R&D camp coaches Ken Hitchcock, Dave King share viewpoints on possible rule changes

1 Comment

kenhitchcockmakesapoint.jpgIt seems like the NHL research and development camp has a lot going for it. Brendan Shanahan is receiving his first real on-the-job test as an NHL executive. Potential 2011 NHL Entry Draft prospects and referees alike are being used as guinea pigs for rules changes. But let’s not forget that the camp’s two “teams” are being coached by two knowledgeable hockey people in Dave King and Ken Hitchcock. (The latter of which I believe should have a head coaching job in the NHL right now, in particular.)

NHL.com caught up with them to find out about their three “favorite” rule changes. Let me spotlight one each (although I will discuss one of King’s other observations in a later post).

First, here is the Hitchcock choice I found most interesting.

Finally, Hitchcock went off the radar a bit and said he liked the wider blue line, which was extended to 24 inches from 12 inches and tested in Wednesday’s second session.

“I know I’m probably in the minority, the big blue line really created offensive opportunities for your power play,” he said. “We have had to use the width of the ice on the power play to be more effective but this would finally allow us to use the depth of the ice on a power play. If you have a smart team and two smart point men, like if you looked at (Brian) Rafalski and (Nicklas) Lidstrom, and they had that extra mileage to work in they would be really dangerous.”

I must admit I’m with Hitchcock on that one. An extended blue line wouldn’t create any extra confusion or arbitrary changes but instead give a skilled defenseman just a tiny bit more leeway to make plays. If you’ve ever witnessed just how impressive a great point man can be when it comes to keeping the puck in the zone, an extra foot could make a real difference.

Now, here is a delayed penalty innovation that appealed to Dave King.

King started by saying he’s a fan of the delayed penalty modification which would require the team that has committed the infraction to not only gain possession of the puck to force a whistle, but to clear it out of its own zone.

“I think it will create more opportunities for power plays,” King said. “You’ll be able to get your goalie out and actually get a 6-on-5 going in the zone so I think it’s going to help a bit to create some offense.”

That’s not a bad idea, either. The league already improved that rule by forcing a team to truly prove they have control over their puck instead of simply touching it to get a penalty called, but needing to clear your zone would make the difference even bigger. The question is whether or not that would place too much of a burden on the offending team. My gut instinct is to say it wouldn’t be an unfair change, but that’s something for the league to test.

Here’s video of the two coaches as they were “mic’d up” during the camp.

Wing or center? Jason Spezza will play both this season, says Hitchcock

AP
5 Comments

The signing of Martin Hanzal has given the Dallas Stars added depth up the middle, and that should leave coach Ken Hitchcock with some interesting options for his group of forwards.

One of those options? Giving 34-year-old center Jason Spezza some time on the wing.

That’s what the Stars’ head coach told the Dallas Morning News on Friday:

Q: How do you see Martin Hanzal and Jason Spezza in regards to the center position?

Hitchcock: To me, Hanzal is a center. The role Jason will have is a split duty role, and if I play Spezza on the wing, it will be a left wing. Jason will play a lot of center and some wing. We need to start with the puck, so he’s definitely going to be taking draws on his strong side.

Q: So will Spezza and Hanzal play on the same line?

Hitchcock: Probably not. You could see Faksa on a line with Hanzal. I think those two could fit well together.

Having Tyler Seguin, Spezza and Hanzal gives the Stars a pretty good 1-2-3 punch up the middle, if that’s what Hitchcock chooses to do, with the possibility of Seguin centering a line with Jamie Benn and Alex Radulov, another big free agent signing this summer for Dallas.

The Stars have made a number of significant moves this off-season with the intention of getting back to the playoffs and back into contention for top spot in the Western Conference after a disappointing 2016-17 season.

Spezza was among those that struggled last year in Dallas, as he scored only 15 goals and 50 points in 68 games.

Poll: Is Hitchcock the right head coach for Stars?

Getty
9 Comments

This post is part of Stars Day on PHT…

After four years of having Lindy Ruff as their head coach, the Dallas Stars were ready to go in a different direction. Under Ruff, the team failed to make the playoffs twice and they never got passed the second round.

This offseason, they decided to bring back former head coach Ken Hitchcock, who led the franchise to their only Stanley Cup victory back in 1999.

It’s no secret that the Stars have been an offense-first team over the last few years. Things seem to come a little more naturally to them in their opponent’s end than in their own. But Hitchcock is a defense-first coach, so it’ll be interesting to see how he and his players mesh.

Last season, only the Colorado Avalanche (278) gave up more goals than Dallas (262), so it’s entirely possible that Hitchcock will come in and help the team improve their play without the puck, but it’s also possible that he might clash with certain players because of his approach to the game.

Tyler Seguin, for example, can produce offense at an elite level, but his style of play will probably never earn him a Selke Trophy. Can Hitchcock get him to commit to playing a different way? If Seguin is unwilling to play more of a 200-foot game, will that lead to the two of them butting heads?

“I’ve got to work hard in the summer to get Tyler to start thinking like a [number one center],” Hitchcock said in April, per the team’s website. “That means he’s got to be out there in critical spaces all the time. That means he’s got to kill penalties, he’s got to play against the other team’s top players, he’s got to be out there at the start of games, and he’s got to be out there at the end of games. He’s got to take key faceoffs. He’s got to do everything to become a [number one center]. That’s what a [number one] does.”

If Seguin and his teammates are open to changing things up on the ice, maybe this Hitchcock experiment works out in Dallas. But if the players refuse to see eye-to-eye with their new head coach, it could be a long season in Dallas.

Let us know what you think by voting in our poll. Also, feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below.

Hitchcock believes Stars are ‘closer to the ceiling than the floor’

AP
3 Comments

From first in the Western Conference in 2015-16 to 11th this season, the Dallas Stars have experienced quite a swing in the standings in a short time.

Such a disappointing fall this season, as the Stars missed the playoffs despite heightened expectations, ushered in significant changes with the firing of Lindy Ruff and the hiring of Ken Hitchcock, and the acquisition — and eventual signing — of Ben Bishop to shore up the goaltending situation in Dallas.

In 2015-16, the Stars took the NHL by storm, leading the league in goals-for with a talented roster before losing in Game 7 of the second round versus the Blues. This season, they were derailed right away by injuries to key players, their goaltending struggled once again, and eventually everything seemed to go wrong as Dallas finished 15 points out of a playoff spot.

Hired in April to coach the Stars, Hitchock laid out a plan to harness the Stars’ skill, speed and aggressiveness with more structure. On Tuesday, referencing his experience coaching against Dallas while behind the bench in St. Louis, he reiterated belief that this group can move back in a positive direction in the West next season.

“In two years, people have seen the ceiling and they’ve seen the bottom of the floor,” said Hitchcock, per the Stars. “I really have a lot of faith in this group and I think we’re a lot closer to the ceiling than we are to the floor. But there’s going to be a lot of people that … until we prove them wrong, they’re going to say, ‘Hey, one year was a fluke.'”

The Stars do still have a talented roster, led by Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and offensive defenseman John Klingberg. Adding another blue liner to help bolster that part of their team may be an option for general manager Jim Nill, who has discussed moving the third overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft in order to regain an “established player” in return.

The Stars still have more than $15 million committed to three goalies — recently signed Bishop, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. That is a situation worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks, with the suggestion Niemi may be bought out.

There are many pieces already in place for Dallas, which is only a year removed from a 50-win season. “Reckless energy” is a phrase Hitchcock has used a number of times to describe the 2015-16 Stars.

Now, it’s about re-discovering that mantra after the Stars fell to the floor this year.

Report: Stars could introduce Hitchcock as head coach ‘as early as tomorrow’

Getty
18 Comments

Over the weekend, the Dallas Stars announced that Lindy Ruff wouldn’t be back as head coach next season and it sounds like they’ve already got his replacement lined up.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Stars are on the verge of hiring Ken Hitchcock. Friedman also mentions that the press conference could come as early as tomorrow.

This would be Hitchcock’s second stint in Dallas, as he served as the head coach of the Stars from 1995-96 to 2001-02. He was behind the bench when they won their first Stanley Cup title in 1998-99.

This was supposed to be his final season in the NHL, but he clearly feels like he has unfinished business in the league after he was fired by the St. Louis Blues earlier this season.

Bringing Hitchcock back into the fold makes sense for the organization. The Stars have plenty of firepower with guys like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza in the fold, but they have a hard time keeping the puck out of their own net.

This season, only the Colorado Avalanche gave up more goals than Dallas. Hitchcock, who’s known for being a defense-first coach (that’s putting it mildly), could rectify some of their issues in their own end.