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For Hitch, ‘Stars hockey is reckless energy — with proper positional play’

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Ken Hitchcock knows his second tour of duty in Dallas won’t be the same as the first.

The game has changed, and the league has changed.

He said his old Stars teams won because they were positionally sound on defense, and good on the counter-attack. He said you can’t play like that anymore.

To be successful in the modern NHL — where speed and skill reign supreme — you need to win between the bluelines. You have to control the neutral zone.

Dallas certainly has the speed and skill. Now, it’s on Hitchcock to give it some structure.

“To me, Dallas Stars hockey is reckless energy — with proper positional play,” he said on Thursday, during his introductory presser as the club’s new head coach. “And I’ll bring that forward. But I don’t want to ever lose that reckless energy they had. I don’t want to see the guys lose that reckless enthusiasm they play with, because that’s what makes the team special.

“You never felt when you played Dallas that you were in control of anything. You always felt like you were right on the edge of getting steamrolled.”

That anecdote was curious, because it came from a question asking Hitch about Dallas’ perceived weakness. The veteran bench boss explained that, while coaching the Blues against the Stars in the ’15 playoffs, the goal was for St. Louis to match Dallas’ incredibly high energy level. If they did that, Hitch explained, the Blues’ structure would give them the edge.

Interesting.

If there was another major takeaway from today’s conference, it’s that Hitch and the club’s brass — GM Jim Nill, president Jim Lites — believe that the focus shouldn’t be on what the Stars did this season, but two rather two seasons ago. When their speed, energy, aggressiveness and explosiveness saw them win 50 regular season games and advance to the second playoff round.

As for this year?

Now, Hitch’s challenge is to take that “reckless energy” and provide it with shape. Organize it. One of the great failings in Lindy Ruff’s final year in charge is that, having built a gameplan off speed and creativity, players started to go rouge when things weren’t going their way.

“We had some frustrated players who, instead of trying to stay with it and trying to play a 200-foot game, it became more of an individual try,” Ruff said just prior to his dismissal, per the Morning-News. “And those individual tries a lot of times turned into opportunities for the opposition.”

You can expect Hitch to try and eradicate those issues, and quickly. One of the more intriguing moments of today’s presser is when he told the players in attendance — Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza and Dan Hamhuis — there will be some uncomfortable times ahead, as he inevitably drills his vision for structure, systems play and strategy.

“This is not going to be fun everyday,” Hitchcock said. “But forming a partnership with you guys is more important than anything.”

More…

— Hitchcock wasn’t asked about goaltending, a curious development given how profound a role netminding played in his departure from St. Louis and, as has been well documented, how bad the goaltending has been in Dallas over the last two years.

— Nill confirmed that Hitchcock has a multi-year deal in place with the Stars. When that contract is up, he has another deal in place to remain with the club as a consultant.

— Hitchcock said the club will begin interviewing assistant coaches next week. Longtime Ruff assistant James Patrick was let go and the other assistant from last year, Curt Fraser, will be allowed to interview with Hitch.

— Lites did make mention that part of the reason for the hire was Hitchcock’s traditionally strong special teams. They were a nightmare in Dallas last year (20th on the power play, 30th on the penalty kill).

Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics

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The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.

Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.

While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics. 

Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.

Making an impression: Sergachev has ‘NHL written all over him’

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Mikhail Sergachev has, over the summer, stated his belief he can play in the NHL this season.

He had a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in four games for Montreal — the team that selected him ninth overall in 2016 — before getting sent back to junior and then being traded in June to Tampa Bay, as part of a blockbuster involving Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

Well, Sergachev made a statement Wednesday in his preseason debut for the Lightning.

He scored once. He also played more than 22 minutes, which led all Lightning players on the night. That included time on the power play and penalty kill. If he was looking to make a favorable impression, to show that he belongs at the NHL level when the regular season begins, this seems to be another step in that direction.

“You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he’s got NHL written all over him,” Tampa Bay’s associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we’ve got to give him experience. How much can he handle?”

There is competition on the blue line, with eight defensemen under contract in Tampa Bay for this season. That includes Sergachev, who is still only 19 years old. After getting sent back to junior last season, he recorded 43 points in 50 games with Windsor and then won the Memorial Cup that spring. That said, he’s made it a point of saying going back to junior “is not an option” for him.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.