Jason Brough

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

‘Invigorated’ Hitch signs for one final year in St. Louis


Ken Hitchcock is taking one last shot at winning a Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues.

The club announced today a one-year contract extension for the 64-year-old head coach. Hitchcock then confirmed during a press conference that 2016-17 will be his final year. He plans to retire from coaching once it’s over.

“I just feel like I’ve got this really good year in me,” Hitchcock said. “This season has invigorated me like no season before.”

The Blues, of course, made it all the way to the Western Conference Final this year. The previous four postseasons under Hitchcock, they made it to the second round once, then lost three straight times in the first round.

“This group of players, their dynamic has changed, and it’s really exciting right now,” he said.

There will be at least one change to the coaching staff. GM Doug Armstrong said today that associate coach Brad Shaw will not be back. The rest of the staff has been offered one-year extensions to match Hitchcock’s.

Now that the decision has been made on the head coach, Armstrong can turn his full attention to the roster. Getting Jaden Schwartz, a pending restricted free agent, signed to a long-term deal will be his initial focus.

As for the captain, pending unrestricted free agent David Backes, there’s interest in bringing him back, but the numbers have to make sense. Forwards Troy Brouwer, Steve Ott, Kyle Brodziak and Scottie Upshall are also UFAs.

On the back end, Kevin Shattenkirk is probably the biggest wild card. He can become unrestricted next summer, and there has been speculation he could be traded this summer. But as of right now, Armstrong expects him to be back.

Armstrong also said there’s a chance Vladimir Sobotka could return to the Blues next season. Sobotka has spent the last two years in the KHL.

However the roster looks next season, it will be interesting to see what Hitchcock can get out of it. The Blues got over a big hump in 2016, but they only got halfway to winning it all.

One thing’s for sure, though, and that’s this:

Related: Parayko’s ‘memorable’ season has extended into the playoffs

Dupuis: ‘I’m still, in my head, a player’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Pascal Dupuis #9 of the Pittsburgh Penguins addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH (AP) Pascal Dupuis headed home to Montreal last December, threw his hockey gear in the garage and waited for his retirement to become real.

The longtime Pittsburgh Penguins forward knew the pangs of regret would come, even as he understood it was the right choice to step away from the game due to lingering concerns about the blood clots that dogged him during the final stages of his 15-year career. The only choice, really, for a married father of four.

Dupuis just assumed his second thoughts would fade over time. Only they didn’t. If anything, they’ve become more acute while watching his teammates put together a stirring run to the Stanley Cup Final without the player simply known as “Duper,” who for so long served as the emotional touchstone in a dressing room filled with divergent personalities.

“Every day I’m thinking about it,” Dupuis said before the Penguins opened up the franchise’s fifth appearance in the Cup Final with a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 on Monday night.

So Dupuis searched for a compromise, finding one in becoming a special assistant of sorts, one straddling the line between player and coach. He doesn’t have a term for his job description, though he became perhaps one of the world’s most overqualified equipment managers when he found himself replacing the butt end of forward Eric Fehr‘s stick during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.

The hockey bag Dupuis ditched in the family garage didn’t stay zipped for long. He brought his skates back to Pittsburgh, though these days he works out alone on the ice well before his friends file onto the rink. It’s strange, really strange, not to be out there with them. He lifted the Cup in triumph when the Penguins beat Detroit for the franchise’s third championship in 2009. Yet there the Cup was on Sunday afternoon, barely 20 feet away as he spoke to reporters during Media Day, and in the most visceral way hopelessly out of reach.

“You still want it,” said Dupuis, who turned 37 in April. “If one thing, it makes it harder. You know what it feels like, you know what it tastes like and you want it again.”

It’s why Dupuis returned last fall even though for the better part of two years it seemed as if there was a voodoo doll somewhere with his No. 9 jersey on it. The torn ACL in December, 2013. The blood clots that surfaced in November, 2014. The long wait for doctors to OK his return as he worked his way off blood thinners only to sustain a lower-body injury during training camp last September.

Yet he pressed on before chest pains forced him to leave a game in San Jose in early December, and the long West Coast road trip gave him time to think about his future, his mortality and hockey’s role in both. Then came the decision to step away on Dec. 8, making the announcement during a practice day in Colorado. He knew it was time to go.

Just not that far, it turned out. General manager Jim Rutherford promised Dupuis the team would pay him through the remainder of the four-year deal he signed in 2013 even as it placed him on the long-term inactive list. The move paid off immediately. The Penguins used the salary cap relief to acquire defenseman Trevor Daley from Chicago, a deal that coincided with head coach Mike Sullivan’s arrival and began the midseason renaissance that brought the Pittsburgh to the cusp of a championship.

“In some ways, our misfortune with Duper became our good fortune as we went along,” Rutherford said.

Dupuis made it a point to earn his money, even if it wasn’t with a stick in his hands. He re-joined the Penguins on the road as soon as doctors gave him clearance and in some ways things haven’t changed. He kept his stall in the locker room and joked “I still put my underwear on before they go on the ice.” Even if it goes under a meticulously tailored suit.

“He still works out hard, he gives us insight,” Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said. “He’s on the plane. He’s on the buses. He’s still loose just like he was when we played.”

Maybe that’s because he isn’t quite ready to turn the page completely. The engine that led the former undrafted free agent to 190 career goals, many of them as the speedy sidekick to Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby, doesn’t idle easily.

“It’s not like I’m going to dinner with the coaches yet,” he said. “I haven’t stepped over that fence yet. I’m still, in my head, a player.”

Even if, in practice, he is not. That part will be hard to shake, particularly as he sees his former peers make their way back from similar problems. Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos returned to the lineup for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals just eight weeks removed from his own blood clot issues. Seeing Stamkos on the ice – on the same night the Penguins grinded out a 2-1 win to advance to the Cup Final – was both promising but also bittersweet. Medicine is advancing. In the near future, blood clots may not be the career-altering diagnosis they are now.

Those advances, however, won’t come in time for Dupuis. For now, he’s attempting to be content growing his lavishly thick playoff beard and be one of the guys hoping to extend his long goodbye for a couple more weeks.

“It’s hard to come to the rink,” Dupuis said, “but the bigger picture here is me helping this team win.”

On his third team in three years, Bonino has ‘found a home for sure’ in Pittsburgh


PITTSBURGH — In Anaheim, Nick Bonino was good, but not quite good enough to be the Ducks’ second-line center. So two summers ago he was traded to Vancouver as part of a package for Ryan Kesler.

In Vancouver, Bonino had one decent enough season, but the Canucks ultimately decided he wasn’t the kind of “foundation piece” they were looking for. So last summer he was traded to Pittsburgh as part of a package for Brandon Sutter.

In Pittsburgh though?

In Pittsburgh, Nick Bonino is a playoff hero, verging on folk hero. The 28-year-old scored the winning goal in the final minutes of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The chemistry he’s developed with linemates Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin has helped take the pressure off Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It’s given the Penguins what they’ve needed for so many years.

“He’s had some huge goals in the playoffs, come up really big,” said teammate Matt Cullen. “Obviously playing in the middle of that line, he’s been huge for us all playoffs. It just brings another element of depth to our team.”

And if you think Cullen had nice things to say about Bonino, that was nothing compared to head coach Mike Sullivan.

“I think he’s a terrific player in every aspect of the game,” said Sullivan. “We use him in so many key situations, both offensively and defensively. I think he’s a guy that has a real high hockey IQ, sees the ice really well. He has real good hands. His awareness defensively I think, the use of his stick to take passing lanes away, it’s impressive.

“He’s brave. He blocks shots. He’s one of our better shot-blockers. He’s a good faceoff guy. He’s done so much for this team to help us get to this point. I don’t know what other praise I can shower on him right now. We think he’s a terrific player.”

Signed through next season, after which he can become an unrestricted free agent, Bonino was asked if he’s finally found a long-term home in Pittsburgh.

“I don’t know about long-term, you never know. Especially me, the last few summers,” he said.

“[But] I think I found a home for sure. I enjoy the guys, enjoy the team. Organization is first class. Definitely feels nice to be in the Cup final playing with these two guys. It’s been a lot of fun for me.”

Despite rough start, the Sharks ‘know we’re going to get better’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates after scoring a third period goal against Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH — It’s only been one game of the Stanley Cup Final and the San Jose Sharks are already tired of hearing about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ speed.

“It’s an NHL team,” said defenseman Brent Burns. “They’re fast. So is St. Louis. It’s not like St. Louis has got boots on.”

“They’re a good rush team, they’ve got some speed, they make some plays,” captain Joe Pavelski grudgingly conceded. “I don’t know, those teams we’ve played before are pretty good. I think Nashville was probably one of the better rush teams that we saw.”

In other words, the Penguins’ speed was no big deal. Nothing new. Nothing to panic about. The Sharks can play better than they showed in Game 1, a 3-2 loss that wasn’t decided until the final few minutes.

“They definitely came out with some speed and were skating, created some chances,” said Pavelski. “But we helped that out along the way, too.”

After getting outshot 15-4 and outscored 2-0 in the first period, the Sharks fought back in the second. They cut down the turnovers, outshot the Penguins 13-8, and tied the game.

“They carried the first, obviously. We carried the second I think, and then the third was two good teams going at it,” said Burns, calling the opening 20 minutes a “Holy [expletive] we’re here” experience for a San Jose group that has never been this far in the playoffs.

“You make the Stanley Cup finals, you dream about it for a long time,” he said. “You probably used more energy the last couple of days thinking about it than playing in a game. … I think we’ll be better second game.”

Head coach Pete DeBoer agreed.

“They’re a fast team,” he said. “They dictated play in the first. I thought when we played our game in the second, they had trouble with us. It’s the first game of the series. It reminds me a lot of St. Louis Game 1. I know we’re going to get better. Our execution’s got to get better. Part of it was some of the pressure they put on, but part of it was self-inflicted.”

He added, “There’s nothing that I saw tonight that I’m going out of here thinking that we can’t come out and compete and play much better on our end.”

Bettman: The ‘word’ on expansion should come June 22

NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, after attending an NHL owners meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

PITTSBURGH — Mark June 22 on the calendar. That’s when the NHL’s Board of Governors will meet in Las Vegas, and that’s when we should get word about the league’s expansion plans.

“That word,” commissioner Gary Bettman said today at his annual Stanley Cup Final press conference, “will probably come in one of the following forms:

“Whether there will be no expansion; whether expansion will be deferred until a later time in the future; or whether there will be expansion, and if so whether it will be a one-team or a two-team expansion.

“I am not going to handicap what’s going to happen. But again, when the board meets in Las Vegas on June 22, I am fairly certain that we will know more than we do today.”

The NHL is currently considering two expansion bids, one from Las Vegas and another from Quebec City. The former is optimistic about its chances, while the latter’s fortunes may have been dashed by the decline of the Canadian dollar.

On Las Vegas, the commissioner and his deputy, Bill Daly, were asked if the NFL’s potential foray into that market could affect the NHL’s decision. The answer to that question was no.

The other theme of today’s press conference was the Olympics. Specifically, the IOC’s decision to stop covering millions of dollars in transportation and insurance costs for the players.

On that, Bettman had a strong message for the IOC and IIHF.

“I’m pretty sure that our teams are not really interested in paying for the privilege of disrupting our season,” he said.

In other words, if the IOC and IIHF can’t resolve the “expense issue,” it’s practically a certainty that the NHL will not be sending its players to Pyeongchang‎, South Korea.