Commentary

Hiring Crawford a big mistake for Stars

Updated: June 11, 2009, 1:45 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Maybe Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks instructed rookie GM Joe Nieuwendyk to fire coach Dave Tippett to clear the decks in Big D.

Maybe Nieuwendyk did it on his own to flex his newfound GM muscles.

Maybe his former boss in Toronto, GM Brian Burke, and longtime Burke associate Dave Nonis, now the assistant GM in Toronto, whispered in Nieuwendyk's ear about the virtues of their old Vancouver pal and former coach Marc Crawford.

[+] EnlargeMarc Crawford
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMarc Crawford's last NHL coaching stint was with the L.A. Kings in the 2007-08 season.

Who knows.

But the one thing that is patently clear is this is a mistake that will rest solely on Nieuwendyk's shoulders. And Crawford's hiring is certainly a mistake.

The old adage about judging a hockey trade by which team obtains the best player applies here. With Crawford becoming the new coach in Dallas, it is a step down on almost every level from what Tippett brought to the table. One NHL coach told ESPN.com on Wednesday he thinks Tippett is one of the best coaches in the league.

As for Crawford, history suggests he peaked as an NHL coach in 1996, when the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup with him behind the bench. His Avs went to the Western Conference finals the following season, but Crawford's teams have failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs since then. In fact, since 1997, Crawford's squads have lost in the first round four times and finished out of the playoffs five times.

Perhaps most damning, Crawford failed to motivate a talented Vancouver Canucks team to fulfill its significant potential during his seven-year tenure there.

Pretty impressive.

Nieuwendyk's decision to can Tippett presumably relates to the team's inability to succeed in the playoffs, but even that logic is severely flawed. During the 2007-08 season, Tippett's Stars upset the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks before being defeated in six hard-fought games by the Detroit Red Wings, the eventual Stanley Cup champion.

This past season, the Stars fell on hard times, missing emotional anchors Sergei Zubov and Brenden Morrow for virtually the entire season. Talented center Brad Richards was lost for significant amounts of time to injury and the players in the starting lineup were rarely, if ever, all healthy at the same time. Then, there was the ghastly decision by Brett Hull to sign Sean Avery, another contributing factor to the Stars' uneven season. Co-GMs Hull and Les Jackson were recently relieved of their duties and repositioned within the organization.

Still, under Tippett, the Stars crawled out of a significant hole and were, for a time late in the season, in position to qualify for the playoffs. It didn't happen, but now the Stars seem poised to take another step backward.

Logic suggests Nieuwendyk should have given Tippett at least a chance at the start of the coming season to see if the Stars' 12th-place finish in the Western Conference last season was an issue of coaching or personnel.

As for Tippett, a great communicator and innovative thinker, he shouldn't have to wait long for a new opportunity to come his way.

In fact, when Darryl Sutter said he would coach the Calgary Flames until someone better came along, well -- ding, ding! -- guess what, that just happened. If Sutter is serious about finding the best coach available, his first call Thursday morning should have been to the Stars to see how he goes about getting in touch with Tippett.

He'd better hurry, though, as GMs Chuck Fletcher (Minnesota) and Lou Lamoriello (New Jersey) are looking for new coaches, as well.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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