This was something that was widely speculated to happen. We wrote about it being a possibility back in March; and at this stage of Hitchcock’s career, and with where the Stars are as a franchise these days, it makes too much sense.
Hitchcock replaces Lindy Ruff, who was let go after four years at the helm. It’s Hitchcock’s second stint as Stars head coach, having gone 277-154-12 with 60 ties (remember ties?!) from 1995-2002. He had five straight first-place finishes, two conference championships and the 1999 Stanley Cup championship that he won, oddly enough, against Ruff’s Buffalo Sabres.
He’s the seventh head coach in Stars history.
Mike Heika made an interesting case for Hitchcock to return to Dallas, essentially saying that the team has similar pieces in place in comparison with his glory years with the Stars. (That “Tyler Seguin as Mike Modano” contrast was intriguing.)
He is older, but he hasn’t lost his fire for the game. He needs a calm, level-headed GM to back him when his nagging wears on the players, but Jim Nill seems to fit the bill. His return would be a cliché, but sometimes those make the best stories. They say you can’t go home again, but there are plenty of instances when people have — especially when it’s a home they dearly love.
(We’re not entirely sure why they say you can’t go home again after Claude Julien and Randy Carlyle and now Hitchcock did, but apparently it’s something “they” still say.)
This is a move Nill had to make. He needed a sure thing, and a known quantity. He needed a coach that could directly address what caused the Stars to drop 30 points in the standings from last season.
We all know what ailed the Stars this season: a team save percentage of 0.893 and a minus-39 goal differential. That they lacked sufficient personnel on the blue line falls to Jim Nill, but this was also a team that was a bloody mess in defensive structure.
What Hitchcock does, with frightening immediacy, is turn your team defense around.
The Stars were No. 19 in goals against, added Hitchcock, and then they were third. The Philadelphia Flyers were seventh and then they were first in the NHL. The Columbus Blue Jackets were 17th and then they were 9th. The St. Louis Blues were 18th, and then they were first in the NHL.
And it’s not like he had Ed Belfour in each of these situations. It was Roman Cechmanek and Robert Esche in Philly. It was Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott in St. Louis. Hitch turned the Blue Jackets into a top 10 defensive team with Pascal Leclaire in goal.
When you have $9.9 million tied up in average goaltending through next season as Dallas does, he’s the right guy to get the most out of it. Provided the Stars don’t make an upgrade in the offseason. (Maybe Ben Bishop?)
There’s something beautiful about Hitchcock potentially ending his NHL journey where it all began. And there’s something even more beautiful about him riding into Texas and turning the team back into a contender in the process.
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