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Uncomfortable questions with Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill

NS_29NILL1_30881460DALLAS, Texas - The NHL's Olympic Break is a few days away, and your Dallas Stars professional ice hockey team is once again not in the playoffs. But ... the Stars are just one point behind eighth-seeded Vancouver for the final Wild Card spot, because what the NHL really needed to do was to add more confusing playoff scenarios.

In his first season as general manager, Jim Nill is slowly putting his signature on this franchise. What he needs are defenseman. The long time former Detroit Red Wings assistant GM was nice enough to answer some questions about how his first year with the Stars is going.

What is the biggest difference you have noticed from being an assistant to the top guy? The biggest difference is you are dealing with more people's issues. They have something going on, and they want to know what this or that is happening. That is probably the biggest difference.

Do you call and lean on your former boss - Red Wings GM Ken Holland? There is separation. We talk quite a bit, but it's chit chat. He's got lots going on, too.

Looking back on your decision to finally leave the Red Wings, why was this the right decision to come here? It was time. It was just time. I needed that challenge. I think it was good for Detroit, too. I was there for 20 years. We had all been together there for a long time. They had to re-assess their hockey department and making some changes, and I needed to, too.

20131003_KKT_AN4_745_33537447-620x449One of the moves you made looked very much like something the Red Wings would have done - roll the dice on drafting (Russian teen center) Valeri Nichushkin. Is that wrong? Well, he was going to come here to play. Everybody's fear was that if you drafted him, he was going to go back to Russia. He would have gone down to the minors for a while, but not for long.

Is he the same kind of Eastern European the Red Wings would have taken? Yeah, it's the same thing. He's got it. Some guys have it, and he's got it. To be 18 and to be able to do what he does on a consistent basis - he's got it.

You are not lacking for talented forwards - We have a great foundation there. 

Tell me if I'm wrong, it would appear you are lacking on defense. No, you're not wrong. I would say that is 75 percent of the teams in the NHL. We're all looking for it. 

Is it like pitching in baseball now? Yeah, there's not enough. It's a tough position. What excites me is that internally we some pieces coming (in the minors). We have to be patient with it and it takes time.

Brenden-dillon1-455x650How do you not force rushing that? They make it easy for you - if they're not ready, you can't. You have to give them some growth. There are going to be ups and downs. You know when they will be ready. It's like you said with pitching, defense and goaltending you can't rush those positions. They are a maturity position.

In terms of what you built, are you where you thought you would be or has the team underperformed? I'm excited, other than the standings, I like how we play. I think we are ahead of the curve as far as our identity of the team.

What is the identity? We are very fast and we play hard and play hard with four lines. To win in this NHL you have to have four lines. We have four lines, and they can all play.

How do you address the blueline without rushing those pieces? When we went into a game in LA just before Christmas, we went into that game with total man games of 508 on defense. And 300 of that was Alex Goligoski. None of these guys has played. Jordie Benn has grabbed a spot. Brenden Dillon has. 

Are you going to the Olympics? No, watching on TV.  I was in Sochi last year.

Biggest mispercetions people have about that culture and the safety issue? They are great people. If you are their friend, you are their friend for life. I think the danger is overrated. It's because of the Olympics, it's no different than being in New York City. There are dangers in every city. That's life. It's not as bad as people think.

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Excellent interview. Well done, Mac.


You do some good interviews. That one was excellent.

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