What's old is new again for the Dallas Stars, who are counting on the return of the only championship-winning coach in their history to get them back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Ken Hitchcock, who coached the Stars from 1995-2002 and guided them to the Cup in 1999, is back in Dallas, hired to replace Lindy Ruff on April 13. It was the first step in a makeover of a team that went 34-37-11 (79 points) last season, failing to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Goalie Ben Bishop, forward Alexander Radulov, center Martin Hanzal and defenseman Marc Methot were added to a core led by captain Jamie Benn and forward Tyler Seguin.
[RELATED: Jack Adams Award history]
Eighteen years after Hitchcock coached the Stars to the Stanley Cup, he's returning to a team with high expectations. The offseason overhaul and Hitchcock's track record -- his 781 NHL wins are fourth all-time and second among active coaches behind Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks (851) -- have made him the preseason favorite to win the Jack Adams Award as the League's best coach, according to a panel of 17 NHL.com writers.
"There's a lot of people that want this team to do really well," Hitchcock, 65, told the Stars website. "So when you hear that, it's bigger than just winning hockey games. We want to do it the right way. I really want the players to play a brand of winning hockey. Regardless of what happens, I want us to play and act like winners."
"That part is really important to me, because that's bigger than just point totals or anything to me. That's the thing that really sticks out to me is I think I can help this group punch through to a higher level. I really think I can help."
Hitchcock's defensive-oriented style of play should help the Stars improve after they finished 29th in the NHL in goals-against last season (3.17 per game) and 30th on the penalty kill (73.9 percent). A rebound to the form that helped the Stars win the Central Division in 2015-16 could result in Hitchcock winning the award for the second time; he won it in 2011-12 with the St. Louis Blues.
Hitchcock earned 46 points from the NHL.com panel, 14 more than Jon Cooper (Tampa Bay Lightning). Mike Babcock (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Mike Sullivan (Pittsburgh Penguins) tied for third with 30 points. Todd McLellan (Edmonton Oilers) received 25.
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Ken Hitchcock, Dallas Stars, 46 points (six first-place votes); Jon Cooper, Tampa BayLightning, 32 (one); Mike Babcock, Toronto Maple Leafs, 30 (three); Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins, 30 (two); Todd McLellan, Edmonton Oilers, 25 (two); Bill Peters, Carolina Hurricanes, 15, (one); Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks 10, (one); Glenn Gulutzan, Calgary Flames, 9; John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets, 9; Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota Wild, 7; Doug Weight, New York Islanders, 7; Phil Housley, Buffalo Sabres, 7; Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes, 6 (one); Mike Yeo, St. Louis Blues, 5; Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights, 4; Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets, 4; John Stevens, Los Angeles Kings, 3; Guy Boucher, Ottawa Senators, 2; Peter Laviolette, Nashville Predators, 2; Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers, 1; Randy Carlyle, Anaheim Ducks, 1
Photo courtesy of Dallas Stars