Tuesday night was a big one for two veteran coaches.
The Winnipeg Jets crushed the Florida Panthers 8-2 last night to provide bench boss Paul Maurice with his 500th career victory. He’s just the 20th head coach to ever reach that mark and it appropriately happened near the one-year anniversary of him taking over the Jets.
“I’ve been really fortunate,” said Maurice, per the Winnipeg Sun. “Mr. (Peter) Karmanos and Jim Rutherford are the two biggest influences on me, getting an opportunity to coach as young as I did and then staying with me. That’s really where my thoughts are now. An appreciation in the faith and the support and letting me learn in my job, on the job, which you just don’t get to do in the NHL. Those two guys are the reason I’m here at 500 today.
“I feel honored to be in this league that long.”
Since joining the Jets, Maurice has helped transform Winnipeg into a serious contender for a playoff spot. The franchise hasn’t earned a postseason berth since 2007 and Winnipeg hasn’t seen a playoff team since 1996.
There aren’t a lot of active coaches that have been behind the bench longer than Maurice, but St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock is one of them. The 63-year-old coach watched his squad earn a 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, which tied Hitchcock with Pat Quinn for fifth place on the all-time wins list with 684.
For Hitchcock, this milestone is particularly significant because it’s Quinn that he tied. Quinn passed away on Nov. 23.
“Obviously we had a great friendship,” Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He was the best manager of people I’ve ever been with in my life. … He was amazing.”
There are some other major coaching milestones coming up. Joel Quenneville is just 16 wins away from becoming the third head coach to ever record 750 victories while Alain Vigneault should also reach the 500-win mark before the season’s over as he’s just nine shy.
After eight sometimes-tumultuous seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, Paul Stastny will enter the Pepsi Center wearing a St. Louis Blues uniform tonight.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that some positives might come from Stastny facing the Avalanche for the first time after being a member of the team for eight seasons.
“You just have to play,” Hitchcock said. “You know there’s going to be an emotional tug of war going on. You’re visiting with friends, you’ve got people that know you on the other side. He hasn’t played a hockey game against Colorado, we’re two months into the season. Just stay with it. I think the biggest thing is his two linemates have to pick him up a little here. There’s going to be some real emotion on his side, positive and negative. He’s going to play as well as he can play, we know that, but the other two guys have a responsibility to help him out a little bit here.”
The 28-year-old said that Colorado will “always be a piece of home for me,” as NHL.com’s Rick Sadowski notes.
Judging from his early stats, Stastny is still not quite at home in St. Louis.
He only has 12 points in 21 games while averaging less than 16 minutes per game for the first time in his NHL career (he never logged less than 18:10 per contest with the Avs). Stastny’s possession stats aren’t as strong as usual, either.
Could such an emotional evening help the expensive free agent forward start to turn things around with his new team? The already powerful Blues would certainly appreciate that.
Even if the St. Louis Blues players are growing weary of their demanding head coach, as the whispers around the league suggest may be the case, it doesn’t sound like GM Doug Armstrong has any inclination to get rid of Ken Hitchcock.
“Yeah, as I’ve said, I look where we were before he got here, and I look where we are now,” Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch. “We’re light years ahead of where we were. … Now, quite honestly, it’s basically up to the players to get the job done.”
Armstrong added that Hitchcock will be the one who determines when there’s a coaching change.
“When he feels that he doesn’t have the desire to do that, I have a job for him that’s going to keep him in the organization for many years,” said the GM.
Related: Risk Factors: St. Louis Blues edition
St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock gets an analytics breakdown between each period to help him get a sense for which matchups are working and which aren’t. That information has helped him make adjustments that have been the difference in close games, but when advanced statistics were first pushed on the veteran bench boss, his reaction was completely different.
“It took me a year and a half to get past being offended by somebody telling me to look past the visual,” Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I was (angry) about analytics coming in, but now it’s changed. I see how useful it is, but I had to get past, ‘You’re telling me …’ I found it offensive when I first started. Now I use it for what it is and it’s good, but I had to get past the mental block of that.”
Hitchcock took pride in being able to analyze the game based on what he saw, but he now believes analytics can help him come to conclusions quicker. It’s allowed him to make changes during a game that he might not have thought about until he had a chance to review the tape. He also cited an example of a time when he broke up a line that appeared to be working based on what he saw, but looked ugly statistically.
“The analytical information was right on the mark,” Hitchcock added. “And it was stuff, I guarantee if I mention the names, you’d say that’s a great line. It should work. We’ve seen it before and (the line) was a nightmare.”
Advanced statistics are moving into the mainstream, although one of the St. Louis Blues’ division rivals, the Colorado Avalanche, are a noteworthy exception.
While Peter Mueller boasts the advantage of at least having a contract (rather than just a tryout invite) with the St. Louis Blues, he must still make a strong impression since he signed a two-way deal.
(The 26-year-old’s contract is worth $700K at the NHL level but drops to $250K in the AHL, according to Cap Geek.)
As nerve-wracking as the prospect of fighting for a spot might be – particularly after going overseas last season, especially on a team Mueller referred to as a “powerhouse” – Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock gave the journeyman forward very simple advice.
With a history of concussion problems and a false-start or two in his career, it would be understandable if Mueller (pictured playing for Team USA) might fear over-thinking things, especially with a defensive-minded coach like Hitchcock. There’s plenty of logic in setting him loose, however, as there’s always the chance he could be a late-blooming prospect (he was selected eighth overall in 2006) like Benoit Pouliot.
Granted, with 13 forwards listed and Jaden Schwartz still in need of a contract, Mueller still faces a significant challenge in sticking around. Taking a positive approach can’t hurt though, right?