Ken Hitchcock

Ken Hitchcock is all for returning the red line


Yesterday we heard from Red Wings coach Mike Babcock about how he would like to see the return of the red line and the two-line pass. Today, it’s Blues coach Ken Hitchcock’s turn to lend his voice to the cause.

Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal catches up with Hitchcock and finds out that his reasons for wanting to return the two-line pass run deeper than those of GMs hoping to slow down the game and limit concussions.

“With a red line it forces more of a puck-control game through the neutral zone, rather than a dumpand-chase game,” said Hitchcock. “There’s no puck-possession now, but a red line would bring back the playmaking centre. The centre who buys space and time would be back. Those nifty guys we saw before, they’re not around much anymore.”

Finding space and time on the ice where suffocating forechecking is a key defensive element these days on a crowded ice with bigger players is difficult as it is. Taking away that space by making sure no one can lurch out beyond the red line doesn’t seem to do much to help that cause.

As for the worry about the game turning like how it was before the lockout, Hitchcock says as long as they’re calling penalties for obstruction, all is well. Problem is those penalties aren’t being called as often now as they were after the lockout. It’s easy to read into the future and how this could end up causing history to repeat itself.

The idea of bringing the two-line pass back and putting the red line into play smells of taking the easy road towards trying to solve a problem in the league.

Ken Hitchcock using fear to motivate his team as deadline approaches

Ken Hitchcock

We’re in the silly season of the trade deadline and with the St. Louis Blues in contention for the Stanley Cup this season, people are curious as to how much they’ll be tweaking things for their playoff run.

According to Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Blues might just be keeping quiet. With guys like Alex Steen and Matt D’Agostini still out with injuries and Jason Arnott, Andy McDonald, and Kent Huskins just back from their own ailments it’s like acquiring new talent.

Coach Ken Hitchcock tells O’Neill that he has another way to keep the guys on his roster motivated.

“We’re getting close to the trade deadline, so we want as many players as we can maneuver around. We want to keep the players on edge that aren’t performing, so they understand that it’s not a given. They’re not just going to get a spot on the team and keep it. It’s going to be performance-based. And the third thing is, we want to know that if somebody goes down, we’ve got somebody comparable to come in.”

That fear of playing well or else you’ll be benched or shipped out is a powerful one and with the Blues being one of the better teams in the Western Conference, it’s a strong reminder that you’d better keep things right or else.

Ken Hitchcock keeps up with “race-a-riffic hockey”

Ken Hitchcock

When most hockey fans picture a Ken Hitchcock team, they travel back in time to the “Dead Puck Era” of the NHL. Perhaps the well-traveled coach would prefer remaining in that climate, but The Globe & Mail’s Roy MacGregor reveals that Hitchcock has adapted to an evolving league.

Hitchcock explains the difference simply: to survive, you must think and move with blinding speed.

“We tried to still play possession hockey after the lockout, and now it’s race-a-rrific hockey,” Hitchcock said. “It’s unbelievable how fast the game is, but it’s fast without puck possession, so it’s like fore-check, fore-check, fore-check, fore-check, fore-check, fore-check.

“Sometimes it feels like it’s organized chaos out there.”

Organizing the chaos

To little surprise, an emphasis on speed means that you need quicker athletes, so that naturally lends itself to a younger league. Hitchcock sees the NHL transitioning to a place where 23-year-old blueliners are expected to make the decisions of a far more seasoned player.

“You’re trying to get some sort of order in your game but you’re doing it with much younger players, and I think that’s why, for me, the biggest change I’ve had to adjust to is the next day,” Hitchcock said. “Not the game day, the next day.”

Finding the right balance

The veteran coach speaks of one of the big challenges of the profession: finding a happy balance between helpful preparation and “information overload.” Hitchcock explains that some coaches load up players to the point that they almost freeze up.

When you talk about the best coaches in sports, you can probably divide almost all of them into one of two categories: guys who molded players to fit their system and flexible leaders who adapted their plans to the personnel and times. At one point in his career, most people would probably place Hitchcock in the former category but that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer.

However you slice it, Hitchcock’s methods are producing resounding results so far in St. Louis.

PHT Morning Skate: Ken Hitchcock is a teacher, not a screamer

Toronto Maple Leafs v St. Louis Blues

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Ken Hitchcock wants to be a teacher this time around, not a screamer. We’re sure the Blues are very thankful for that. (Post-Dispatch)

Eric Staal is more than ready to just move along with his season now. (Toronto Sun)

Sharks coach Todd McClellan says the Canucks got all the chances San Jose didn’t in Vancouver’s overtime win. (Working the Corners)

Mike Babcock says that Jimmy Howard is one poised dude in net compared to past seasons. (Detroit Free Press)

Speaking of poise, Toronto’s young defensemen could use a bit more of that. (TSN)

The Capitals were happy to get physical in their big win over the Rangers. (Capitals Insider)

Joel Quenneville wasn’t too happy with the officiating in their loss to the Kings. (

Meanwhile, Brandon Pirri is hoping to stick around with the Blackhawks. (Chicago Tribune)

Nathan Gerbe is staying upbeat during his injury recovery. (Buffalo News)

John Tortorella said his defense was “brain dead” during their loss to the Caps. Ouch. (Ranger Rants)

Ales Hemsky’s future in Edmonton is very much clouded thanks to trade rumors. (Edmonton Journal)

Ken Hitchcock discovers the effectiveness of text messages

Ken Hitchcock
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In a piece entitled “Time has done wonders for Ken Hitchcock“, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun explains how St. Louis’ 60-year-old head coach has adapted his style to fit with today’s modern player.

Apparently Hitch attended symposiums the past two summers on dealing with younger athletes, how to approach them and — perhaps most importantly — how useless it is to leave them voice mail.

“If you want a player to call you back on the telephone and you actually want to talk to him, then you have to text him,” said Hitchcock. “If you call him and leave a message, there’s a good chance you won’t get a phone call back for a little while. But if you text him and tell him you want to talk to him, you’ll get a call right away. It’s just the way it works with this age group. Those are little things you have to learn.”

I love that Hitch called it a “telephone.” It conjures up images of him on a rotary, dialing the operator, asking how he can leave an important textual correspondence for TJ Oshie.

Turns out texting isn’t the only technological innovation Hitch found intriguing.

“Two hours before the game last night, I’ve got a player watching all of his shifts on his own iPad from the game before,” Hitchcock said. “[Players] know everything about what’s going on. They want input, and you have to give it to them if you want your team to respect you and play hard for you.”

I guess relating to today’s players is tough on older coaches. Generational gaps have always existed, but the technological advancements over the last 10-20 years are huge. I remember the height of bus ride entertainment being a book of CDs and a Discman, and I’m only 32 years old. No wonder Ron Wilson (who, at 56, is one of the league’s older coaches) joined Twitter — it was his chance to connect with the kids and their newfangled gizmos.

Speaking of Twitter, it doesn’t sound like there’s any chance of Hitch joining the fray.

“I’m not going to Twitter, no,” he told LeBrun.