The Dallas Stars led the league in significant moves in the offseason, hoping to turn around a franchise that seemed to be headed in the right direction a year ago.
The team plummeted to a sixth-place finish last season in the Central Division a year after ending a decade-long division championship drought and earning top seeding in the Western Conference playoffs.
Dallas desperately needed to make changes and general manager Jim Nill delivered.
Nill began the reshaping project in April by bringing back coach Ken Hitchcock, who guided the franchise to its only Stanley Cup championship in 1999. A month later, Nill acquired the rights to Ben Bishop from the Los Angeles Kings for a fourth-round pick and gave the goaltender a $29.5 million, six-year deal to deal to address a glaring need. To help the other end of the ice, the Stars signed high-scoring winger Alexander Radulov in July.
“We think this offseason has taken us to being a full-fledged Stanley Cup contender,” Stars president Jim Lites told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Hitchcock certainly knows what it takes to win. He’s getting another shot to prove it after losing his job during what was scheduled to be his final season before retirement. The St. Louis Blues fired him 50 games into last season, with a winning record, and he was thrilled to have another opportunity to end his career on his terms in a return to Dallas.
And, it helps that he’s taking over a team built to win.
“We had a lot of discussions about the types of players and positions we needed,” Hitchcock said in a telephone interview. “We found what we were looking for, especially with some highly competitive guys.”
In addition to Bishop and Radulov, the Stars acquired 32-year-old defenseman Marc Methot, signed center Martin Hanzal and retained center Radek Faksa. They also had some good fortune in the draft lottery, moving up to third from eighth and using the selection to take defenseman Miro Heiskanen and trading up to take goaltender Jake Oettinger No. 26 overall to groom Bishop’s replacement.
“We’ve really transformed our franchise,” Lites said.
Here’s a look at some other major moves this offseason in the NHL:
TRADE WINDS: The Chicago Blackhawks, coming off the wrong end of a first-round sweep, shook up their roster dealing Artemi Panarin in a trade with Columbus to bring back Brandon Saad. While it was jarring at first glance to see Chicago give up the 2015 rookie of the year, it was a move the franchise wanted to make to reunite with a 24-year-old winger.
“We’ve always said we wanted to get him back here at some point,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said.
COACHING CHANGES: While Hitchcock has won 781 NHL games, a win away from tying Hall of Famer Al Arbour for third all-time, some new coaches are making their debut this season. The Buffalo Sabres (Phil Housley), Florida Panthers (Bob Boughner) and Vancouver Canucks (Travis Green) are all giving coaches their first shot to lead a team in the league. The Los Angeles Kings extended another chance to John Stevens, a decade after he helped the Philadelphia Flyers reach the conference finals.
ALL IN: The New York Rangers were able to sign the top player in free agency, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, in the hopes of contending for a Stanley Cup as they did in 2014 following playoff exits in the first or second round the past two years.
STAYING ON TOP: The Nashville Predators are defending conference champions for the first time in franchise history. They hope to take the next step with forward Nick Bonino, a gritty forward who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins beat Nashville to hoist the Cup.
KEEP ONE, LOSE ONE: The San Jose Sharks were able to keep Joe Thornton, but they’re without Patrick Marleau for the first time since 1996. He left for a $18.75 million, three-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency.
More AP NHL: www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey