James O'Brien

Chicago Blackhawks v St Louis Blues

Report: Blues will stick with Hitchcock ‘barring anything dramatic’

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The St. Louis Blues suffered another crushing playoff letdown in 2014-15, fueling speculation that they might make a big change behind the bench. It sounds like they’ll stick with head coach Ken Hitchcock, after all, however.

That’s the word from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, who said that Hitchcock will remain Blues head coach “barring anything dramatic” during the final moments of this Saturday Headlines segment.

It’s unclear what sort of things would qualify as “dramatic,” although recent stories indicate that both sides were going through some soul searching (rather than the Blues merely pondering a change). Hitchcock mentioned that he needed time to reflect while the team spoke of a decision-making process still taking place heading into this weekend.

It’s pretty easy to lay out the pros and cons of Hitchcock’s tenure with the Blues.

source: AP
Source: AP

 

The regular season results have been brilliant. From 2005-06 to 2010-11, St. Louis only made it to the playoffs once (and was summarily swept in 2009). Hitchcock took over during the 2011-12 season, and St. Louis has made the postseason every year he’s been at the helm. In fact, the Blues have won two Central Division titles – no small task – and have finished second or better in his four seasons.

Of course, the success dries up after the final game of each regular season. They’ve only won one playoff series with Hitchcock in charge, even as expectations climbed quite a bit in the past couple seasons.

It would be foolish to pin the blame on Hitchcock alone, yet at 63, it’s understandable if the veteran coach would elect to move on (or for his team to seek a new voice).

On the other hand, it also makes a lot of sense for this to be a last chance season, even if this offseason brings about some big changes.

While there are some big concerns this summer (star winger Vladimir Tarasenko is an RFA and veteran blueliner Barret Jackman is a UFA, among others), some of the Blues’ bargains are on the verge of getting raises.

Jake Allen needs a new contract, while Brian Elliott’s $2.5 million bargain evaporates after 2016-17. Kevin Shattenkirk’s super-cheap at $4.25M, yet that goes away after 2016-17, too. David Backes only has one year left at $4.5M while Jaden Schwartz should expect a big bump from $2.35M after 2015-16.

Long story short, it makes sense for the Blues to take a measured approach with Hitchcock … but they’ll expect dramatic results if he returns in 2015-16.

WATCH LIVE: Lightning at Rangers, Game 5 of Eastern Conference Final

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Heading into Game 4, people were wondering if New York Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist would burst out of his slump. Now the focus shifts to the other net, as Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop hopes for a better Game 5.

The series shifts back to Madison Square Garden after two action-packed games in Tampa, and the winner will take a crucial 3-2 series lead. You can watch the action on NBCSN and stream it via NBC Sports Live Extra:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Kesler on wearing down Chicago: ‘No human can withstand that many hits’

Ryan Kesler, Jonathan Toews
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Last night, the Chicago Blackhawks showed their resiliency in becoming the first team to win four multiple-overtime games in a single postseason. The Anaheim Ducks seem to believe that they can grind Chicago down, though.

On the subject of wear-and-tear, Ryan Kesler reiterated his plan to NHL.com’s Curtis Zupke.

“No human can withstand that many hits,” Kesler said.

With some help from a stat tweeted out by the Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott, it looks as though the Ducks have generated a lopsided hit differential of 220-158 (Game 4 was pretty even, as Anaheim delivered 60 to Chicago’s 50 hits).

Combine the sheer body contact with the fact that the Blackhawks are needing to lean on top players more than the Ducks – one can debate how stark the difference is, as Joel Quenneville certainly has – and one can see where Kesler & Co. are coming from. Especially when you consider how many lengthy playoff runs the Blackhawks have been through in recent years. Perhaps that mileage adds up?

Of course, it’s also true that this isn’t Chicago’s first rodeo. The Blackhawks are accustomed to the challenges of the postseason, so perhaps the Ducks’ aggressiveness doesn’t make the sort of impact that Kesler may believe.

Ultimately, we’ll have to see how this series progresses, as hindsight may tell which side is “correct.”

Related: Kesler acknowledges the plan earlier in the series

Twins joining Triplets? Watch out if Stamkos, Killorn keep heating up

Steve Stamkos, Alex Killorn
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The Tampa Bay Lightning’s “Triplets” line has done something remarkable: knock Steven Stamkos off the marquee, at least for a little while.

The scary thing for the New York Rangers – and maybe the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks – is that the Lightning’s “other” big combo is really starting to generate points and havoc, as well. With Ryan Callahan still recovering from emergency surgery and Valtteri Filppula a little less noticeable on the line, the duo of Stamkos and Alex Killorn is being dubbed “The Twins” by the Ottawa Sun.

There’s no word on how Henrik and Daniel Sedin feel about such a nickname, as Stamkos stands out is pretty easy to distinguish from just about any other player, really:

New Yoprk Rangers v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Three
Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

Granted, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson don’t look alike, either. Instead, they blend together by being so dominant and cohesive, and the startling thing about the last game-and-change is that Killorn has been as impressive as Stamkos.

Jon Cooper singled Killorn and Palat out in Game 3, in particular:

Of course, it’s scarier for opponents to see Stamkos on his game, and he definitely asserted himself on Wednesday. His all-out-effort on his 2-1 goal really made a statement:

In the past two games, Stamkos has two goals and two assists. Killorn has been even more productive with three goals and two helpers, and it’s more than that, as his overwhelming Game 3 effort included nine shots on goal.

If this keeps up, opponents face the unsettling “pick your poison” proposition: do you focus on “The Triplets,” Killorn – Stamkos or risk spreading yourself thin? Call each line what you want, but on their best days, they amount to a matchup nightmare.

Bettman refutes link between concussions and CTE

Montreal Canadiens v Ottawa Senators - Game Six
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Concussions and the salary cap are common topics for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, yet he provided some interesting comments about both on Thursday.

Following the death of former defenseman Steve Montador and looming litigation regarding concussions, Bettman refuted the connection some have made between concussions and CTE, as the Associated Press reports.

“From a medical and scientific standpoint,” Bettman said about a possible link between concussions and CTE, “there is no evidence yet that one leads to the other.”

Interesting. Chris Nowinski – the co-founder of the Boston University CTE Center and someone who is “fighting concussions every day – seemed to disagree with Bettman’s observations.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the definition of CTE, according to Nowinsky’s CTE Center:

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head. CTE has been known to affect boxers since the 1920s. However, recent reports have been published of neuropathologically confirmed CTE in retired professional football players and other athletes who have a history of repetitive brain trauma. This trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau.  These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement.  The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.

Which side is right? Perhaps time will tell on that matter.

One thing we’ll know for sure far sooner is whether or not Bettman’s salary cap estimates prove accurate for the 2015-16 season. He once again predicted that the ceiling with rise to about $71 million, according to the AP.

NHL GMs can be excused for being a little concerned up until the moment that figure is confirmed, though.