The Dallas Stars fired head coach Jim Montgomery on Tuesday due to what the team’s general manager says was “unprofessional conduct.”
GM Jim Nill says he was made aware of the situation on Sunday in a phone call.
“This decision was made due to unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League,” Nill said in a statement on Tuesday.
Nill declined to discuss the act that led to Montgomery’s firing during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon saying he wouldn’t comment out of respect to those involved. He did specify the act wasn’t criminal and has no connection to players past or present that the organization is aware of.
He said ownership, general counsel and management were all involved in the process and no other employees were impacted by Montgomery’s act. Nill added it was a “very tough decision.”
“I have a lot of respect for Jim Montgomery. He’s a very good coach,” Nill said. “Unfortunately, sometimes in life, the hardest decisions are the toughest and this is one of them.”
Nill informed Montgomery of the decision earlier Tuesday, saying they had a conversation and Montgomery was “very disappointed.”
“This was a total surprise,” Nill said. “We had to do the right thing in this situation.”
Assistant coach Rick Bowness will take over Dallas’s head coaching duties on an interim basis with Derek Laxdal, the head coach of the Stars’ AHL affiliate, being added to Bowness’s coaching staff as an assistant.
There’s no timeline on naming a permanent head coach and Bowness found out this morning about his new role. He said it was a shock for everyone, including the players.
“Not quite the way we wanted to start our day,” Bowness said.
Players voiced similar sentiments with captain Jamie Benn saying there was lots of shock.
“We didn’t expect this one,” he told reporters.
Added teammate Tyler Seguin: “We trust our management and obviously trust Jim Nill, so whatever happened, obviously he made the right decision and we’re going to move on.”
Professional conduct of coaches in the NHL has been in the spotlight over the last couple weeks and started after the firing of Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock.
He was accused of maltreating forward Mitch Marner in his rookie season by making him list the hardest working players on the team and which ones didn’t have a strong work ethic. Babcock later told the players whom Marner had listed without Marner’s knowledge.
Babcock’s story led former NHL player Akim Aliu to tweet that his former coach with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, Bill Peters, had used racial remarks towards him during the 2008-09 season.
The accusations led to an investigation by the Calgary Flames — where Peters was the coach at the time — and the NHL. Peters eventually resigned from his head coaching role on Nov. 29.
Montgomery’s dismissal comes less than 24 hours after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman laid out a four-point plan for change and inclusion in the league.
Nill said there’s no connection between Bettman’s comments and Montgomery’s firing and the team’s decision came before Bettman spoke on Monday night at the Board of Governors meetings in Pebble Beach, Calif.
“Our clubs are on notice that if they become aware of an incident of conduct involving NHL personnel on or off the ice that is clearly inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive … we at the league office — [deputy commissioner] Bill Daly or me — must be immediately advised,” Bettman said.
“There will be zero tolerance for any failure to notify us and in the event of such failure, the club and individuals involved can expect severe discipline.”
Montgomery, 50, replaced Ken Hitchcock and joined the Stars prior to the 2018-19 season after five years as head coach at the University of Denver.
In his first season in charge, Dallas reached the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs before falling in seven games to the eventual Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
The Stars have had their ups and downs early on this year, struggling early before going on a seven-game winning streak and followed right after by a four-game slide. They’re currently 17-11-3 and in one of two Western Conference wild-card spots.