Ken Hitchcock, who led the Dallas Stars to their only NHL championship, is returning as head coach, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector confirms.
Stars GM Jim Nill decided not to renew former coach Lindy Ruff’s contract at the end of a dismal 2016-17 campaign that saw the Stars go 34-37-11. In 2015-16, they finished tops in the Western Conference.
Hitchcock, who coached the stars for nine seasons beginning in 1995 and led Dallas to its Stanley Cup victory in 1999, was fired himself this season, from the St. Louis Blues.
Nill told reporters Monday that he’d interviewed three candidates to fill Ruff’s position and wished to install a new coach quickly.
“We’re looking for an experienced coach. We’re going to get back at it and get back on the horse,” Nill said.
“This isn’t a rebuild. I think we’ve got a lot of good pieces in place. It was a tough year. The tough part was [Ruff] never really had his team this year [due to injuries].”
The Stars have a plethora of offensive weapons — Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza — but struggled mightily on the defensive side of the puck and in net.
Only dead-last Colorado gave up more goals than Dallas’s 3.17 per game this season.
“You’d rather win 1-0 or 2-1 than 6-5,” Stars captain Jamie Benn told us in February. “There is no greater feeling than playing good team defence.”
Hitchcock, 65, is known as a defensive specialist. In 1,454 games as head coach of the Stars, Flyers, Blue Jackets and Blues, Hitchcock has a record of 781-474-88-111 for a points percentage of .606.
He has overseen eight division titles and served as an assistant coach for Canada’s gold-medal-winning 2014 Olympic squad.
Ironically, it was Hitchcock’s Blues that ended the Stars’ most successful season in years, when St. Louis edged Dallas in a seven-game 2016 Western Conference semifinal.
The Stars will introduce Hitchcock at a press conference Thursday at 12 p.m. ET.