He’s the third-winningest coach in NHL history, has stood behind the bench for more than 1,500 games and his trophy case includes a Stanley Cup, two Western Conference championships, two Presidents’ Trophies, a Jack Adams Award, as well as World Junior Championship, World Cup and Olympic gold. But after 22 seasons behind an NHL bench, Ken Hitchcock’s coaching career has come to a close.
The Dallas Stars announced Friday that Hitchcock, who stepped behind the bench for a second tenure with the team ahead of the 2017-18 campaign, has decided to step away from the position and will move into a consulting role with the organization.
"Ken Hitchcock is an icon when it comes to head coaches, not only in hockey, but across all of sports," said Stars GM Jim Nill in a statement. "He poured his whole life into better understanding in-game concepts and strategy, inspiring players and enhancing teams. He leaves an indelible mark on the game and his influence will be felt across the sport for years to come. We want to thank Ken for all that he has given throughout his coaching career."
Oddly enough, this is the second time Hitchcock has announced his retirement. Prior to the 2016-17 season, Hitchcock, then with the St. Louis Blues and with associate coach Mike Yeo ready to step into the top job at a moment’s notice, said he was entering his final season behind the bench and it was widely reported that he would end his coaching tenure at the culmination of last season. The campaign started to go off the rails for the Blues, however, resulting in Hitchcock’s firing midway through the season. For some time, it seemed Hitchcock was indeed through with coaching, but after the Stars moved on from former coach Lindy Ruff, Hitchcock was lured back to Dallas, where he had previously coached from 1995-96 to 2001-02.
It was reported at the time that Hitchcock inked a multi-year contract with an agreement to move into a consulting position after he retired from patrolling the bench. But with Friday’s retirement — and this one's almost certain to be permanent — Hitchcock’s move into the consulting role comes earlier than was expected. Of course, the shift into the front office position does come on the heels of a disappointing campaign for the Stars in which Dallas, picked by many to be a Stanley Cup contender during the pre-season, fell short of the playoffs for a second consecutive year. That may very well have played a part in Hitchcock’s decision.
There is little doubt that at some point in the not-too-distant future Hitchcock and his 823 career wins will enter the Hall of Fame in the builders' category, joining other famed coaches such as Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Pat Quinn and Pat Burns. His remarkable resume speaks for itself and is deserving of a place among the greatest coaches the game has ever seen.
As for the Stars, Hitchcock’s retirement creates a coaching vacancy that will need to be addressed during what is sure to be another busy summer. So, who steps in behind the bench next season? Here are 10 potential candidates:
Past NHL Experience: Head coach for New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens
Recently relieved of his duties in New York, Vigneault has a solid track record in the NHL. He’s a career 648-435-133 and has two conference titles under his belt. The pro here is that he has a ton of experience from which to draw, but Dallas has gone with an experienced NHL coach before only to have it backfire. It might be time for a fresh voice.
Past NHL Experience: Head coach for Vancouver Canucks; assistant coach for Dallas Stars
The Stars made it clear that they won’t hesitate to go back to the well when they brought back Hitchcock, so hiring Desjardins, a former assistant and former AHL bench boss, isn’t out of the question. His NHL head-coaching debut wasn’t sparkling with the rebuilding Canucks, but he did a solid job with the Canadian Olympic entry in PyeongChang. He’ll likely get another shot at the bigs, and it might be the Stars who give it to him.
Past NHL Experience: Head coach for Arizona Coyotes, Dallas Stars; assistant coach for Los Angeles Kings
An entire season out of the job might remove Tippett from the front of the line, but he has the experience and track record that could make him a candidate. Like Hitchcock, he’s been in Dallas before, but the results varied. Again, if Dallas wants to go with someone who knows the NHL landscape well, Tippett’s an option. If they want a new voice, the search should take them elsewhere.
Current: Associate coach for Montreal Canadiens
Past NHL Experience: Head coach for Carolina Hurricanes; assistant coach for St. Louis Blues
It was believed that Muller, who coached the Hurricanes to an 80-80-27 record over two-plus seasons, would have gotten another chance to run his own bench by now. That hasn’t come to fruition, however. He was overlooked as the Blues’ successor when Yeo came aboard as an associate, but Muller’s connection with Hitchcock makes him an intriguing option.
Past NHL Experience: Head coach for Ottawa Senators; assistant coach for Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, Phoenix Coyotes
Seems hard to believe MacLean would go from winning the Jack Adams Award in 2012-13 to being unable to find a coaching gig in the NHL a few years later. Yet, here we are. MacLean was last an assistant with Anaheim in 2016-17, but his contract wasn’t renewed and he’s now a free agent. He’s learned under some talented coaches, and pairing him with Hitchcock might make for an interesting fit.
Current: Head coach for Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Past NHL Experience: Assistant coach for Winnipeg Jets
Fresh off of winning the AHL’s Coach of the Year Award, it would make sense that Vincent starts to get some consideration when these vacancies pop up. He’s done tremendous work down on Winnipeg’s farm. The question here is whether or not the Jets would want to let him test the waters. He could be a valuable assistant next to Paul Maurice or a potential replacement should things unexpectedly go sideways in the near future.
Current: Head coach for Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Past NHL Experience: N/A
Keefe has been one of the few names that consistently pops up when there’s a coaching vacancy. With good reason, of course. Over the past three seasons, Toronto’s AHL club has won 147 of their 215 games under Keefe’s watch. The Marlies have also won three playoff rounds in the past two seasons and are back in the AHL post-season again this year with one of the league’s top teams. A Calder Cup victory would really boost Keefe’s stock.
Current: Head coach for Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Past NHL Experience: Interim head coach for Edmonton Oilers; assistant coach for Atlanta Thrashers
Speaking of boosting your stock, Nelson coached the Griffins to the Calder Cup in 2016-17 and it was the second time in his tenure as a professional bench boss that he captured the AHL crown. He had previously helped guide the Chicago Wolves to an AHL title in 2007-08, and he’s a two-time UHL champion, for what that’s worth. He’s won at every level, so maybe now is his chance to take a shot at the NHL — that is if Detroit will let Nelson even interview for the job.
Current: Head coach for Texas Stars (AHL)
Past NHL Experience: N/A
Sometimes the easiest answer is the right one, and moving Laxdal up from the AHL to take over the NHL bench makes some sense. He’s got an understanding of the young talent that has come through the ranks and he’s had success down in Texas, winning 151 games over the past four seasons. He’s won ECHL and AHL titles, too, so he has a history of success. With Hitchcock helping here and there, maybe it’s Laxdal’s time to make the jump.
Past NHL Experience: N/A
A bit off the board, but Boucher made headlines in the major junior world earlier this week when he resigned as both coach and GM of the Quebec Remparts. His success with the QMJHL club hasn’t gone unnoticed and there is a connection worth noting here: Boucher played nearly half of his 748-game NHL career in Dallas — 346 games, during which he scored 52 goals and 162 points — and even earned first-, second- and third-place votes for the Norris Trophy for his impressive 2006-07 season with the Stars.
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