Dallas Stars: Ken Hitchcock Partly To Credit For John Klingberg’s Success

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: John Klingberg
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: John Klingberg /

With John Klingberg having a ridiculous 2017-18 season, the Dallas Stars defenseman has cemented a place in the Norris Trophy conversation. Without head coach Ken Hitchcock, this isn’t as likely.

What we know about this season for the Dallas Stars is clear: their strategic structure is better, their offensive output is more concentrated, and their top guns have been the class of the National Hockey League.

Without superstar defenseman John Klingberg, none of these three things would be as potent. Klingberg is the amplifier to the electric guitar of the Dallas Stars – the skill and talent is there, but the 6’3″ Swede is what gives them its immense power.

While contributing in a variety of ways to the squad, Klingberg is having a magnificent season individually. His 50 points are a team-high through 54 games, and more than his 2016-17 total despite 26 fewer matches played.

His Norris Trophy candidacy continues to shine brighter, and his 77-point pace in an 82-game season would set a record for Stars defenseman in Dallas. He is the number-one defenseman the offense needs, the defense needs, and we, as fans, need most of all.

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Without Dallas head coach Ken Hitchcock, we cannot be confident he would be. Klingberg can succeed and put up great numbers in any system and with anybody surrounding him, but a Hitchcock-led, defense-first regime has had perhaps the biggest impact.

The Dallas Stars rank sixth in the league in goals against (138), third in shots against per game (29.5), and control 51.7% of total shot attempts in games with the third-fewest shot attempts allowed in hockey (2,278).

In addition, Hitch has transformed Esa Lindell from an afterthought into an elite lock-down defender, while making use of Dan Hamhuis and Greg Pateryn as a splendid second pairing.

With such a tremendous overall defensive unit, Dallas can allow Klingberg to roam around the ice more often. John, individually, has cleaned up his act exponentially (on pace for fewer takeaways than last season despite having the puck more), but it’s like letting a tiger out of his cage: he’s going to run free and – literally or figuratively – eat people alive.

Last season, Klingberg and the rest of the Stars were asked to simplify their games, and play prototypical “defenseman” games that reward safe and boring styles of hockey. This hurt Klingberg, and never allowed for Lindell, his now-superb defensive partner, to pick up any kind of steam on the ice.

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  • With Hitchcock, we expected more of the same. Hitch loves old-school hockey, with big-bodied d-men playing defensive zone time constantly. It’s what made Hitchcock as successful as he was in his first Dallas Stars stint in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

    Ken is a man of discipline. Over his more recent NHL coaching tenures, he implemented the same system: just play defense and let your forwards worry about offense. Scarcely were the blueliners activated into the offensive scheme, all a part of his plan.

    Hitch is the man responsible for Dallas’s 24-2-2 record when allowing two goals or fewer. Hitch is the guy that has led this team to a league-leading 18 games during which Dallas allowed one or fewer goals.

    Hitch could have, and probably, given his age and his resume, should have done the same in Dallas. John Klingberg, however, is permitted to do as he pleases on the ice, thanks equally to his mind-blowing skill and the trust level between coach and rearguard.

    King Kling is allowed to generate offense at will, being the magician with the puck he was always destined to be. He is given the freedom to go for skates and make those risky passes that Julius Honka would be benched for. He assists the offense in so many ways that Hitch makes him essentially a fourth forward with insane defensive skill.

    Next: Bishop, Lehtonen Simultaneously Playing Elite Hockey

    While Hitchcock can ideally build a defense full of Derian Hatchers, he allows for one Sergei Zubov. That Zubov, if Zubov was a lanky Swedish dude, is Klingberg, who has himself and Hitchcock to credit for a wonderful 2017-18 season.