The most successful coach ever for the Dallas Stars is back, more than 15 years after they fired him.
Ken Hitchcock, who led the Stars to their only Stanley Cup championship in 1999, was re-introduced in Dallas on Thursday. He replaces Lindy Ruff, whose four-year contract expired at the end of the season and wasn't extended after the team missed the playoffs.
When Dallas fired Hitchcock in January 2002, he had won 277 of his 503 games over parts of seven seasons in his first NHL head-coaching job. He led the Stars to five straight division titles, with consecutive Western Conference championships in 1999 and 2000. Those are the only times he or the Stars have made it to the Stanley Cup Final.
Hitchcock had since coached the Philadelphia Flyers (2002-06), Columbus Blue Jackets (2006-10) and St. Louis (2011-17). The Blues abruptly fired Hitchcock on Feb. 1, cutting short what was already going to be his last season with the Blues after their fifth loss in six games.
St. Louis made the playoffs in each of Hitchcock's five full seasons, reaching the Western Conference final last spring after beating top seed Dallas in a seven-game series in the second round.
Hitchcock has coached 20 NHL seasons, and his 781 career regular-season victories are fourth all-time, one shy of Hockey Hall of Fame coach Al Arbour for third. Hitchcock has coached 1,454 regular season games and 168 more in the playoffs.
Stars general manager Jim Nill decided to part ways with Ruff after the team went 34-37-11 this season to finish 11th in the Western Conference. Their 79 points were the second-fewest in a full season since moving to Dallas in 1993-94.
When Nill spoke to Ruff about the decision, the veteran coach's response was that "maybe there needs to be a different message here." Ironically enough, when Hitchcock was fired by the Stars 15 years ago, a big reason was that his message was no longer getting through to players.
"There comes a period in time, quite frankly, when sometimes the same message, the way you want the team to play, the way you want the players to act, the way you want them come together, doesn't hit home," Hitchcock said then.
Hitchcock's demanding style centered on defense will be a change for this Dallas club, which has young elite scorers Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. But his message is apparently needed by the Stars who, with their two-goalie system, finished last in save percentage and second-to-last in goals-against average.
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