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.
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.”
— 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).