DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Stars would be just fine if it becomes like 1999 all over again.
Ken Hitchcock, the coach who led the Stars to their only Stanley Cup championship nearly two decades ago, is back on their bench.
“He’s got a big voice and when he talks the guys are listening,” team captain Jamie Benn said. “And we’ve got to stay sharp. He does everything quick and draws it up once, so you’ve got to be paying attention at all times and the details are a big part of practice.”
General manager Jim Nill replaced Lindy Ruff with another grizzled veteran coach after Dallas missed the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons, going from the Western Conference’s top seed with 109 points in 2015-16 to 79 points last season.
“He’s different. Obviously more stricter, but it’s where we want to play the game,” left wing Antoine Roussel said of Hitchcock. “Making sure the mistakes get fixed and making sure we don’t do it again. And it’s detailed and it’s what we need.”
Nill brought Ruff to Dallas when he took over as GM four years ago, but he made the coaching change this offseason and followed it up with some high-profile player additions.
Big goalie Ben Bishop was signed to a six-year contract in hopes of solving one of the team’s pressing issues, along with top free agents in center Martin Hanzal and right wing Alexander Radulov. Defenseman Marc Methot was acquired from expansion team Vegas, whose franchise opener is Oct. 6 at Dallas.
“Ben signing really got the ball rolling for us,” Nill said. “To go get a goalie like that, he’s one of the best in the league, that’s the type of move our players and coaches were excited about.”
Dallas also still has young elite scorers in Benn and Tyler Seguin , along with veteran center Jason Spezza.
Some things to know as the Stars mark their 25th season in Dallas:
Radulov, who played for Montreal last season after returning from Russia, is likely to spend a lot of time in a top line with Benn and Seguin, who have combined for 630 points (269 goals, 361 assists) over the past four seasons.
“There’s some certain chemistry that you can see,” Hitchcock said. “The next dynamic is to trust your work and it’s a group that’s learning to trust its work rather than skill. When they do that, they have a chance to be very dynamic.”
Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi both won 25 regular-season games during the 2015-16 season, but the Stars last season had a 3.17 goals-against average that ranked 29th in the NHL. Lehtonen is Bishop’s primary backup and Niemi is in Pittsburgh after Dallas bought out the final year of his contract.
MAKE HIS MARK
Forward Mattias Janmark missed all of last season because of an unusual knee injury, a joint disorder in which the bone underneath the cartilage dies because of reduced blood flow. Nill has said the Stars missed Janmark “as much as anyone last season.” The 24-year-old Janmark had 15 goals and 14 assists as an NHL rookie in 2015-16.
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. Hitchcock later coached the Philadelphia Flyers (2002-06), Columbus Blue Jackets (2006-10) and St. Louis (2011-17). The Blues made the playoffs five times under the 65-year-old Hitchcock, who was fired Feb. 1, cutting short what was already going to be his last season in St. Louis. With 781 regular-season victories, he is one shy of tying for third on the all-time list.
NEVER REALLY A KNIGHT
Methot said he never planned to leave Ottawa, but after five seasons with the Senators was selected by Vegas in the expansion draft. The Golden Knights then traded him to the Stars for a goaltender drafted in June and a second-round pick in 2020.
“I’m really happy to end up in Dallas,” Methot said. “The management has done a nice job building a team that can win now.”