By JAMES COOK firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A familiar face to local hockey aficionados has been a regular presence at the NHL Prospect Tournament this week.
Only in a much different role.
Jim Nill, who had served in the Detroti Red Wings front office since 1994, is back at Centre ICE arena wearing a Dallas Stars jacket.
The Stars plucked Nill from Detroit and announced him as their general manager on April 30 in a move USA Today hockey writer Kevin Allen called "the managerial equivalent of landing the best player available in the free agent marketplace."
For Nill, it was both a promotion and an opportunity he couldn't refuse.
"It's been great," Nill said. "We've got a great staff down there, some great, young kids. I'm just anxious to get the season going."
"It's a big change. It's all change. I'm coming from a great organization. I've been lucky I've been in an organization that has done it right all these years — and I've learned from that. That's what I'm trying to create in Dallas. I've got a lot of work to do. And if I can have a quarter of the success they've had here, I'll be happy."
The Stars are 14 years away from their first — and only — Stanley Cup win in the 1998-99 season.
Dallas hasn't made the playoffs since 2007-08 — when they were eliminated by Nill's Red Wings in six games in the conference finals — and have finished fifth in the Pacific Division in three of the last four years.
"I've been taught by some great people here," Nill said. "I've learned from some great people. And we've had success here. I'm trying to create that same environment and winning attitude. That's my goal. I'm taking what I've learned here and trying to replicate that in Dallas."
Two weeks after he was hired, Nill fired coach Glen Gulutzan and assistant coach Paul Jerrard.
"We made a coaching change right away," Nill said. "We brought in Lindy Ruff and his staff. James Patrick and Kurt Fraser used to be in Grand Rapids with me. So we've got a great coaching staff. We made a couple trades early in June and free agency. We've got a different team coming into this season — and we've excited about that."
Coaching changes aside, Nill's biggest splash was a blockbuster trade with the Boston Bruins.
Pulled off on July 4, Nill acquired centers Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley and defenseman Ryan Button for four players — wingers Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser and blueliner Joe Morrow. Among a number of free-agent moves, he signed veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar to a two-year deal. Although Seguin has had some maturity issues in the past, his production — and potential — on the ice are hard to ignore.
Nill also thinks the Dallas minor-league affiliates have some solid talent to build on in the future.
"The good thing is I've seen most of these players because I've been out in the field," Nill said. "When I went to Dallas, I knew what they had in the system. They've got some good, young players. The staff has been done a good job. It's a good situation to go into."
The Stars — who many think is one of the best teams at this year's Prospect Tournament — are 1-1 going into today's final pool play games. The Red Wings are 2-0 and have the most points with six, looking poised to meet Buffalo in Monday's title game if Detroit can get past 1-1 St. Louis tonight.
"Detroit's got a very good team," Nill said. "Buffalo's good. You've got to go out and do it. There's some good teams here."