The Dallas Morning News
Stars, Hitchcock: One more time?
Destiny seems to demand a reunion; are you listening, Jim Nill?
Mike Heika asks: Could there be a reunion between the Dallas Stars and former coach Ken Hitchcock?
This wasn’t the worst season since the Stars moved to Dallas. It was the second worst. The worst season came in 1995-96 when the Stars went 26-42-14, chasing general manager/coach Bob Gainey from the bench at midseason and forcing the Hall of Famer to trust a little-known coach out of the minors.
That’s how Ken Hitchcock got his start in the NHL.
The then-44-year-old was a hockey lifer with three years as an assistant coach in Philadelphia, three years as head coach of the Stars’ IHL affiliate in Kalamazoo, Mich., and more than a decade in youth and junior hockey. He always joked that some people played 20 years to get ready for a career in coaching, but that he coached 20 years to get ready for a career in coaching.
Twenty years later, it’s almost as if the hockey gods are winking at the Stars.
Could an unlikely reunion between Hitchcock and Dallas really happen?
Heck, it seems like destiny is calling for it to happen.
Sure, he’s 65 now. Sure, the game has changed. Sure, this team is much younger than the
one Hitchcock inherited back when “Macarena” was No. 1 on the charts.
But the signs of “déjà vu all over again” are all over the Stars.
Hitchcock came in and taught a highly skilled center named Mike Modano how to play two-way hockey, eventually seeing Modano earn votes as a Selke Trophy candidate.
Hitchcock came in and helped a veteran named Joe Nieuwendyk learn how to fit in as a No. 2 center, eventually seeing him win the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP in the playoffs.
And Hitchcock still needed Gainey to get goalie Ed Belfour to finally push his team over the top, Spooky, eh? It’s easy to look to the past and try to rebuild the best hockey memories Dallas has ever known, but it also makes a ton of sense.
Isn’t Tyler Seguin in the same place Modano was? The speedy center has had plenty of success and ranks fifth in NHL scoring since he joined the Stars in 2013 with 306 points (133 goals, 173 assists) in 305 games. But Lindy Ruff was so frustrated by Seguin’s defensive play that he slotted the 25year-old at right wing for much of the season.
Wouldn’t Hitchcock be the perfect guy to mold Seguin into a two-way player like Modano or Patrice Bergeron? Isn’t that a transformation everyone would be watching if Dallas chose Hitchcock as the next coach?
Likewise, Spezza seems in a similar place in his career to where Nieuwendyk was back in the ’90s. He’s led another team in scoring, he’s played in some big playoff games, he’s gained a lot of experience. Now it’s just a matter of getting him into the big games again.
If you talk to Spezza, he’s fully aware of his age (he’ll be 34 in June), and he’s also confident he’s in the best shape of his life. He might be at that intersection where he is perfectly prepared for something special.
If you want to entertain the ramblings of an old hockey writer trying to relive the past, you could easily paint Mattias Janmark in the role of Jere Lehtinen, Radek Faksa as a younger version of Guy Carbonneau, and Devin Shore as a latter-day Jamie Langenbrunner. It’s easy to make the pieces fit. And when you consider that the old Stars had nobody like Jamie Benn, well, maybe the forward group that’s in house has the opportunity to be even better than the old group.
Of course, this version of the Stars doesn’t have Sergei Zubov or Derian Hatcher or Belfour … not yet, anyway. But the similarities are there, and it makes sense that Hitchcock could be the right fit at the right time.
He is older, but he hasn’t lost his fire for the game. He needs a calm, level-headed GM to back him when his nagging wears on the players, but Jim Nill seems to fit the bill. His return would be a cliché, but sometimes those make the best stories.
They say you can’t go home again, but there are plenty of instances when people have — especially when it’s a home they dearly love.
Nill needs to study all of his options and measure all of his candidates, but if Ken Hitchcock has a trump card in this competition, it’s that he would take a great deal of pride in turning this franchise around.