DALLAS – Lindy Ruff had one stipulation when he agreed to meet with the Dallas Stars about their coaching vacancy.
“We can’t meet in the crease,” Ruff said about his joking conversation with new Stars general manager Jim Nill.
Ruff was hired Friday the new coach of the Stars, 14 years after Dallas clinched its only Stanley Cup championship on a goal he has always questioned—Brett Hull’s shot with his skate in the crease late in the third overtime of Game 6 that beat the Ruff-coached Buffalo Sabres.
“It’s a long time ago,” Ruff said after his introduction. “I’ve had some great memories. I’ve gotten past that. I’m a coach, I want to coach, and this is an unbelievable opportunity. … It all worked out great for Dallas.
“It didn’t work out so good for us back then. I can tell you one thing, that same emotion and same passion will be here in Dallas if the same type of thing happens or anything similar, because that’s the fire I have.”
The Stars, who have missed the playoffs the past five seasons, gave the 53-year-old Ruff a four-year contract. He is the 22nd coach in franchise history and seventh since the team moved to North Texas in 1993.
Before being fired by Buffalo in February, Ruff had been the Sabres coach for 15 seasons and was the NHL’s longest active-serving coach with one team.
The Sabres’ only Stanley Cup appearance under Ruff came in that 1999 final known for the “No Goal!” chant that Ruff joined thousands of Buffalo fans in after the series was over. They thought Hull’s skate was in the goalie’s crease before he had control of the puck and the goal shouldn’t have been allowed.
“The league said it was a goal. I just argued that it wasn’t,” Ruff said. “My first thing was asking whether this was being reviewed and couldn’t get an answer. … It’s all behind me.”
Ruff is the first significant hire for Nill, the longtime Detroit Red Wings assistant general manager who signed a five-year deal in April to replace the fired Joe Nieuwendyk.
Nill had worked in Detroit’s front office since 1994, his last 15 seasons as the general manager of the franchise that has made the playoffs the past 22 seasons.
The Stars are in their longest post-season drought in the history of the franchise that started as the Minnesota North Stars from 1967-93. They were 22-22-4 last season, at the bottom of the Pacific Division.
Before his time in the front office, Nill finished his playing career in the Red Wings organization. Ruff was drafted by the Sabres in 1979 and became the captain during his 10 years as a player before getting traded to the New York Rangers, then later returning to Buffalo as coach.
Now the two men who spent extended periods of time within separate organizations are starting fresh together in Dallas.
“That’s the intriguing part of it. … The first time I met Lindy, he said why did you leave (Detroit),” Nill said. “So we walked through it. I talked about the ownership, talked about the foundation being built, talked about opportunity, talked about a fresh start.”
Two weeks after Nill was hired, he decided not to renew the third-year option for coach Glen Gulutzan.
Nill spoke to several candidates for the job, but quickly realized that Ruff had all the attributes he desired in a coach.
“It was experience, credibility, stability, great knowledge of the game, person that’s been in different situations, the highs and lows and a good family person on and off the ice,” Nill said. “We sat down and all these attributes were checked off. … We’re looking excitedly to a very long tenure here.”
Since Ruff still had two seasons left on his contract with Buffalo, the Stars had to get permission from the Sabres to talk to the coach.
Ruff was the Sabres’ winningest coach (571-432-162), but was fired after a 6-10-1 in this year’s lockout-shortened season. There had been 170 NHL coaching changes between his hiring in July 1997 and the time he was fired.
Under Ruff, the Sabres made the playoffs in each of his first four seasons and eight times overall. They made the Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and 2007.
“When you coach for that number of years and in the same place, the exciting part for me is in talking to a lot of other coaches, from former coaches here to coaches that have gone from organization to organization, how it revitalized them, energized them,” Ruff said. “I’m excited about working with Jim and all his experiences that he had in Detroit. It was just a real good fit.”