Dallas Stars: Ken Hitchcock Closes Out First Season As Head Coach

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 5: Ken Hitchcock, head coach of the Dallas Stars before a game against the Ottawa Senators at the American Airlines Center on March 5, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - MARCH 5: Ken Hitchcock, head coach of the Dallas Stars before a game against the Ottawa Senators at the American Airlines Center on March 5, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The regular season is over and the Dallas Stars are heading for another long summer. They hosted exit interview day on Monday, and Ken Hitchcock had a good bit to say regarding the year overall.

As the Dallas Stars cleaned out their locker stalls on Monday morning, an eerie familiarity once again sank in. For the second straight year and third in the last four, the Stars are not playing playoff hockey.

Though that may typically be just a depressing jab, this year was a much more severe cut. The Stars became the first team in the salary cap era to have 80 points through 66 games and still miss the postseason. How did that happen?

Through a monumental collapse, of course. Dallas went through an almost unimaginable rough patch in the final month of the season, posting a 4-8-4 record through the month of March. It included an eight-game losing streak and left the Stars helpless and sinking while teams around them continued climbing for the playoffs.

During the exit interview process, there was a lot to talk about. What went wrong in March, why the team is on the outside yet again, what offseason moves need to be made, and what Tyler Seguin‘s contract situation looks like were just a few of the topics.

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One of the longer interviews was with Dallas Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock. After his first year (but second stint) behind the Stars bench this season, there are a lot of uncertainties revolving around the 65-year-old bench boss. Is this the coach to lead Dallas back to the postseason? Was his system the reason for their collapse? Is it time to pass on him and switch to a new head?

Hitchcock spent a majority of his time in front of the cameras assessing the team as a whole and how they did during the season. He also talked about how he plans to break things down this offseason and focus on different aspects of their game from this past year.

One thing is certain: nobody’s job is entirely safe at the moment. GM Jim Nill is digging through the rubble at the moment and looking at each and every part of the team, including the coaching staff.

Anything is possible after the March meltdown and that leads the way to an uncertain future for many people, including Hitchcock.

Still, he helped the Dallas Stars improve in certain areas and showed that he can build a playoff-caliber team (as long as they don’t have to play in the spring, apparently).

Anyways, it was a rough year for Hitchcock’s homecoming. It leaves the door open for a lot of improvement and optimism, but will he still be around to guide the Stars to it all?


(Due to an excessive number of quotes from various members of the Dallas Stars organization, we broke up our exit interview day coverage. To read Jim Nill’s exit interview day highlights, click here. Today, we dive into Ken Hitchcock’s highlights).

“For me, I looked at things kind of before the end of the season because it’s a constant evaluation,” said Hitchcock. “I more want to look at what the top dogs did well and what we need to do to be better. What sticks out to me in a big way is road record and records against established playoff teams.”

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  • “You want to avoid fighting for seven and eight as much as you can because that’s something that can come and go year by year.”

    “The evaluation for me is opponents. We had a lot of significant opponents when our record was not up to par. A lot of those were top playoff teams and that’s something we have to look at also. Why against top playoff teams did we not have a necessary record?”

    On the young leadership of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg“I would say the word excellent. They were top shelf for me. We had a lot of meetings early in the year, but not so many in the end because they had grabbed a hold of things in a very substantial way. It was a big risk we took at the start of the year to give them the ball, but I thought they paid for it in dividends that well exceeded anything I anticipated. It was really well done by them and I was really impressed with the way they took to the responsibilities that go with it.”

    “There was not a dip. There was some of the best hockey we played and we didn’t win. In our eyes, it was some of the best hockey we played, especially on the road, and we didn’t win. I don’t want to start looking at video right now, but there were a lot of games that were emotionally draining where we felt like we put a lot into it and got nothing from it.”

    “That’s the whole team aspect of evaluation. You evaluate your personnel, the way you play your players, and a lot of things. There is a significant difference between 92 points and 117 points. I’m not looking at 92 points and missed it by three. I’m looking at how we avoid a dogfight at the bottom of the bowl. When you are 114 points or 117 points to 92 or 94 or wherever eighth is at, that’s still a significant number.”

    On if he needs more forward depth: “I think the National Hockey League is about depth. I think the bottom line is that there are certain elements in your team that you have to have if you want to be a playoff team. It is about depth. Those are discussions between coaches and managers, but my way is no different than 90 percent… there’s really only four teams that play differently. They play a different system, but everyone else pretty much plays the same way. It’d be good to look at the real top dogs and see what they have.”

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  • “Sometimes in this business, when you look at teams, you might have one player in a certain area that affects two other players in a positive way, and that’s something we will look at. We just want to focus on the really top teams and not the ones that fought with us all year.”

    “We were pleasantly surprised by the point total of our group back there [defensemen] and I thought we did very well. A lot of guys had career years, and a lot of guys on this team had career years. I think we have to evaluate that and find where we can get more.”

    On the success of the team when Benn, Seguin, and Radulov are both together and apart: “When we split them up, it looked really good on paper and we did that when we went on the road because of the hard match we were receiving. You can read the numbers. When you have players that contribute that much, we split them up looking to see if we could enhance other people. When it didn’t work, we pulled it back. We tried it and it looked good on paper, but at the end of the day, it took us out of focus.”

    “I think one of the things we benefitted from was that Faksa’s line was outstanding most of the year and they were able to shut down significant lines at home. Teams knew that and they made it much more difficult for us to get those matches, so it did put a lot of onus on the Seguin line to do it offensively.”

    “From our standpoint, we just wait for Jim [Nill] to finish his evaluation before he sits down. We’re kind of the last group to meet with the manager. He has to do all his stuff and he’s got a lot going on.”

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  • “Everyone is, quite frankly, still reeling a little bit from the season and we need to get away and sort out what we thought, quite frankly, for three quarters of the year was a great year.”

    “When you think you max out and you’re not winning, it’s emotionally draining. We need to get away from that and catch our breath.”

    On Tyler Seguin’s career year:  “He’s made all of the adjustments necessary to be a great player. He’s really changed and adapted and bought in to what it takes to be a great player. I’m really proud of him. He’s done a lot of things that were really uncomfortable in training camp that we pushed him through and he bought in much quicker than I thought he would be able to.”

    “The other part that is really positive is the leadership style becomes the conscience of your team and he’s taken that role very seriously. It’s really helped us and it’s really helped me personally, too. When you’ve got a guy that you know you can count on and you don’t even have to talk to and it’s just a given that he’s going to give you everything every night, it’s pretty gratifying.”

    What he liked about his first year back with the Dallas Stars: “I really enjoyed it. I said to the coaching staff that I’ve never seen a team that practices like this in my life. I’ve never seen a team that practices this hard. Maybe the practices were hard, I don’t know. Maybe as I get older, I make the practices get harder, I’m not sure. But I’ve never seen a team practice like this, so you know you’ve got a good situation going.”

    “We got to raise the bar here. Never mind looking for a playoff spot; we have to chase the big dogs. That’s the next step for all of us. I want us chasing the big dogs. That’s going to be the big focus for me.”

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    On the trend of teams giving bigger minutes to younger players: “I think you have to earn it. The big minute people are threats, usually offensively. To get those minutes, you look at the people that are their scoring players. You can put your scoring players out there more because there are so many stoppages and face-offs.”

    “When you’ve got a scoring player, you can get him out there a lot now.”

    “Usually what happens is when they’ve scored in the minors, it comes back at some period of time. You just hope you have them at the right time. If they’ve scored before at a high level, it usually comes back.”

    On his ability to tell when those young players “come back”: “Pretty good, I think. You know when they’re ready.”

    His thoughts on Jason Spezza‘s season: “I would say frustrating for him. I think he did a great job at buying in to what we wanted him to do. The sell of that was pretty easy. I think the frustrating part for him and at times for us was on situations that he would normally score in, it didn’t go in. He would hit sticks or miss nets.”

    “For a guy that didn’t get many points, he sure had a lot of scoring chances. I think that’s like anything else. When you are normally a scoring player, that can be very frustrating. I thought there were times where he was very frustrated.”

    The Dallas Stars made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Lindy Ruff’s first year as head coach. That didn’t translate with Ken Hitchcock, and that is a problem.

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    But he found success and helped round out the Stars into a more balanced and effective group. He also helped bring out newfound success in a lot of his players. That much is true. The question is how much weight will it carry in the offseason?