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.

McKenzie on coaching in the NHL: Who’s on the hot seat, who wants Julien?

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With Jack Capuano, Ken Hitchcock and Claude Julien all out of jobs fairly recently, it sure feels like NHL coaches are dropping like flies.

It’s also worth wondering if there will be a domino effect: will more heads roll? Could those available coaches – also including Gerard Gallant from earlier this season – make teams more willing to part with there current bench bosses?

NHL Insider Bob McKenzie stopped by NBCSN to dish on a wide variety of subjects on Wednesday, with coaching talk ranking among the most interesting tidbits.

Bruins and Claude Julien

To start things off, McKenzie notes that interim Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will seemingly get a real shot to drop that “interim” from his title, though he’ll need to produce results.

The juicier stuff is about Claude Julien, though.

While McKenzie notes that official permission hasn’t necessarily been asked for interviews in either cases, he notes that both the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers are likely to chat with Julien. At the moment, with Doug Weight doing well in Brooklyn, the New York Islanders are unlikely to chase him.

These situations are subject to change, of course.

Which coaches should sweat the hot seat?

Naturally, when a coach gets fired – and particularly when some big names fall in quick succession – the question is “Who’s next?”

McKenzie wonders about Lindy Ruff and the Dallas Stars, particularly because the team hasn’t handed the veteran head coach a contract extension just yet. That doesn’t mean that the guillotine is hovering over his head, but Ruff might at least be in a little danger.

As far as Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets and Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning go, McKenzie hypothesizes that each coach is safe for now.

That said, time and losing streaks can change these matters. For more, check out McKenzie with Liam McHugh:

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Hitchcock says Allen needs to ‘man-up and get better’

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Saying Blues goalie Jake Allen is going through a rough stretch might be a bit of an understatement.

After being pulled in Tuesday’s loss to the Boston Bruins, Allen admitted that he had to be better if the Blues were going to win consistently.

So on Thursday night, head coach Ken Hitchcock went back to Allen for their clash against the Los Angeles Kings, and well…things didn’t get much better.

For the third time in his last five outings, the 26-year-old was pulled in favor of backup Carter Hutton.

“We’ve been beating the dead horse on we need better goaltending, but it seems like right now we’re at a stage where every mistake goes in our net,” Hitchcock said after the game, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

On Tuesday, it was three goals on 11 shots that got him chased from the crease, and last night it was three goals on 15 shots, including this one to Trevor Lewis:

Sure, maybe that goes off Alex Pietrangelo before going in, but Allen is still caught way too deep in his net.

“This is really on the athlete. There’s times in your young career where you just said you’ve had enough and then you’ve got to go turn it around the other way,” Hitchcock said of Allen’s struggles. “He’s in a position where he’s the guy that has to really take charge here. He’s got to man-up and get better and we’ve got to get better in front of him.”

With two games in two nights coming up on Saturday and Sunday, Hitchcock will almost certainly give Allen and Hutton a start each. But what happens if Allen continues to struggle?

If he can’t pull himself out of this funk, St. Louis might have to look for a different solution to their goaltending woes.

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

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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 …