So much for retirement. Ken Hitchcock is going to be back behind an NHL bench in 2017 — the one where he had his greatest success as a coach. Just two months after the St. Louis Blues started his planned retirement a few months early by relieving him of his duties as their coach, Hitchcock agreed to return as coach of the Dallas Stars, replacing Lindy Ruff after the Stars finished in sixth in the Central Division and ended up with just 79 points, their lowest total in a full season since 1996.
The Stars announced the decision on the NHL’s website, officially welcoming back Ken Hitchcock, the man who brought Dallas its only Stanley Cup in 1999 — ironically against Ruff and the Buffalo Sabres. In seven seasons in the Metroplex, Hitchcock’s teams were among the NHL’s elite, as he finished above 100 points in all five full seasons he spent in Dallas.
But in 2002, the Stars decided that a new voice was needed and moved on from Hitchcock, beginning a slow decline from which Dallas has never really recovered. Since Ken Hitchcock’s firing, the Stars have won just four playoff series and only got as far as the Western Conference Finals once in 2008, where they lost in six games to the Detroit Red Wings.
Ruff seemed to have things moving in the right direction in Dallas after finishing with the best record in the Western Conference in 2015-16, but Dallas was not the same team this season. The Stars never threatened in the rugged Central Division and were saved from a last-place finish only by a truly wretched season from the Colorado Avalanche, who finished with just 48 points and were far and away the league’s worst team.
Hitchcock’s challenge will be to get the Stars’ young talent moving back in the direction that Ruff had them pointed toward before they fell apart in 2017. However, Hitchcock comes off a season in which he was shoved aside because it was believed the Blues also needed a new voice. The Blues ended the Stars’ season in seven games last year, but they too nearly followed Dallas to missing the playoffs before St. Louis replaced Hitchcock with Mike Yeo, resulting in a quick turnaround and a playoff slot.
If nothing else, the move means that Ken Hitchcock will now almost certainly pass Al Arbour to become the NHL’s third-most winningest coach. He was fired with 781 wins, one fewer than Arbour, but would almost surely surpass that milestone within the first month of the season. Of more concern to Stars fans is whether a return to the past will mean a return to the playoffs, which Hitchcock qualified for 14 times out of 17 seasons in which he coached 60 games or more.
Readers, does this move make sense? Is Hitchcock the voice the Stars need to compete for a Cup? Or is the second act doomed to fall short of the first? Sound off in the comments below and like and share this story!
Commentary by Dan Angell