Ken Hitchcock, Jakub Voracek, R.J. Umberger

The trap is back? Ken Hitchcock interested in Minnesota Wild job

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We’re pretty sure that Minnesota Wild fans weren’t exactly overjoyed while Jacques Lemaire was at the helm with his defensively controlled style of game. While Todd Richards wasn’t quite able to bring the excitement back to Minnesota, it appears that the Wild could be looking to a name synonymous with stifling defense to lead them back to the playoffs.

Former Stars, Flyers, and Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock is on the Wild’s short list of candidates to take over their top job. Hitchcock has a history as a defensive task master and a guy that demands positioning and dedication out his team to shut down opponents from scoring at all times.

While Hitchcock is still on the payroll of the Blue Jackets, the Wild have received permission to talk with with him about their opening. The Wild have also gotten permission to talk with former Penguins coach Michel Therrien and former Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. As for Hitchcock, he’s a guy that comes highly regarded by many as Michael Russo or The Star Tribune finds out.

“Hitch is definitely one of the smartest coaches I’ve ever played for,” former NHL star Jeremy Roenick, who played for Hitchcock in Philadelphia, told the Star Tribune last month. “He has a great knack to understand players, he has a great system.”

Hitchcock is known as a big believer in playing fast defensively so his teams can get out of the defensive zone quickly and get on the attack. Hitchcock’s longtime assistant in Dallas is Wild assistant coach Rick Wilson, whose future is in flux because of the Wild’s coaching vacancy.

That would lend us to believe that Hitchcock is being spoken of well by Wilson. Therrien’s connection with the Wild is also strong as he spent the past season with the team as a scout. MacTavish has spent the past year working for TSN in Canada as an on-air analyst also seeking to get back in the game.

We’re thinking that Wild fans want to see the team winning again without a doubt, but Hitchcock’s style of game doesn’t lend itself well to exciting offensive production. It puts the onus on Wild fans to decide if they want exciting hockey to watch or whether or not they want a potential winning team. Ideally you want to have the mix of both to keep everyone happy, but Hitchcock’s struggles in Columbus, even in spite of helping the franchise to their only playoff appearance, were due to a roster filled with poor talent and one that struggled adjusting to the speed of the “new” NHL.

The Wild and GM Chuck Fletcher have fascinating choices to make ahead here as the fans in Minnesota are frustrated and want to see things turn around fast.

Ken Hitchcock helps others nab a shoplifter, makes headlines in process

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Thumbnail image for kenhitchcock1.jpgThese moments don’t come along every day, but it seems like they follow a similar script:

  • A minor crime is committed OR someone is in peril.
  • Sports semi-celebrity intervenes.
  • People blow that intervention out of proportion.

It happened when Brooks Laich helped a stranded motorist, when broadcaster Ron MacLean had a Good Samaritan moment and even took place when often-reviled sports agent Drew Rosenhaus saved a drowning boy. While these situations often seem a bit surreal, they’re also vaguely heart warming, especially in the case of people in high-pressure, very much public positions.

Former Ken Hitchcock was just trying to help out the other day when he helped to pin down a shoplifter, but it’d becoming the talk of the the town in Kelowna, British Columbia. Puck Daddy has more on the odd story, originally told in the Daily Courier.

As an NHL coach, Ken Hitchcock’s teams were known for their smothering defense.How fitting, then, that the former Columbus Blue Jackets coach is being lauded in Kelowna, British Columbia for grabbing and holding a shoplifter until public safety officials arrived on Wednesday morning.

According to the Kelowna Daily Courier, a 14-year-old boy shoplifted three pairs of shorts from Cruzwear Unlimited on Bernard Avenue, the “largest swimwear store in Western Canada.” Cruzwear employee Sherrie Lessare grabbed the boy’s backpack as he attempted to flee the store, and called for help.

Hitchcock, who vacations in Kelowna, was sitting in a parked car and sprung to action when he saw the struggle. Hitchcock and a motorcyclist pinned the shoplifter against a window.

Well, that certainly is odd but mostly positive, even if Hitchcock’s involvement was a little exaggerated. Hopefully next time the rotund Cup winning coach is in the headlines, he’ll be named the head coach of another NHL team. That kind of attention would be much more justifiable.

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.

Maybe this won’t be Hitchcock’s last season after all

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)
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Imagine this: Ken Hitchcock coaching against the St. Louis Blues in 2017-18.

Such a scenario seems a bit more plausible following Friday’s report from TSN’s Darren Dreger: apparently Hitchcock isn’t totally certain that he’ll retire from NHL head coaching after 2016-17.

With a Stanley Cup on his resume and years of success in different locales, Hitchcock doesn’t necessarily have that much to “prove.” Instead, it kind of sounds like he dreads the boredom that may result in walking off into the sunset.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find if I don’t have a stake in the game I get bored really quickly,” Hitchcock said. “I need to have a real stake in the game and that’s what I love about coaching … I’ve got a stake in the game and what I do matters every day and is important every day. I don’t ever want to lose that feeling.”

Strange things can happen in lame duck coaching scenarios, yet at the moment, the Blues’ plan appears to be for Mike Yeo to go from assistant to head coach after 2016-17 wraps up.

If Hitchcock still wants to be behind an NHL bench, it’s possible that he might need to take a job somewhere else to do so. (Otherwise, it would be a bum deal for Yeo.)

Hitchcock emphasized to Dreger that he’s still leaning toward this being his last year as a head coach, but he also spoke of a few regrets, including being unable to take the Columbus Blue Jackets from a playoff appearance to legitimate contention.

Hey, if he wanted one more challenge, there are plenty left. There’s an adventure waiting in Las Vegas for someone, for one thing …