Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock retiring after 22 NHL seasons

Ken Hitchcock, the most successful head coach in Dallas Stars history, is retiring after 22 seasons behind an NHL bench.

Won Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999, sits 3rd all-time in victories

Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock is retiring after 22 seasons behind an NHL bench, the team announced through a news release Friday. He guided Dallas to the franchise's first Stanley Cup title in 1999 and is third all-time in coaching victories with 823. (LM Otero/Associated Press/File)

Ken Hitchcock, the most successful head coach in Dallas Stars history, is retiring after 22 seasons behind an NHL bench.

The 66-year-old, who returned to Dallas this season to take over from the fired Lindy Ruff, is third all-time in victories (823) behind Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Joel Quenneville (884), and fourth in regular-season games coached (1,536). Hitchcock guided the Stars to the franchise's first  Stanley Cup title in 1999 before coaching in Philadelphia, Columbus and St. Louis.

"The game of hockey has been my entire life and I could never repay what the game did for me and for all the wonderful people I got to meet in my career," Hitchcock said in a statement released by the Stars. "I have contemplated this since our last game and I came to the conclusion that now is the right time to step away and let the younger generation of coaches take over."

3rd in Stars history in wins, games coached

Dallas was sixth in the seven-team Central Division this season with a 42-32-8 record, finishing three points behind Colorado for the second wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference.

In two stints with the Stars, Hitchcock went 319-186-80 over eight regular seasons and ranks first in team history in wins and games coached (585). The Edmonton native also amassed a 47-33 mark in 80 post-season contests with Dallas, making the the post-season five times and also leading the Stars to the Cup Final in 2000.

Among "Hitch's" other NHL highlights:

  • Winning eight division titles
  • Two Presidents' Trophies coaching the team with the most points
  • Jack Adams Award (NHL coach of the year) recipient in 2012 with St. Louis
  • Winning Olympic gold medals with Canada as an assistant coach in 2002, 2010 and 2014
  • Assistant coach with Canada's gold-medal winning squads at the 1987 world junior championship and 2002 world championship.
  • Coaching Canada to a silver medal at the 2008 worlds

"He is a certain Hall of Fame coach and he left a lasting legacy wherever he went," said Stars owner and governor Tom Gaglardi. "He will forever be a Dallas Star."

Added Stars general manager Jim Nill: "Ken Hitchcock is an icon when it comes to head coaches, not only in hockey, but across all of sports. He poured his whole life into better understanding in-game concepts and strategy, inspiring players and enhancing teams."

Before rejoining head coach Mike Babcock on Team Canada's bench at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Hitchcock told CBC Sports that of all the coaches he worked with over the previous 30 years, the-then Detroit Red Wings bench boss was the closest to thinking the game the same way he did.

"He keeps the brakes on me and I keep the brakes on him," Hitchcock said. "When the [Olympic] competition starts, we both speak in very pointed terms and very brief sentences and we have a good relationship because of that."

'A winner for a long, long time'

Babcock, now in his third season behind Toronto's bench, called Hitchcock on Friday morning, just hours after the Maple Leafs dropped their playoff series opener at Boston.

"An impressive, impressive career," Babcock said. "He told me this year when we were in Dallas that he was thinking about it. He's a good man, he found a way to be a good coach, he's been a winner for a long, long time, won at all levels, always found a way to get his teams to be better than they were the year before.

"Obviously wants to hit the golf ball and do something on his own. I imagine he'll probably end up being a consultant for about nine teams, so he'll drive himself crazy as soon as he sits around for a while. I enjoyed being around him. Had a lot of good laughs with him."

To each and every player that I coached, I wish I could do it all over again.— Retiring Dallas Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock

Hitchcock returned to Dallas on April 13, 2017 after St. Louis abruptly fired him on Feb. 1, cutting short what was already going to be his last season with the Blues. St. Louis made the playoffs in each of Hitchcock's five full seasons, reaching the West final in 2016.

Former Stars centre Mike Modano once described Hitchcock as "a unique guy. He's very intense. He loves what he does."

Hitchcock's demanding style to drive players harder centred on defence, which rubbed some players the wrong way over the years. He converted Modano into a checking centre and asked current Dallas star forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin to be more mindful of the defensive side of the game.

Modano also learned that Hitchcock's approach was designed to get the best out of all his players.

"To each and every player that I coached," read his retirement statement, "I wish I could do it all over again. None of this [would have been] possible without your trust, your commitment and your countless hours at the rink working together for the same goal."

Shortly after the Vancouver Canucks fired head coach Willie Desjardins in April 2017, GM Jim Benning spoke about Hitchcock, who was then unemployed, in a phone interview with CBC Sports.

'It doesn't surprise me the success he's had'

Benning first learned of Hitchcock's passion for hockey 40 years earlier when the latter sold sweaters in the basement at United Cycle in Edmonton before taking a job as head coach with the Kamloops of the Western Hockey League in 1984.

"Back then, he was coaching Bantam teams in Sherwood Park, Alberta, and always had good teams," Benning said of Hitchcock, who went 287-125-15 with the Blazers and never had a losing season in six years. "He's always been about trying to figure out how hockey is being played and how to make it better.

"It doesn't surprise me the success he's had through the years because I know he's put a lot of thought into it."

Columbus fired Hitchcock as coach on Feb. 3, 2010, only to rehire him that September as a special adviser to the organization. He assited in the evalutation of Blue Jackets draft picks playing in the Canadian Hockey League and collegiate ranks. He also worked with the coaching staff of Columbus' American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield, Mass., and watched AHL and NHL games live and on television.

"I think I've got too soft. I don't think I could [coach] anymore," a reflective Hitchcock told CBC Sports in November 2010. "These guys [play] three games in three nights with long bus travel."

A year later, Hitchcock took over from the fired Davis Payne in St. Louis.

About the Author

Doug Harrison

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

With files from The Associated Press

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