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Hitch wants Seguin thinking, playing like a No. 1 center

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Introductory pressers are supposed to be about photo ops, congratulations and generic quotes. Those at the podium can easily deflect talk of specifics with “we’re still in an evaluation period,” and “it’s early, but we’ll look into it.”

But that’s just not Ken Hitchcock’s style.

Shortly after being introduced as Dallas’ new head coach on Thursday — his second tour of duty in Texas — Hitchcock jumped straight into specific improvements he wanted to make with the hockey club.

Including a big one for Tyler Seguin.

“I’ve got to get Tyler to start thinking like a [No. 1 center],'” Hitchcock said, per the Morning-News. “That means he has to be out there in critical spaces all of the time. He has to kill penalties, he has to play against the other team’s top players.

“He has to be out there at the start of games, he has to be out there at the end of games. That’s what a ‘1’ does.”

Seguin spent considerable time this season at right wing. Former head coach Lindy Ruff opted to give Cody Eakin significant minutes a top-line center — largely because of Eakin’s defensive prowess — forcing Seguin to the outside as a result.

Offensively speaking, there’s never been any question about Seguin’s capabilities down the middle. He’s had at least 40 assists in each of his four years in Dallas, but there have been concerns about his defensive side of the game. And Hitch’s comment about penalty killing is quite interesting, because Seguin played a grand total of 2:09 shorthanded this season.

You read that right. He didn’t average 2:09. He killed penalties for two minutes and nine seconds, total, over 82 games.

So this proposed transformation will be major one. How does Seguin feel about the challenge?

“I’m giddy,” he said. “Since I’ve come to Dallas, I’ve wanted to be a No. 1 centerman. I know he’s going to be hard on me, but I want to make this work.”

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: 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.

Strader returns to NBC booth for Caps-Leafs series

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Dave Strader will be back in the NBC broadcast booth for the Washington Capitals-Toronto Maple Leafs series that begins on Thursday night in Washington.

Strader, who has been fighting cancer since he was diagnosed back in June, announced on Monday night on Twitter that he is feeling well enough to return to the booth for playoff hockey and will get the call in Games 1 and 2.

He returned to the Dallas Stars’ broadcast booth during the season and called five games for the team, getting an emotional salute from the Stars players in his return.

Watch Capitals vs. Maple Leafs on NBC Sports

For the Washington-Toronto series he will work alongside former NHL goaltender Brian Boucher.

Here are the rest of your announcer assignments and broadcast listings for the opening of the first-round on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Nill wants experienced coach, could make a hire ‘pretty quickly’

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Jim Nill wants an experienced coach who can get the most out of the Dallas Stars.

“This isn’t a rebuild,” Nill told the Dallas Morning News after it was announced Sunday that Lindy Ruff would not be back behind the bench. “I think we’ve got a lot of good pieces in place.”

Nill already has a few names in mind.

“Right now I’ve had three people I’ve been talking to,” he said. “May get expanded here a little bit more. I’m hoping this is going to happen pretty quickly. These guys are all good coaches. This league moves pretty fast. I know there’s other teams looking at things also. I hope that this happens pretty quickly.”

Given Nill’s desire to hire an experienced coach, Ken Hitchcock would seem to be a potential candidate. That being said, Nill also wants a coach who can bring the most out of the Stars’ “skill” players, and Hitchcock’s reputation is built on defense and physical play.

Read more: Who’s going to coach the Stars?

As for the team’s perceived biggest weakness — goaltending — Nill did not offer any clarity regarding what might happen this offseason.

“I thought the goaltending early in the season probably kept our head above the water when we had six of our top nine forwards out,” said Nill. “And then they had their moments I think from January on where they were very inconsistent.”

Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are both signed for one more year.