It’s safe to say the Dallas Stars‘ 2016-17 collapse didn’t go unnoticed by star blue-liner John Klingberg.
While the smooth-skating Swede managed to put forth a strong 49-point campaign amid his club’s tumultuous season, he’s as aware as anyone of the improvements needed after his team’s sharp drop-off last year.
But general manager Jim Nill may have found a solution, according to Klingberg, as the addition of veteran head coach Ken Hitchcock should serve as a catalyst for those needed improvements.
“I want our team to be better defensively and I think he’s going to make our team better defensively,” Klingberg told NHL.com’s Tim Campbell on Friday. “We’re going to get a good structure defensively, something we missed a little bit from previous years. …I think it’s really important that we have one or two points or structures that we can lean back on if we’re not scoring that many goals.”
There’s no denying the fact that Dallas’ defensive woes contributed to its disappointing finish in 2016-17. After a stellar 2015-16 season that saw the team finish with the best record in the Western Conference, the Stars dropped to fourth-worst in the West last season while failing to qualify for the playoffs.
So too went the team’s defensive play. One season removed from finishing in the middle of the pack with 228 goals allowed, the Stars let in the second-most pucks in the league in 2016-17, allowing 260 goals over the course of the season. The team allowed more shots per game as well, seeing that mark increase from 28.9 in 2015-16 to 29.7 last year.
Bringing Hitchcock into the mix will be essential, Klingberg believes, considering the few unavoidable factors still at play next season.
“It is a tough division,” Klingberg said. “You have Chicago, who are always really good with those skill players they have. And St. Louis, Minnesota, who I feel are such structured teams with very good players offensively and defensively.”
If anyone knows how to navigate those obstacles, it’s Hitchcock, whose previous team was one of the best defensive clubs in the conference.
“We have played St. Louis a lot,” Klingberg said. “A division team, a rivalry team, and I told him when he called me this summer that it’s great that you’re coming because you guys in St. Louis were hard to play against.”
Klingberg finished 2016-17 with a career-best 13 goals to his name while seeing the most ice time per game of any skater on the Stars roster. The Gothenburg, Sweden, native will report to training camp in September to begin working with Hitchcock on the club’s new defensive scheme.