Jim Montgomery is a great head coach in the National Hockey League.
That’s been proven to the casual fan with the Boston Bruins’ record over the first half. The first-year head coach has guided Boston to an incredible 39-8-5 start through its first 52 games.
But for Dallas, they didn’t need an introduction to Montgomery’s ability. They had a first-hand look on their own bench from 2018-20.
After the Stars had an acrimonious meltdown in former head coach Ken Hitchcock’s lone season at the helm in 2017-18, general manager Jim Nill and principle owner Tom Gaglardi went outside the box in the team’s next hire.
Dallas broke the recent league standard of “recycling” fired coaches from other teams, instead hiring Montgomery from the University of Denver- an NCAA Division-I powerhouse that played in the 2017 National Championship game- for his first NHL head coaching job.
The hire became official on May 4, 2018- and it almost immediately paid off. After missing the postseason the prior year, Dallas returned to the playoffs and won a first-round series against Nashville in Montgomery’s first season. The Stars would’ve made a Conference Final appearance that year as well- had it not been for a hard-fought Game 7 loss in overtime to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.
Entering 2019-20, there was optimism surrounding the Stars veteran core led by one of the bright young coaches in the game in Montgomery. In the team’s first two months of the season, that optimism was well-grounded- the Stars were among the leaders in the Central Division.
Then, on December 10, 2019, it all unraveled.
That day, despite an 18-11-3 record, the Stars fired Montgomery for “unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League.”
Nill said a specific situation had come to light the previous weekend, and involved “a material act of unprofessionalism” serious enough to demand Montgomery’s immediate firing.
Rick Bowness was named the team’s interim head coach, and the rest is history. He guided the team on a miracle run through the COVID-19 pandemic as the Stars lost in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final.
There wasn’t much clarity surrounding Montgomery’s firing at the time, but soon after, new details emerged. Elliotte Freidman of Sportsnet reported he was fired for a “personal behavior issue.” Not long after, Montgomery announced he had checked himself into a rehab center to deal with alcohol abuse, and said that the Stars made “an appropriate call” in firing him.
In a flash, a brief but successful tenure was over.
Montgomery’s tenure showed a rare glance of possible long-term stability in head coaching gig in Dallas. The team has had a whopping 6 different head coaches over the last 10 years- one of the highest turnover rates in the NHL.
It wasn’t to be, however. Montgomery eventually landed on his feet as an assistant in St. Louis last season, and was named Bruce Cassidy’s replacement in Boston this past Spring.
Bowness and the team parted ways after Dallas’ first-round exit last season, and Peter Deboer was brought into replace him in May. Fortunately, the change has been a positive catalyst- entering Tuesday’s matchup with Boston, the Stars sit atop the Central Division with 70 points and a +42 goal differential- the second-best mark in the league, trailing only Montgomery’s Bruins with a blistering +80 mark.
It’s a frustrating situation for Stars fans. It wasn’t anything related to the team that saw one of the best young minds depart, rather, a personal situation.
As they continue long for stability at head coach and the Bruins continue to succeed, they’re left only to wonder what could’ve been.
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