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Ken Hitchcock retires from coaching; who will Dallas Stars hire next?

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Ken Hitchcock announced his retirement from coaching on Friday after 22 NHL seasons and will now take on a role as a consultant with the Dallas Stars.

Hitchcock, who led the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup and retires with the third-most wins all-time among NHL head coaches (823), had an original plan of hanging them up following the 2016-17 season with the St. Louis Blues. That didn’t happen as he was fired 50 games into the year, and while assisting other coaches around the league with X’s and O’s talks during his time away, a spark was reignited.

“They thought I was helping them but they were helping me,” Hitchcock said a year ago today during his introductory news conference when he returned to coach the Stars.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

A multi-year deal was signed and Hitchcock’s plan suddenly shifted, but the move to an advisor/consultant role whenever he was done coaching was always in the cards. The Stars ended up missing the playoffs for the second straight season, a sign that a new direction was needed.

In a letter published on Friday, Hitchcock said his goodbyes, thanking the organizations he worked for and the people he worked with before acknowledging hockey fans.

“This great game does not happen without you. Every city I coached in, I was lucky to be surrounded by dedicated, knowledgeable, passionate hockey fans,” he wrote. “I enjoyed being behind the bench but I will miss walking the streets and seeing the fans the most.”

Aside from the wins and the Cup ring, Hitchcock, a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, also won a Jack Adams Award and led teams to two Presidents’ Trophies. Internationally, he coached Canada to a silver medal at the 2008 IIHF World Championships and was an associate coach for the Canadian Olympic team five times, helping them to win three gold medals (2002, 2010, 2014). He also earned gold as an assistant for Canada’s teams at the 2002 Worlds and 1982 World Junior Championship.

Now that there’s an opening, which way will general manager Jim Nill go for a new head coach?

Alain Vigneault is a free man and was in consideration for the Stars job in 2013 before taking himself out of consideration to take the New York Rangers’ offer. Dallas would go with Lindy Ruff.

• Denver University head coach Jim Montgomery came close to landing the Florida Panthers job a year ago. “I’d never say never,” he recently told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “But it would have to be a perfect opportunity for me and my family…. Denver is a great place to live, and I work for great people.”

Dallas Eakins, Todd Nelson and Sheldon Keefe have all had varying degrees of success while coaching in the American Hockey League. Eakins and Nelson had brief NHL experiences as head coaches.

• Then you’ll have some usual names in the rumor mill when a job opens up like Dan Bylsma, Dave Tippett and Washington Capitals assistant Todd Reirden, along with any potential future firings that could happen around the NHL in the coming weeks (Bill Peters?).

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Seven overtimes, four shootouts and a shutout

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Players of the Night:

Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars: Bishop made 24 saves en route to his second shutout of the season. Bishop had lost his previous four starts, so it was a nice bounce-back from the veteran netminder. He can also say he backstopped Ken Hitchcock’s 800th win as a head coach now.

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks: Thornton scored twice in Thursday’s 5-4 overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks. His second goal was his 1,415th point of his NHL career, moving him into sole possession of 18th spot all-time, one point ahead of Doug Gilmour.

Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings: Talk about embracing the moment. Brown, playing in his 1,000th NHL game, scored the overtime winner for the Kings as they squeaked out a 2-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche.

Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins: It was the dude’s birthday, and much like Brown did, he took hold of the moment, scoring the shootout winner in a 2-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

Coach of the Night: 

Ken Hitchcock, Dallas Stars: These don’t make regular appearances in The Buzzer, but then again, coaches don’t often record their 800th career NHL win. In fact, only three have even done it and Hitchcock is now one of them. Can you guess the other two? The answer is below.

Highlights of the Night:

Thornton’s second of the night was a pretty nice clap bomb:

Jake Virtanen went coast-to-coast on this fine effort:

Cam Talbot nearly gave up a goal and then he gave us this save:

This dog dropped a puck. It was cute because dog:

Factoid of the Night:

Ken Hitchcock joined some pretty elite company on Thursday:

MISC:

Scores:

Bruins 2, Jets 1 (SO)

Devils 4, Rangers 3 (SO)

Ducks 5, Islanders 4 (OT)

Penguins 3, Blue Jackets 2 (SO)

Lightning 4, Senators 3 (SO)

Hurricanes 4, Predators 1

Stars 4, Blackhawks 0

Oilers 3, Blues 2

Sharks 5, Canucks 4 (

Kings 2, Avalanche 1 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Check, mates: NHL top lines are expected to do it all

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Tyler Seguin doesn’t consider it a challenge. He sees it as an opportunity.

Every time Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock sends Seguin and his linemates over the boards against an opponent’s top line, he knows he has a job to do.

”Out-check the other line and let the skill kind of take over,” Seguin said. ”It’s fun.”

Fun? Sure. It’s also increasingly common in the NHL as coaches seek to put their top lines on the ice against the other team’s best forwards to create matchup problems that often lead to goals.

Goodbye to the likes of Bob Gainey and hello to Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom. All can help keep the puck out of the net almost as well as they can put it in.

”We’re seeing less of the old Don Luce, Craig Ramsey, Brent Peterson lines,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, referring to defensive-minded forwards of yesteryear. ”We have guys like Bergeron; Sid goes up against top guys. So I think you’re seeing more of the power against power than we have in the past.”

Power against power is the name of the game in hockey today as players such as Bergeron, Crosby, Backstrom and Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews embody the kind of top-line stars who can double as shutdown centers. Crosby was so good in that dual role at the 2014 Sochi Olympics that Canada won a gold medal – and he was so dominant offensively the past two seasons that the Penguins won consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

Crosby is well aware of the modern duties of a top-flight center.

”You have more responsibility defensively,” he said. ”You’re covering a lot of space, so it’s just something you’ve got to be aware of.”

Before the season, reigning MVP Connor McDavid of Edmonton cited defense and faceoffs as areas he wanted to improve. He already has the dynamic offensive capabilities and sees that as the next step in his evolution.

”It’s more rounding out your game,” McDavid said. ”Being a defensive guy, being able to be put out there in the last two minutes to defend a lead, just to be able to be trusted by your coach out there.”

Coaches have to be able to trust their top players in all situations, particularly since the days of strict shutdown lines are dwindling.

”The systems are about defense, and everyone needs to play it,” Backstrom said. ”That’s what the mindset is – to be good defensively and offensively.”

The best defense is good puck possession because often the most productive players aren’t as sound in their own end. Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella considers it essential to make elite offensive players spend time in their defensive zone, figuring they’re more apt to try to do too much in the neutral zone and turn the puck over.

Good two-way players also have that mindset when they’re matched up against top skill guys.

”They’re so good offensively that sometimes they can forget about their defense, and that’s when you can take advantage of them,” Philadelphia Flyers No. 1 center Sean Couturier said. ”They’re thinking so much offense that once they turn the puck over they’re going to try plays to get turnovers. That’s when you can take advantage of them most of the time.”

That’s the danger of going skill on skill. Few see Calgary Flames stars Johnny Gaudreauand Sean Monahan as defensive stalwarts, but coach Glen Gulutzan continues to put them on the ice against other top lines.

Gaudreau said ”sometimes the best offense comes from playing against other top lines.” And the strategy has multiple benefits.

”It makes sure that your top guys, they’re aware that they’re out there against the other sharks, so to speak, in the league,” Gulutzan said. ”Now they’re a little more conscious defensively. And what you hope is that, through a course of a season, you’re making your guys more defensively aware and come playoff time those things will come in handy.”

Seguin said he thinks the playoffs lead to concerted defensive efforts to shut down certain players, though that largely comes from coaches leaning on their top defensemen. Hitchcock and other coaches said putting their best defensemen against opponents’ top forwards is the most important matchup no matter the situation.

Of course, it helps to have forwards who thrive on tough matchups and understand balancing priorities.

”A lot of times you’re getting matched up with better players, so I think playing offense the whole game isn’t realistic,” Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said. ”Most of the time it’s just being in the right places and knowing where you are on the ice as opposed to chasing everybody around and that whole ‘shadow’ thing. You’ve just got to be in right areas and right zones.”

Playing responsible defense is one piece of the transition to offense, whether it’s winning board battles or faceoffs or taking the puck away. But top players are counted on and paid to score, so keeping others off the board simply isn’t good enough.

”If it’s 0-0, we’re still kind of mad as a line,” Backstrom said. ”We want to win that match. It would be nice if we could score against them.”

Dallas Stars head coach fed up with injury rigmarole

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Now here’s a trend we could all get behind.

Dallas Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock told members of the media on Tuesday that he wants to “stop the dance” when it comes to revealing information about his injured players.

Via Marc Antoine Godin of The Athletic:

“I think we collectively hate playing the game. What I mean by that is we say ‘upper body,’ then you go on the phone, and then you look up things or you go to the doctors, find out what part of the upper body. We try to make your work easier, quite frankly, and so we just don’t like going through the dance.

“It’s just easy to tell you what it is and let’s move forward. It’s just the whole game. It’s an injury, and within two hours after we tell you it’s ‘upper body,’ you know exactly what it is, so why not just tell you? And the players don’t go out and say, ‘He has a broken left pinky and we’re going to go after the pinky.’ Nobody thinks like that. Our feeling is just tell them what the injury is and move it forward and just stop the dance.”

Perhaps Hitchcock, who has been coaching in the NHL since 1995, is just tired of the same old rigmarole he’s dealt with for the past 20-plus years. Reporters everywhere are too.

It’s also likely that most fans would also appreciate a higher level of transparency from the team they spend hundreds on for tickets each night.

Right, Montreal?

Given the mayhem that has ensued for the Canadiens over the status of Carey Price’s lower body, perhaps more teams will alleviate future headaches before they set in by adopting this route.

What is certain is that hockey scribes everywhere just became the biggest Hitchcock fans.

For now, if you’re looking for some of the Stars’ state secrets, they can be had on their official Twitter account:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Oshie on trade from St. Louis: ‘Changes had to be made’

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With back-to-back first round playoff exits and the St. Louis Blues retaining its coaching staff, T.J. Oshie expected changes to the roster.

Oshie was dealt to the Washington Capitals on Thursday as part of a four-player trade.

“I felt like it was a very good possibility,” Oshie said. “I did feel with the players in that locker room that we were falling short, but that if we went back with the same team we would’ve done a good job and hopefully learned from some of our mistakes.

“After I found out that (Ken Hitchcock) was coming back, I figured there would be at least one or two moves that (GM Doug Armstrong) would want to make.”

Despite expecting change, Oshie thought the window on him being moved had passed.

“I thought something would possibly happen in the draft,” he said. “As a couple days passed, I just figured that I’d be staying in St. Louis. Got a call from Armstrong today, and my initial reaction was a little bit of shock even though I knew it was a possibility. Then after a few minutes, I started getting excited and actually really excited to go on to the next chapter of my career.”

Originally a first round pick of the Blues (24th overall in 2005), Oshie appeared in 443 regular season games with St. Louis scoring 110 goals and 310 points.

During the 10-minute conference call, Oshie also addressed his comments following the Blues’ 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on March 30. He had returned to the lineup after missing one game due to the flu.

Here’s what Oshie had to say via Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Dispatch back in March:

“I didn’t think the flu would be good for me,” he said, “but coming back in tonight and not having to sit through all the meetings and same old practices, it really felt good to get out there. I was excited again to do something as simple as change well for the next guy coming out.

“I can’t put one finger on it. I’ll just say it was nice for me coming in tonight. I was mentally fresh. Physically, I didn’t feel my best, but I think I was so sharp our there that my game looked a lot faster.”

On Monday morning, Oshie, when asked about the possibility of the Blues clinching, had joked, “We’ve got enough to focus on with Hitch’s video.”

The 28-year-old said on Thursday that he felt those comments were made into a bigger deal.

“I expected big things out of myself. I think the fans did as well,” he said. “There’s a lot of disappointment after the way we lost out. I feel like the media blew out of proportion the thing that I said about being refreshed after I missed (time) cause of the flu. I think fans thought that me and Hitch had a bad relationship or something like that. Changes had to be made.

“I couldn’t be more excited about going to Washington.”

With the trade to Washington, Oshie is looking forward to the possibility of playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

“It would be something I’ve never experienced before,” Oshie said. “I’ve always played with very good players, players that have played in the Olympics, but never players that have put up numbers like those two guys have.

“To get out there with them would be amazing. I’d be excited. I feel kind of like a kid in the candy store playing with that calibre of players.”