DALLAS – For Dallas Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk, it became clear in less than two weeks on the job that a coaching change was necessary. The team needed a leader with a tougher edge.
Nieuwendyk turned to Marc Crawford, a coach he once played for in the Olympics and someone similar to the coach he played for when the Stars won their only Stanley Cup 10 years ago.
“What Marc will bring is a real command at the top,” Nieuwendyk said. “The players will know who’s in charge. They will be held accountable on a daily basis. That’s what I think is necessary.”
Crawford was introduced Thursday as the replacement for Dave Tippett, who was fired Wednesday. The coaching change is the first significant move made by Nieuwendyk since he was hired May 31.
The more player-friendly Tippett had replaced Ken Hitchcock, who was fired midway through 2001-02 season. Now the Stars are going back to a more dominant coach after missing the playoffs for only the third time since moving to Dallas in 1993.
The 48-year-old Crawford won the 1996 Stanley Cup with Colorado, and has a 470-361-156 record in 13 seasons as coach of the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings.
Crawford was also head coach for Team Canada during the 1998 Winter Olympics, a squad that lost a shootout to the Czech Republic in the semifinal game and missed out on the bronze medal by losing to Finland.
He spent last season in the television booth after being fired by the Kings following two losing seasons. He had interviewed for other jobs recently, though he wouldn’t say with which teams or if there had been discussions about a return to Colorado. He said he was preparing to talk to another team when Nieuwendyk called over the weekend.
“I’ve never felt more ready for a challenge than I do today, and I think that’s largely because I do have a lot to prove and I recognize that,” he said. “In a lot of ways, the Stars are similar. That’s what makes me so excited, how motivated the players are.”
As a rookie head coach for Quebec in 1994-95, the Nordiques made the playoffs and at 34 Crawford became the youngest recipient of the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL coach of the year, a distinction he still holds. The team moved to Colorado and won the Stanley Cup a year later and he stayed with that franchise until 1998.
Crawford was in Vancouver from 1999-2006, and his 246 wins there are still the most for a Canucks coach though they made it past the first round of the playoffs only once in four appearances.
It was during his time with the Canucks that Todd Bertuzzi, then in Vancouver, sucker-punched Colorado’s Steve Moore in a March 2004 game. Crawford last year was added as a third party with Bertuzzi and the Canucks in a lawsuit filed by Moore, who hasn’t played hockey since suffering a concussion and three fractured vertebrae. Crawford couldn’t comment on that because of the ongoing case.
There was also that infamous verbal altercation with Detroit coach Scotty Bowman during a 1997 Red Wings-Avalanche game. While still extremely passionate, Crawford guaranteed nothing like that would happen again while with the Stars.
“I recognize that there have been times where my demeanour and my personality have gotten the best of me,” he said. “The old thing with me and Scotty, that was not one of my finer moments.”
Tippett finished with a 271-162-59 record in six seasons with the Stars and had two seasons left on his contract. He took them to the playoffs five times before falling short last season with an injury-plagued team that was missing captain Brenden Morrow and veteran defenceman Sergei Zubov most of the year.
Soon after the season, owner Tom Hicks reassigned co-general managers Brett Hull and Les Jackson within the organization and hired Nieuwendyk, the Conn Smythe Award winner in 1999. While playing in the Olympics for Crawford, Nieuwendyk was impressed with how organized the coach was, how meticulous he was to details and how he handled players.
There are also similarities to Hitchcock.
“Both are extremely passionate people,” Nieuwendyk said. “They really drive to win and to be successful. Ken Hitchcock is probably the epitome of that. Marc, having two years off, allowed him to re-evaluate and look at the league, and he’s fresh.”