Ken Hitchcock arrived at June's NHL entry draft in Sunrise, Fla.,
looking healthy and tan, a startling contrast to the slouching,
sleep-deprived figure he normally cuts at that time of year.
"I've had time to rest and recuperate," the Stars' coach said
with a grimace. "Too much time. We ended too early this year."
Early, yes, and also embarrassed after being flattened by the
Blues in the second round of the playoffs. That four-game sweep,
the only one Dallas has suffered since the franchise moved from
Minnesota following the 1992-93 season, came after the Stars'
unmatched run of 63 playoff games between '98 and 2000 and a
grueling six-game battle against the Oilers in last season's
opening round. Hitchcock demands a relentless, grinding style,
and no coach is better at persuading players to sacrifice their
bodies--and their statistics--for the good of the team. By the
Blues series, though, many players were spent, a fact that sent
Dallas management scrambling.
In making over the roster in the off-season, general manager Bob
Gainey shed veteran forwards Brett Hull, 37, Mike Keane, 34, and
John MacLean, 36, and brought in younger players who might
respond to Hitchcock's call for commitment. Smooth left wing
Valeri Kamensky and puck-moving defenseman Jyrki Lumme are trying
to rebound from lousy years. All-Star-caliber center Pierre
Turgeon (82 points last year for the Blues), nifty right wing
Donald Audette (79 with the Thrashers and the Sabres) and gritty
winger Rob DiMaio (formerly a Bruins foot soldier) are all in
their early 30s and have never won a Cup. "There's a real hunger
here," says Hitchcock. "The first challenge is to get the new
players integrated into the way we do things."
This year the presence of topflight centers Turgeon, Mike Modano
and Joe Nieuwendyk will likely spell the end of Hitchcock's
customary reliance on four lines; those three pivotmen, and their
linemates, may combine to play upward of 55 minutes a night.
Becoming a three-line team should be an easy enough adjustment
for a team as front-loaded as the Stars, and given the high
quality of their overall talent--four outstanding defensemen, Ed
Belfour in net--expect Hitchcock to show up at next year's draft
in Toronto after a long playoff run, with bags under his
Last season Marty Turco led the NHL in save percentage (.925),
becoming the second straight Stars goalie to do so (Ed Belfour,
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 3 Tops up middle with Modano, Turgeon, Nieuwendyk
DEFENSE 1 League's best unit; Matvichuk extremely
GOALTENDING 6 Belfour, pushed by Turco, must get his edge back
SPECIAL TEAMS 1 Strong PK allows Stars to be physical whole game
MANAGEMENT 2 Gainey a solid architect; team works for