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

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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’

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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.

McKenzie on coaching in the NHL: Who’s on the hot seat, who wants Julien?

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With Jack Capuano, Ken Hitchcock and Claude Julien all out of jobs fairly recently, it sure feels like NHL coaches are dropping like flies.

It’s also worth wondering if there will be a domino effect: will more heads roll? Could those available coaches – also including Gerard Gallant from earlier this season – make teams more willing to part with there current bench bosses?

NHL Insider Bob McKenzie stopped by NBCSN to dish on a wide variety of subjects on Wednesday, with coaching talk ranking among the most interesting tidbits.

Bruins and Claude Julien

To start things off, McKenzie notes that interim Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will seemingly get a real shot to drop that “interim” from his title, though he’ll need to produce results.

The juicier stuff is about Claude Julien, though.

While McKenzie notes that official permission hasn’t necessarily been asked for interviews in either cases, he notes that both the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers are likely to chat with Julien. At the moment, with Doug Weight doing well in Brooklyn, the New York Islanders are unlikely to chase him.

These situations are subject to change, of course.

Which coaches should sweat the hot seat?

Naturally, when a coach gets fired – and particularly when some big names fall in quick succession – the question is “Who’s next?”

McKenzie wonders about Lindy Ruff and the Dallas Stars, particularly because the team hasn’t handed the veteran head coach a contract extension just yet. That doesn’t mean that the guillotine is hovering over his head, but Ruff might at least be in a little danger.

As far as Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets and Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning go, McKenzie hypothesizes that each coach is safe for now.

That said, time and losing streaks can change these matters. For more, check out McKenzie with Liam McHugh:

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Hitchcock says Allen needs to ‘man-up and get better’

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Saying Blues goalie Jake Allen is going through a rough stretch might be a bit of an understatement.

After being pulled in Tuesday’s loss to the Boston Bruins, Allen admitted that¬†he had to be better if the Blues were going to win consistently.

So on Thursday night, head coach Ken Hitchcock went back to Allen for their clash against the Los Angeles Kings, and well…things didn’t get much better.

For the third time in his last five outings, the 26-year-old was pulled in favor of backup Carter Hutton.

“We’ve been beating the dead horse on we need better goaltending, but it seems like right now we’re at a stage where every mistake goes in our net,” Hitchcock said after the game, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

On Tuesday, it was three goals on 11 shots that got him chased from the crease, and last night it was three goals on 15 shots, including this one to Trevor Lewis:

Sure, maybe that goes off Alex Pietrangelo before going in, but Allen is still caught way too deep in his net.

“This is really on the athlete. There’s times in your young career where you just said you’ve had enough and then you’ve got to go turn it around the other way,” Hitchcock said of Allen’s struggles. “He’s in a position where he’s the guy that has to really take charge here. He’s got to man-up and get better and we’ve got to get better in front of him.”

With two games in two nights coming up on Saturday and Sunday, Hitchcock will almost certainly give Allen and Hutton a start each. But what happens if Allen continues to struggle?

If he can’t pull himself out of this funk, St. Louis might have to look for a different solution to their goaltending woes.