This past Thursday, the Dallas Stars filled their head coaching vacancy with 1999 Stanley Cup-winner Ken Hitchcock. The Stars opted for an experienced coach, a coach with a serious pedigree, and more than anything else, a familiar face. That familiarity, however, has some fans concerned. Hitch is the guy who made Mike Modano and Brett Hull play defense, after all.
Hitchcock, fearful fans say, could stifle a young team built around its offense. It’s a casting-against-type thing. If your roster includes Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and John Klingberg, adopting a grind-it-out mentality could be problematic. Will Hitch ask too much? Will Hitch push too hard? Will Hitch run off Tyler Seguin?
There are certainly reasons behind all of those fears, but they’re also a little misguided. Yes, Ken Hitchcock has very much earned his reputation as a demanding, results-oriented coach, but a couple of stats suggest he’s a bit more open-minded than the doomsayers claim.
The 1999 Dallas Stars were an offensive team
They scored 236 goals overall and 2.88 per game, good for 8th in the NHL that season. The Stars’ power play was also effective. They converted 18.8% of their extra-man chances, this time putting them 6th in the league. They were a touch more conservative when it came to raw shots (27.6 per game / 16th place), but given the result that’s not a terrible number.
Furthermore, if we look at the Stars from 1996 through 2002 (Hitchcock’s first run), it’s the same story. His Dallas Stars were 9th in the NHL in goals and goals-per-game, 7th on the power play, and 19th in shots-per-game. Hitch did not stifle the Stars.
Offensive individuals flourished under Hitchcock
Poor Mike Modano, the story goes. The freewheeling offensive dynamo ran into Bob Gainey and Ken Hitchcock and was never the same. Except that’s not accurate. Yes, Mo sacrificed some personal glory for the good of the team, but he was fifth in total points from 1996-2002 (465 pts in 445 games). Under Ken Hitchcock Modano outscored all but Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne, Joe Sakic, and Mats Sundin. I suspect any of the Stars’ current “elite scorers” would take Top-5 and a Stanley Cup.
If we look at goals, Hitch placed two players in the NHL”s top-20. There’s that Modano guy again (14th overall), and his buddy Brett Hull. The Golden Brett scored 194 goals from 1996-2002 (15th), with 66 on the power play (6th). Darryl Sydor (150 PPP / 19th) and Sergei Zubov (145 PPP / 23rd) also experienced offensive success in Hitchcock’s system.
More recently, Vladimir Tarasenko’s current run of three consecutive 70+ point seasons suggest Hitchcock isn’t entirely opposed to that side of the game.
Yes, there are risks associated with this hire. Hitchcock will inherit a young, flawed Dallas Stars roster. On day one he will face serious decisions with the defensive group, and be at the mercy of his general manager to figure something out with the goaltending.
Fair or not, Hitchcock also has a reputation for struggling with younger players. Next year’s Stars project to be middle of the pack in terms of average age (15th - 28 years old), but that doesn’t tell the entire story. Dallas’ key players skew young. In particular, the critical troika of Jamie Benn (27), Tyler Seguin (25), and John Klingberg (24). Those three will very likely be joined in serious roles by young players like Julius Honka (21), Esa Lindell (22), and Radek Faksa (23). Yes, they will need to buy in, but part of that process falls to the coach.
Ken Hitchcock is an interesting hire. He makes sense if management believes last season’s playoff run was more than an aberration. He makes sense if management and ownership are committed to bringing in top-end talent. He’s a win-now hire, and perhaps the nerves that come along with him are signs of rising expectations in Big D.