Stars’ Hitchcock 2.0 Reboot Will Yield Immediate Results

Mar 26, 2017; Newark, NJ, USA; Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) makes a save during the second period of their game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 26, 2017; Newark, NJ, USA; Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) makes a save during the second period of their game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

At first glance, the Dallas Stars‘ rehiring of Ken Hitchcock looks like a grab at past glory. While this is true, it will also improve the team right away.

The NHL coaching rumors were already circling prior to the end of this disastrous Dallas Stars’ season. So by the time Ken Hitchcock was reintroduced for his second stint as Dallas bench boss, it was not much of a surprise. At first, I thought it little more than a nostalgic reach. Great for putting butts in seats, but not exactly sure if it would help the bottom line.

But now that I’ve had a few days to digest this, I’m all-in. It didn’t take much, either. In addition to Hitchcock’s proven resume, there are three areas where he’ll impact the team right out of the chute come next October.

First, and most obvious, will be his influence on the captain. Left wing Jamie Benn is the ultimate lead-by-example tough guy. He can score, hit, and fight, although his importance to the team doesn’t lead to a lot of the latter. They need him on the ice. The addition of Hitchcock will usher in a new era of a more vocal captain. He’s said as much, and it will be a long overdue component in getting this team to realize their potential.

Secondly, and maybe most importantly, will be the effect Hitchcock has on the young defense corps. Defense was never a priority under Lindy Ruff. And as this season spiraled further and further out of control, the Stars couldn’t get out of their own way. The odd-man rushes and breakaways this team gave up this season were simply dumbfounding. This will change under Hitch in a big way.

As’s Mike Heika wrote, Hitchcock’s system will allow a player like defenseman John Klingberg to flourish. Forwards are required to have a defense-first mindset, and this will certainly lessen the exposure on a blue line group that needs all the help it can get. Furthermore, with the forwards playing a more complete two-way game, other defensive greenhorns such as Julius Honka and Jamie Oleksiak should begin to develop some of this potential we’ve been told they possess. Honestly, after this season, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Finally–and this is the biggie–there is the curious case of one Tyler Seguin. Seguin is the closest thing we’ve had to Mike Modano since, well, Mike Modano. Hitchcock is rightfully credited for molding Modano into arguably the finest two-way pivot of his generation. It didn’t mean that Hitch didn’t have to drag Modano along, kicking and screaming, the entire way. Hitchcock was notoriously hard on his world-class, top line center. But it ultimately paid the greatest dividend when this franchise won their only Stanley Cup in 1999. To this day, Modano credits Ken Hitchcock for making him the best player he could be.

If you don’t think Hitchcock will attempt the same trick with Seguin, you’re crazy. Seguin possesses virtually the same skill set. He has the uncanny ability to score and speed to burn. What he lacks is the impetus to help out on defense. Hitchcock will help him find that motivation come hell or high water. Might it make for some concerning and/or amusing on-ice debates? Sure. Will it cause an outright mutiny? Probably not. At least not at first. Hitch’s welcome usually lasts at least three years before players just can’t withstand the constant hectoring. It will be very interesting to see how Seguin adapts to the constant discomfort on and around his rear end.

At the end of the day, the Dallas Stars needed a kick in the pants. I’ll stop short of saying they quit on Lindy, but the ship had already sailed. Ruff was simply in the unfortunate position of having worn out his welcome. It happens. That’s not just hockey, that’s sports. But this organization is in a unique position. They have a lot of pieces in place.

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Improvement should start right away. A renewed coaching philosophy and a commitment to defensive positioning will have this bunch back in the Stanley Cup tournament this time next year.