Hitchcock preaching accountability to improve Stars’ power play

NHL insider Mark Spector says Ken Hitchcock returning to Dallas is perfect for both parties, because the pieces are already there for a return to form for the Stars franchise.

For a team boasting a former Art Ross Trophy winner, a centreman ranking in the upper echelon of the game’s best pivots, and a young defenceman who can score with the best of them, the Dallas Stars looked woefully underwhelming offensively last season.

Finishing squarely in the middle of the pack in terms of total goals scored, Dallas came up similarly short when the ice was tilted in their favour, concluding 2016-17 with the 11th-worst power play in the league after owning the fourth-best just one year prior. That despite a top unit featuring the aforementioned trio – Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg – along with veteran scorers Jason Spezza and Patrick Eaves.

With a new head coach at the helm, the Stars will look to right the man-advantage ship in 2017-18, Ken Hitchcock said a drastic overhaul of the club’s previous strategy won’t be part of that transition.

“Their entries are very good,” Hitchcock told the Dallas News’ Mike Heika on Friday. “This team has a unique situation in you have several players who are able to bring the puck up by themselves. That way you can use one or two players to skate the puck up, and that is very effective. They’ve been one of the best in the league, so why change it? It’s a major strength of this team, that drop pass.”

While it’s clear Dallas is brimming with exceptional puck-carrying talent, providing plenty of promise for a special teams turnaround next season, the numbers suggest some sort of change is needed.

Dallas earned the seventh-most power play opportunities in the league in 2016-17, but ranked in the bottom half in regards to power play goals tallied. Some change is sure to come given the off-season’s roster shake-up.

Seguin, Benn, Spezza and Klingberg remain, but the other key names that earned significant power play time – Eaves, Patrick Sharp and Jiri Hudler – will no longer be in the mix. Summer addition Alexander Radulov seems a prime candidate to slot into the top unit, having led all Montreal Canadiens forwards in power play points last season.

For Hitchcock, the improved special teams play seems to hinge on far more than pure skill, however.

“We have great players, and there is some strategy we have to look at in how we’re going to use those players, but to me my job is accountability,” Hitchcock said. “My job is work ethic, determination, grit, togetherness. (Assistant coach) Stu (Barnes) understands how I think, and a lot of what has been done here before is similar to what I do.

“(Former coach) Lindy (Ruff) and I both believe in how things were done on the Olympic team, so there are a lot of similarities to how we do things on the power play. But I will concentrate on big picture stuff and a lot on accountability. That’s my job.”

The Stars will report to training camp later this month to begin hammering out that revamped power play strategy, hoping to rebound and return to the playoffs in 2017-18 after missing the dance in two of the past three campaigns.

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