The Dallas Morning News

Fast replacemen­t

Seeking experience, GM says he has talked to three candidates

- Twitter: @MikeHeika

Mike Heika: With three candidates already in mind, general manager Jim Nill has begun talks to get a new Stars coach in place.

Jim Nill said that he has three head coaching candidates in mind and that he might make a decision quickly.

The Stars general manager announced Sunday that Lindy Ruff would not be retained as head coach and said during exit interviews Monday at American Airlines Center that he already is looking at possible replacemen­ts.

“Right now I’ve had three people I’ve been talking to. That may get expanded here a little bit, but I’m hoping this is going to happen pretty quickly,” Nill said. “These guys are all good coaches. This league moves pretty fast. I know there’s other teams looking at things, so I hope that this happens pretty quickly.”

Nill wouldn’t identify the candidates but said he wants an experience­d head coach. If the hire is going to come quickly, then it’s pretty easy to identify three veteran coaches who don’t have jobs. Ken Hitchcock, 65, was let go by the St. Louis Blues this season. Gerard Gallant, 53, was fired by the Florida Panthers. And Michel Therrien, 53, was fired by the Montreal Canadiens. All have tons of experience. All have reputation­s as strong defensive coaches.

The Stars finished 29th in goals against average (3.17), 30th in save percentage (.893) and 30th in penalty-kill success (73.9 percent). Nill said the team has to be better defensivel­y but added that the team is built with speed and needs to use its skill.

“We’re trying to build the best team we can here with the most skill. And in the end, the coach’s job is going to be to give them the structure to win in the right way,” Nill said when asked about the need for better defensive play. “Part of this too is the onus on players. They have to play the proper way.”

Players echoed that sentiment during the exit interviews. Nill stressed that the best players had bad years and that their improvemen­t would be a big part of future success. Captain Jamie Benn said he understand­s his role in the fall of the team from 109 points last season to 79 this season and said the players are motivated to fix things.

“Whoever the coaches are that come in here, they’re going to have probably a whole new system and whole new ideas,” Benn said. “As players, we have to be open to those ideas and believe in what they’re telling us. I’m sure that won’t be a problem for this group.”

Nill said assistant coach James Patrick (in charge of defensemen and the penalty kill) will not be retained. Assistant coach Curt Fraser (in charge of forwards and the power play) will get a chance to interview with the new head coach. Goaltendin­g coach Jeff Reese and video coach Kelly Forbes will be back.

Ruff was head coach for four seasons and finished 165-12241 (.566). He is tied with Bob Gainey for fourth in franchise history in wins. Ruff was a Jack Adams finalist as coach of the year last season when Dallas had the best record in the Western Conference. However, the Stars fell to 34-37-11, and Ruff ’s contract is up.

Nill said the two sides had discussion­s about a contract extension in the summer, but it was a mutual decision to let the season play out.

“We were in negotiatio­ns, but in the end, we didn’t find a fit,” Nill said. “We were both comfortabl­e waiting, and so we decided to wait.”

Now, Ruff will have a chance to find a job with a new team and leaves with high recommenda­tions from his players.

“Lindy was a great coach and a great person,” Benn said. “Obviously, I had a pretty good relationsh­ip with him. It’s got a lot to do with us players. We failed as a group this year and, unfortunat­ely, he took the hit for it.”

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