Gulutzan fits mold of new NHL coaches


He was always too good for the small office. Always too smart for the minor leagues of professional hockey. Always too skilled a head coach to believe his was a ceiling of the Orleans Arena and chasing a Kelly Cup.

Glen Gulutzan always has been ahead of his time. Some might think he still is today. I think he is right where he belongs.

You don't see this often. Hardly ever. A player so smoothly transitioning himself into the head coaching ranks as Gulutzan did when taking over the Wranglers in 2003.

Guys are too emotional. The moment is too big.

It never was for Gulutzan.

Why should it be now?

"The league has gotten younger, and the fact is, young, innovative coaches who have good relationships with players have been getting more opportunities," Joe Nieuwendyk said. "But I don't want to give the misconception that we just have a young coach that is good with young players. We have a young coach who is going to be our leader. Our guys will know who is in charge, and they will play hard for him.

"Even though he's young and hasn't coached a game in the NHL, his strengths are exactly what we need. He just gets it. He understands players. He understands how to mesh players and get the most of their ability. He is the right guy for us."

Nieuwendyk is general manager of the Dallas Stars and the man who selected Gulutzan as the team's new coach, whose leap of faith continues an NHL trend of late in which one's birth year and lack of experience isn't counted against those hoping to lead teams at the game's highest level.

Dan Bylsma of Pittsburgh. Guy Boucher of Tampa Bay. Each came from the American Hockey League ranks like Gulutzan, and each owned tremendous early success. Dallas hopes it has discovered yet another gold puck in the reservoir of available coaches.

Gulutzan is 39. Mike Yeo is 37 and was hired as coach of the Minnesota Wild on Friday, another AHL coach making the jump. Bylsma was 38 when he landed the Pittsburgh job on an interim basis in 2009. Later that year, the Penguins won a Stanley Cup. Boucher is 39.

There is no greater strength of a coach than adaptability, and Gulutzan is a master of it. His teams in Las Vegas -- the Wranglers finished no worse than second in their division five times and had three straight 100-point seasons under him -- were exceptional in executing to their particular strengths in a given year.

His always has been a more defensive style, a school of thinking that a team which can possess the puck and be structured in its zone while opponents attack is a team that wins games.

Gulutzan has won a lot of games.

He didn't have near the AHL's best talent in Austin the past two seasons but went 87-56-17 and took the Texas Stars to the league finals in 2010. In Dallas, he inherits a team that has no owner, is financially monitored by banks, will be one of the NHL's youngest next season and has missed the playoffs three straight seasons.

He also has a two-year contract with a club option for a third to prove himself.

His response: Opportunity knocks.

"There is going to be selling to everyone, but the easiest selling point is success," Gulutzan said. "That's what makes everyone buy in, because at the end of the day -- whether you are a veteran or a young guy -- these guys haven't made it to this level not wanting to win.

"The journey so far has obviously been very good for myself and my family. We really enjoyed our time in Las Vegas. I was given an opportunity there at age 31 and was able to learn the hard knocks of coaching. They gave me my first chance, for which I will always be thankful."

He remembers the first time he stood behind an AHL bench, the first time he coached a game at a level higher than what he witnessed with the Wranglers for six seasons. He remembers the speed, the size, the quickness at which decisions were made.

Then he went home and told his wife this: "It's the same game, only a lot crisper with the same mistakes being made ...

"I am sure come this October, I will have the same impression about the NHL."

We are talking hockey and coaching.

Glen Gulutzan will do just fine.

He was always too good for the small office.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

 

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