The Dallas Stars made their first change of the offseason this week, hiring Ken Hitchcock as their head coach. They previously fired Lindy Ruff after the Stars put on a highly disappointing 2016-17 season. Under Ruff, the Stars went 34-37-11 this season and only earned 79 points. They ended up in 6th place within the Central Division, far from the top spot that they earned last year.
The Stars are hoping to make some big changes by bringing Hitchcock back. He previously coached the team from the 1995-96 season until the 2001-2002 season when he was fired. During that time, Hitchcock helped the Stars win their only Stanley Cup, which they brought home in the 1998-99 season. Since working with the Stars, he has also gained experience coaching the Philadelphia Flyers, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and most notably the St. Louis Blues. He was unable to reach the Stanley Cup Final with any of the three teams, but he did help the Blues to finally reach the conference final in 2016. Though he announced that the 2016-17 season would be his last with Blues, they decided to switch matters up early and fired him. He was replaced by former Minnesota Wild head coach, Mike Yeo.
The first key step in Hitchcock’s changing of the team will be building a strong relationship with Jamie Benn. Every strong NHL team can feed off of their captain and Benn’s job is to make sure his team knows where they are going. Should Benn and Hitchcock not agree on matters, it could cause a huge riff and lead the Stars into more struggles. Hitchcock also needs to make sure that his team has trust and confidence in his leadership. A coach can set up whatever plan he wants for a team, but the Dallas Stars have to make sure they are capable of achieving that plan with the players they have and show that they are willing to make changes happen.
The next step will be taking a good look at the Stars’ defense, or lack of it in this case. They were a mess during the season, ending it with a team save percentage of 0.893. For any NHL team, that is a frightening stat to see and the Stars have no chance of climbing high in the standings next season if they can’t turn that number around. Hiring Hitchcock is part of the solution. He’s known for taking those defensive blunders and turning them around quickly. When he first worked with the Stars, they were 19th in the league in terms of goals against. Hitchcock took that team and pressured them, bumping them all the way up to third in the league.
Hitchcock can also try to erase the Stars’ mentality of just putting up offense to win games. With the goaltending that they have tied up, relying on players like Tyler Seguin to win games just is not an option. A team can put up as many goals as they are able to, but once your opponents figure out that trick and adjust their defense to meet your scorers, that play comes crashing down. Trying to fix this strategy however, will require balance. Depending on defense could work in the regular season, but once the playoffs hit, should the Stars make it this season, they might find themselves quickly out again. It’s all about finding a mix of where the defense and offense should be, but also where the two roles merge. All that has to happen in addition to changes with the goaltending as well, since that still remains a key factor in turning the Stars’ game around.
Hitchcock has a lot on his plate as the new Stars’ head coach, but the organization seems to have faith that he can turn things around. He’s excited to get back to his former team and he has shown them that he has a clear view of where he wants them to head. Fans will unfortunately not get a huge picture of what road the Stars will be taking until next season, though trades and such will give them glimpses during the summer, but one thing is for certain: Hitchcock will bring change to this team.