of those players — led by forward Jamie Benn — are likely to be part of the rebuilding under Nill, who spent 15 years as an assistant GM with Detroit. The Red Wings have the longest playoff streak in North American pro sports at 22 years.
"The nice thing is the slate is clean," Nill said. "We don't have a lot of contracts that tie our hands. We know the positions we've got to get better in. We're fortunate in that we have a good young foundation. We're just going to continue to make that foundation stronger."
Nill said he isn't in a hurry to hire a coach and won't necessarily swing back to a coach with NHL experience after Gulutzan couldn't translate his AHL success to the higher level.
"It's going to be wide open," Nill said. "There have been some great young coaches that have come in and done some great things with teams. I need to be wide open to that aspect."
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