Stars keep expectations high after playoff-less season

DALLAS (AP) — Now that Dallas general manager Jim Nill has decided to replace Lindy Ruff, he’s looking for another coach just like him: experienced, successful, ready to win immediately even though the Stars just missed the playoffs.

That’s because the circumstances are drastically different than four years ago when Nill was hired and chose Ruff with the franchise mired in its longest playoff drought at five years.

This time, a long postseason run remains the expectation with the high-scoring duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin because the Stars are just a year removed from having the best regular-season record in the Western Conference.

“By no means is this a rebuild,” Benn said after the Stars finished with their second-fewest points since moving from Minnesota nearly 25 years ago.

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“We got a great group of players in there that can do some great things. We definitely have to turn this around real fast.”

Nill said Monday, a day after announcing Ruff’s departure , that he had three experienced candidates in mind and hoped to hire quickly. Ruff came in after 14-plus seasons in Buffalo, with eight trips to the playoffs that included a loss to Dallas in the Stanley Cup Final in 1999.

The Stars made the postseason in Ruff’s first and third seasons, winning a series last year before dropping a Game 7 to St. Louis. But they missed in the second and fourth seasons, although Dallas had one more win in 2014-15 than in Ruff’s debut.

Injuries played a role in the Stars falling short after being a popular pick for the Stanley Cup title in the preseason. But injuries weren’t a popular topic Monday.

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“Lindy was very good yesterday. He said, ‘You know what, maybe there needs to be a different message here,'” Nill said. “He knows the business. We’re a performance business.”

Things to consider after the Stars finished 34-37-11 this season, 11th in the Western Conference with 79 points:

TWO TO GO? Nill indicated changes could be in order for the two-goalie system the Stars used the past two years with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. They each have a year left on contracts that take a significant portion of the salary cap at $10.5 million combined. The expansion draft could play a role. “They’re in this with everybody else,” Nill said. “They’ve had their good times. They’ve had their bad times also.”

THE BLUE LINE: A young defensive unit that struggled also played a role in the Stars finishing last in save percentage and second-to-last in goals-against average. “I think we have to get better defensively because we were at the bottom of the league and we gave up a lot of goals and we need to change,” forward Jason Spezza said. “I think if you tried the same thing without success, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.”

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SHARP’S FUTURE: Patrick Sharp had season-ending hip surgery in late March, which was expected after Nill said he couldn’t be dealt at the trading deadline because of what was then an undisclosed injury. He also had two concussions that sidelined him 26 games. A three-time Stanley Cup winner with Chicago, Sharp becomes a free agent. The 35-year-old said he hasn’t started thinking about such things.

JANMARK’S UNKNOWN: Promising young winger Mattias Janmark faces an uncertain future because of a condition that causes a knee to lock up. It required surgery before the season, and Nill still isn’t sure on the prognosis for the 24-year-old, Janmark has been skating but will have surgery this week to have two screws removed and will be idle at least another month. “We’re in uncharted territory with Mattias,” Nill said.


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