Blue Jackets have plans for Ken Hitchcock to work within the organization

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kenhitchcock1.jpgWhen teams fire a head coach, we often forget that those teams are on the hook to pay that coach what he’s owed until he finds another job. In the case of the Columbus Blue Jackets, when they fired Ken Hitchcock back in February, they were getting rid of the coach that brought them to their one and only playoff appearance and sometimes parting ways can be difficult. With the game evolving in the ways that it has, teams in need of a head coach are a bit apprehensive to bring in a stout defensive-minded guy like Hitchcock.

So with these two sides having parted ways but with Hitchcock still collecting a hearty paycheck from the Blue Jackets, team president Mike Priest and general manager Scott Howson figures he can at least put Hitchcock to work somehow to make him earn that money that he was going to get from the team in the first place. The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline finds out what’s going on.

“As long as he’s under contract with us, we’ll find something for him to do that brings value to our organization,” Priest said.

But nobody’s quite sure what that will entail, though there are at least a handful of possibilities.

“I’ll wait for Mike or Scott to come tell me,” Hitchcock said. “I have my own plans of what I would like to do, but I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes or be in the way.”

Perhaps it’s just me here, but I can’t help but think that situations like this are just uncomfortable all around. In the NHL, however, they’re not at all uncommon. For instance, current Devils assistant coach Larry Robinson has been hired and fired a couple of times by the Devils yet remained in the organization in some aspect. Just call this one of the things that makes the sports world different than the real world as I doubt if any of us were fired from our jobs we would be told it was OK to hang around the building for days/weeks/years afterward.

R&D camp coaches Ken Hitchcock, Dave King share viewpoints on possible rule changes

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kenhitchcockmakesapoint.jpgIt seems like the NHL research and development camp has a lot going for it. Brendan Shanahan is receiving his first real on-the-job test as an NHL executive. Potential 2011 NHL Entry Draft prospects and referees alike are being used as guinea pigs for rules changes. But let’s not forget that the camp’s two “teams” are being coached by two knowledgeable hockey people in Dave King and Ken Hitchcock. (The latter of which I believe should have a head coaching job in the NHL right now, in particular.)

NHL.com caught up with them to find out about their three “favorite” rule changes. Let me spotlight one each (although I will discuss one of King’s other observations in a later post).

First, here is the Hitchcock choice I found most interesting.

Finally, Hitchcock went off the radar a bit and said he liked the wider blue line, which was extended to 24 inches from 12 inches and tested in Wednesday’s second session.

“I know I’m probably in the minority, the big blue line really created offensive opportunities for your power play,” he said. “We have had to use the width of the ice on the power play to be more effective but this would finally allow us to use the depth of the ice on a power play. If you have a smart team and two smart point men, like if you looked at (Brian) Rafalski and (Nicklas) Lidstrom, and they had that extra mileage to work in they would be really dangerous.”

I must admit I’m with Hitchcock on that one. An extended blue line wouldn’t create any extra confusion or arbitrary changes but instead give a skilled defenseman just a tiny bit more leeway to make plays. If you’ve ever witnessed just how impressive a great point man can be when it comes to keeping the puck in the zone, an extra foot could make a real difference.

Now, here is a delayed penalty innovation that appealed to Dave King.

King started by saying he’s a fan of the delayed penalty modification which would require the team that has committed the infraction to not only gain possession of the puck to force a whistle, but to clear it out of its own zone.

“I think it will create more opportunities for power plays,” King said. “You’ll be able to get your goalie out and actually get a 6-on-5 going in the zone so I think it’s going to help a bit to create some offense.”

That’s not a bad idea, either. The league already improved that rule by forcing a team to truly prove they have control over their puck instead of simply touching it to get a penalty called, but needing to clear your zone would make the difference even bigger. The question is whether or not that would place too much of a burden on the offending team. My gut instinct is to say it wouldn’t be an unfair change, but that’s something for the league to test.

Here’s video of the two coaches as they were “mic’d up” during the camp.

Hitchcock raves about Paajarvi, who’s ‘playing the best hockey for us right now’

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 10:  Magnus Paajarvi #56 of the St. Louis Blues celebrates his goal in the third period against the New Jersey Devils on November 10, 2015 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.The St. Louis Blues defeated the New Jersey Devils 2-0.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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On a St. Louis team loaded with talented players, one has stood out above the rest in recent weeks — but it’s probably not the one you’d expect.

“The guy that’s gone unnoticed here is probably the guy that’s playing the best hockey for us right now is [ Magnus] Paajarvi,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the Post-Dispatch. “Never mind the best I’ve seen him play.

“He looks like a heck of a hockey player in the National Hockey League right now.”

Having skated recently on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Paul Stastny, Paajarvi has gone from an afterthought — he opened the year in AHL Chicago, and spent seven games there — to an integral part of the St. Louis lineup.

He has five points in 23 contests, but two of those have come in his last two games. He assisted on Tarasenko’s game-winning goal against Boston on Tuesday and, against Calgary last week, played a season-high 16:35.

Considering Paajarvi’s career path, what’s happening is a bit of a surprise.

Taken 10th overall by the Oilers in 2009, Paajarvi spent three largely ineffective years in Edmonton (and AHL Oklahoma City) before getting flipped to St. Louis in ’13 for David Perron.

Paajarvi started reasonably well with the Blues — 12 points in 55 games in ’13-14 — but, the following year, was subjected to waivers, cleared, and spent most of his time with the Wolves.

He was waived again at the start of this season and, like the first time, there were no takers.

So it was off to Chicago. Again.

But when injuries ravaged the Blues’ forward group, Paajarvi — who, it has to be said, is still only 24 years old — took advantage of his opportunity, and made himself a lineup regular.

And now it sounds like he’ll be in St. Louis for a while.

“If this is the tempo and the pace and the game that he’s going to bring forward,” Hitchcock said, “he’s going to be a valuable player for us the rest of this year.”

Hitchcock wants slumping Blues to tighten up

Nazem Kadri, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ian Walsh
Associated Press

The St. Louis Blues had to overcome a ton of injuries in the early stages of the ’15-16 season, but they managed to stay afloat without key players like Paul Stastny, Jaden Schwartz, Kevin Shattenkirk and Robby Fabbri.

Now that most of their big names have returned, the Blues should be better, but they’re not.

St. Louis has dropped three games in a row including a 4-1 decision to Toronto on Saturday night. They have just one win in their last five games.

Head coach Ken Hitchock, who many consider to be a defensive genius, knows exactly what the problem is.

“We’re a team that’s built on really good structure,” Hitchcock said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “That’s what held this thing together when everybody was out. We did a great job with it. But as guys have started to come back, we’ve started to play looser. And the looseness is ending up on second guessing from a defensive standpoint, not from an offensive standpoint.”

Every team goes through ups and downs in an 82-game regular season, but with so much parity across the NHL, the Blues can’t afford to be slumping for too long.

They’re currently in second place in the Central Division with Minnesota (one point behind), Nashville (one point behind) and Chicago (two points behind) breathing down their neck.

The Blues have a perfect opportunity to turn things around, as they’ll play each of their next four games at the Scottrade Center.

They’ll take on the Coyotes on Tuesday night.

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock
AP
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ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”