Report: Columbus GM, coach could be fired by Monday

Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Post-Dispatch is reporting the beleaguered Columbus Blue Jackets are close to making sweeping changes behind the bench and in the front office.

Sources have told Portzline that head coach Scott Arniel and GM Scott Howson “could be replaced by Monday.” According to the report, former Calgary GM Craig Button has already been contacted about taking over for Howson.

And guess who CBJ is looking at for the head coaching gig?

Ken Hitchcock.

“Hitchcock is still under contract with the Blue Jackets, due to make $1.33 million this season in the final year of his deal. He has watched several Blue Jackets games and practices with [Columbus team president Mike] Priest and Howson already this season, and has maintained a residence near Nationwide,” Portzline writes. “This would appear an act of desperation, but Priest has always held Hitchcock in high regard, once saying that ‘Hitch hockey is Blue Jackets’ hockey.'”

So in their time of need, the Jackets are turning to the best coach they’ve ever had — a guy they also happen to still be paying. Can’t argue with that.

Hitch coached Columbus from 2006 to 2010 and is best known for leading the Jackets to their first and only playoff appearance in 2008-09. (That year was also by far the finest of captain Rick Nash’s career, scoring 40 goals and registering a career-high 39 assists. He also finished plus-11, no small feat considering he’s minus-55 for his career.) Hitch holds all the notable franchise coaching records and is one of only two CBJ bench bosses with a winning record — the other being Claude Noel, who replaced Hitchcock on an interim basis in 2010.

As for Button, he and Hitch have history from their time together in Dallas (Hitch the coach, Button the director of player personnel.) Button was also shortlisted for the Jackets GM job back in 2007, which eventually went to Howson.

UPDATE: Button has addressed the speculation via Twitter.

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Canucks’ Dorsett returns to Vancouver for precautionary reasons

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Derek Dorsett’s remarkable comeback story has taken an unfortunate turn.

Dorsett won’t play on Tuesday in Philadelphia against the Flyers and may be sidelined for some time after the Canucks revealed Dorsett is dealing with complications that appear to stem from last season’s spinal surgery, which forced him to miss 68 games last season.

Via the Canucks Twitter account:

Derek Dorsett returned to Vancouver today for precautionary reasons to be evaluated by medical staff. His rehab following a cervical fusion procedure last year progressed well, consistent with expectations, and resulted in his fitness to play.

Recently, symptoms of neck and back stiffness presented. Given the nature of the injury and surgery, it was determined the best course of action is for a specialist to review his status. Derek will be assessed to determine cause and treatment of the symptoms before any further action is taken.

Dorsett’s surgery, according to Sportsnet, was a brutal procedure of getting “cut through the front of his neck, pull his vocal chords aside, remove a damaged disc between his C5 and C6 vertebrae, replace it with a washer and chunk of bone from his hip, then screw the vertebrae together so the tissue could fuse.”

Canucks head coach Travis Green spoke to the media prior to Tuesday’s game.

“I think the symptoms just slowly came around the last week or so,” Green said. “He’s been kind of dealing with it the past several days, week.”

Playing in a fourth-line checking role, Dorsett had also found his scoring touch with seven goals and nine points playing with Brandon Sutter and Sam Gagner.

Green didn’t want Tuesday’s setback to take away from Dorsett’s comeback this season.

“I don’t want to talk like it was a remarkable comeback. It still is,” Green said. “He’s had a great start to the year, he’s been a big part of our team. Hopefully, he’s joining our group again soon.”

Green said it was too early to talk about when Dorsett would play again.

“I think we just call it wait and see… that’s all there is right now,” he said.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

NHL awards: Handing out hardware at the season’s quarter mark

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Almost every NHL team has hit the 20-game mark, which means it’s time to look back at the first month and a half of the season and see who’s ahead of the pack for some of the league’s top hardware.

A lot will change between now and June, but certainly some of the players named below will still be in the mix come awards season while others will tail off after hot starts.

HART TROPHY

Who is the most valuable to their team? That’s a tough choice as you look at some of the performances so far this season. Nikita Kucherov (17-16—33) can’t stop scoring and Steven Stamkos (10-25—35) is averaging 1.75 points per night for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Jaden Schwartz (10-16—26) is powering the St. Louis Blues. Johnny Gaudreau (10-21—31) is leading the Calgary Flames. Meanwhile, Sergei Bobrovsky it tops among all goaltenders with a .941 even strength save percentage.

There are a number of strong candidates for the Hart at the quarter mark. If voting took place now, how many votes would Kucherov and Stamkos split? And would that allow Bobrovsky to sneak in and steal it? Or does Bob have enough love right now to surpass the Lightning duo?

Our vote:
1. Bobrovsky

2. Kucherov
3. Schwartz

NORRIS TROPHY

Alex Pietrangelo and John Klingberg are all tied for the scoring lead among blue liners with 19 points, but lookie here, it’s Erik Karlsson, he of five games missed this season, lurking behind them at 17. He also has the best Corsi (56 percent, via Corsica) out of the top scoring defensemen and is averaging 1.21 points per game. Victor Hedman is also just behind with 15 points and 25:18 of ice time a night.

Our vote:
1. Karlsson

2. Pietrangelo
3. Hedman

VEZINA TROPHY

Outside of Bob, you have Andrei Vasilievskiy’s play helping the Lightning to a ridiculous start. He has a .931 ESSV and has played the seventh-most minutes (1,024:24). There’s also Connor Hellebuyck (.938) and Corey Crawford (.932) to consider; both have been key reasons for why their teams currently reside in playoff positions.

But in the end it’s hard to top what Bobrovsky is doing in Columbus. And it goes to show, as we’ve seen the last few years, just how good he is when healthy.

Our vote:
1. Bobrovsky

2. Hellebuyck
3. Crawford

CALDER TROPHY

In October, Clayton Keller (11-9—20) of the Arizona Coyotes appeared to have one hand on the rookie of the year award. But then a few other names entered the picture, like Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, who sits second in rookie scoring with 4 goals and 19 points. Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks (7-10—17) is a bright ray of hope for the franchise. New Jersey Devils blue liner Will Butcher has been an assist machine with 14 of his 16 points recorded as helpers.

Speaking of rookie defensemen, Charlie McAvoy has 10 points for the Boston Bruins, but just as impressive is the fact that he’s averaging 23:16 a night next to Zdeno Chara. No other freshman skater is over 20 minutes a night.

One goaltender of note is Charlie Lindgren (.929), who has played well filling in for Carey Price. But that’s not going to last once the Montreal Canadiens get their franchise goaltender back from injury very soon.

Our vote:
1. Keller

2. Barzal
3. McAvoy

JACK ADAMS AWARD

Who had the Vegas Golden Knights sitting in a playoff spot and not a lottery spot this season? Well, through the quarter mark, Gerard Gallant’s men have used a strong home record (8-1-0) to get off to an historic start.

There’s also plenty of praise for the jobs that Jon Cooper and Mike Yeo are doing in Tampa and St. Louis, respectively, but typically this award ends up going to a team that exceeded expectations or made a huge turnaround from either the current season or previous year. That’s why if they keep up the pace, John Hynes of the New Jersey Devils and Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets will find themselves getting some coach of the year love in June.

Our vote:
1. Gallant

2. Cooper
3. Hynes

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BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT – TEAM

The Edmonton Oilers were a trendy Stanley Cup pick before the season after a nice playoff run last spring. But it’s all come crashing back down to earth as they sit out of the Western Conference playoff picture and three points ahead of the league-worst Arizona Coyotes. The Montreal Canadiens have been an interesting mess and we’re waiting on the Philadelphia Flyers to take that next step with some exciting young players. The Dallas Stars seem to have issues living up expectations, while Bruce Boudreau’s penchant for winning division titles could take a hit for a second straight season with the Minnesota Wild.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT – PLAYER

It took until game No. 18 for Ryan Johansen, owner of a new $8 million cap hit, to score his first goal of the season for the Nashville Predators. Steve Mason (.879 ESSV) was handed a nice $8.2 million deal over the summer but has watched as Hellebuyck has taken the No. 1 job for the Jets. Martin Hanzal was given a three-year, $14.25 million deal by the Stars and has one goal through 17 games. Ben Bishop also hasn’t quite lit it up for the Stars with a .904 ESSV. Carey Price is injured, but sure wasn’t playing like his old self before he left the Canadiens lineup. His .877 ESSV is downright ugly.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Dallas Stars head coach fed up with injury rigmarole

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Now here’s a trend we could all get behind.

Dallas Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock told members of the media on Tuesday that he wants to “stop the dance” when it comes to revealing information about his injured players.

Via Marc Antoine Godin of The Athletic:

“I think we collectively hate playing the game. What I mean by that is we say ‘upper body,’ then you go on the phone, and then you look up things or you go to the doctors, find out what part of the upper body. We try to make your work easier, quite frankly, and so we just don’t like going through the dance.

“It’s just easy to tell you what it is and let’s move forward. It’s just the whole game. It’s an injury, and within two hours after we tell you it’s ‘upper body,’ you know exactly what it is, so why not just tell you? And the players don’t go out and say, ‘He has a broken left pinky and we’re going to go after the pinky.’ Nobody thinks like that. Our feeling is just tell them what the injury is and move it forward and just stop the dance.”

Perhaps Hitchcock, who has been coaching in the NHL since 1995, is just tired of the same old rigmarole he’s dealt with for the past 20-plus years. Reporters everywhere are too.

It’s also likely that most fans would also appreciate a higher level of transparency from the team they spend hundreds on for tickets each night.

Right, Montreal?

Given the mayhem that has ensued for the Canadiens over the status of Carey Price’s lower body, perhaps more teams will alleviate future headaches before they set in by adopting this route.

What is certain is that hockey scribes everywhere just became the biggest Hitchcock fans.

For now, if you’re looking for some of the Stars’ state secrets, they can be had on their official Twitter account:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Russian ice hockey player has 2-year doping ban cut

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ZURICH (AP) The International Ice Hockey Federation has slashed a doping ban given to Russian forward Danis Zaripov from two years to six months.

He’s eligible to play again from Thursday.

Zaripov, a Russian Olympian in 2010, was suspended in July for taking the banned substance pseudoephedrine.

However, the IIHF says it has reached a settlement with Zaripov, who filed an appeal. The IIHF agreed to cut the suspension. Since it’s dated from May 23, that means Zaripov will be eligible again on Thursday.

The IIHF says its decision is “based on extensive documentary and expert evidence that was unavailable” this year.

Zaripov has previously told Russian media he was in contact with the St. Louis Blues about a move to the NHL, where his ban isn’t valid.