“I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
If I told you that was a Jim Nill quote from 2017 instead of a quote from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar you would almost believe me. The last season was long and grueling, one that many would like to forget. Nill opened up about it a little bit this week.
Elliotte Friedman's '31 Thoughts' column is my favorite part of hockey season. The writing is always wonderful and weaves together interesting information with neat stories full of detail you simply can’t get anywhere else. One of the foci this week is the Dallas Stars. I want to focus on the parts about Nill.
2017 wasn’t much fun for the general manager. Nill told Friedman about how difficult last season was for him:
“I learned a lot about myself. All in a good way. I’ve been very lucky, almost always with good teams. It’s tough going through for the first time, but you have to be careful identifying what’s the reason. You have to be careful not to overreact. Have patience. I’d had opportunities for jobs earlier, but if I had taken them, I know now I’d have had a tougher time handling it.”
It’s easy to forget sometimes that the decision makers are people too. People react to new situations in different ways. 2017 was probably the worst season Nill has been associated with as a member of an NHL front office when you compare performance to expectations, and certainly the worst where he has been in charge. Prior to last season Nill hadn’t been involved with an organization with a losing record since he was a scout with the inaugural Ottawa Senators.
“The biggest change for me, is that when you become GM, there’s less hockey and more managing… I was used to scouting, finding good players. Now you’re not in that position. You hire people to scout, to figure out your cap. Your success is dependent on people you hire, putting them in right situations to be successful. If that makes sense.”
This quote struck a chord with me. 2017 was such a mess from the get-go that many were calling for the head of former coach Lindy Ruff by November. The common response was that there has to be a replacement worth hiring available. Instead of choosing between Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth as the 7th defenseman the Stars lost both for virtually nothing when 2018 got here after trading Jordie Benn. Nill was patient to a fault.
This past off-season saw Nill return to being decisive. Alexander Radulov, Ben Bishop, and Martin Hanzal were signed after the Stars agreed to bring Ken Hitchcock back as head coach. Marc Methot came over from the Vegas Golden Knights. Nemeth and Oleksiak are gone now.
After a season that slipped away without any major efforts to shake the Stars out of their funk, this offseason and the early part of 2018 have seen a much more aggressive approach from Nill. The trade deadline approaches and the Stars have some needs. We’re about to see how far this new aggressive approach truly extends.
You can follow Josh Lile on Twitter at @JoshL1220