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.

Bishop wasn’t too happy about Hitchcock’s decision to pull him during loss to Avs

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Ken Hitchcock has been known to rub some his players the wrong way. It seems like goalie Ben Bishop is the latest one to find that out.

Bishop, who was pulled in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, was noticeably frustrated with his head coach after the game. The Stars netminder was given the hook after allowing three goals on 17 shots just over 26 minutes into the game (the score was 3-2 for the Avs at that point).

It’s hard to fault Bishop on that third goal, especially because teammate Julius Honka morphed into a turnover machine during that shift. On Colorado’s second goal though, it was Bishop’s turnover behind the net that let to the Avalanche taking their first lead of the hockey game.

You can check out the highlights of last night’s game by clicking here.

Anyhow, after the game, the Stars goalie wasn’t shy about disagreeing with his head coach’s decision.

Hitchcock made it a point to mention that his decision had nothing to with Bishop. Instead, he was just looking to give his team a spark.

In the end, Bishop’s replacement, Kari Lehtonen, allowed the next goal to make it 4-2 for Colorado, and the Avs never looked back.

It’ll be interesting to see how these two key figures work things out going forward. Expectations were high for Dallas coming into this season, but they’ve only managed to get off to a mediocre 5-4-0 start.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Giroux helps Flyers rout Caps, Hitchcock climbs wins list

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Player of the night: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers put on quite a performance for their fans in their home opener on Saturday night, completely dominating the Washington Capitals by an 8-2 margin and outshooting them 37-22.

It was a big night for a lot of Flyers, including Sean Couturier (three points), Jakub Voracek (three assists) and Scott Laughton (two goals).

But the player of the night had to be Claude Giroux as he finished with four points (two goals, two assists) and is now up to seven points in his first five games this season.

The 2016-17 season was a bit of a down year for Giroux as he finished with only 58 points, his worst offensive output (not counting the lockout season in 2012-13) since 2009-10, his second year in the league. He is off to a great start so far this season.

Highlight of the night.

Another huge play from Columbus Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin, this time in overtime as he made another slick entry into the offensive zone to help set up Alexander Wennberg for the game-winning goal. He finished the game with three assists, already his second three assist game of the season. He is now up to seven points in five games. Huge pickup for the Blue Jackets.

Factoid of the night.

Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock is now third on the NHL’s all-time wins list, passing Al Arbour in the Stars’ 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night.

 

Misc.

— The Ottawa Senators have collected eight out of a possible 10 points without the services of their best player, Erik Karlsson. Pretty good sign for the Eastern Conference runners up. They completed the Alberta sweep on Saturday night with a 6-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. Following their blowout win in Calgary on Friday night that means they beat the Oilers and Flames by a combined margin of 12-1. That is pretty impressive.

— With their 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins the Arizona Coyotes are off to their worst five-game start in franchise history at 0-4-1. Not a great start for a young team.

Corey Crawford has been pretty much unbeatable for the Chicago Blackhawks so far this season, allowing just a single goal in four of his first five starts. That includes Saturday’s 2-1 overtime win agains the Nashville Predators when he stopped 37 out of 38 shots.

— Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov continued his fantastic start to the season by scoring in his fifth consecutive game. He has now scored in every game this season and helped lead the Lightning to a 2-1 win on Saturday night. He is one of the top offensive players in the league and is picking right back up from where he left off a year ago.

Scores and recaps.

Philadelphia Flyers 8, Washington Capitals 2

Winnipeg Jets 2, Carolina Hurricanes 1

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Montreal Canadiens 3

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, St. Louis Blues 1

New Jersey Devils 3, New York Rangers 2

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Florida Panthers 3

Dallas Stars 3, Colorado Avalanche 1

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Minnesota Wild 4

Chicago Blackhawks 2, Nashville Predators 1

Boston Bruins 6, Arizona Coyotes 2

Calgary Flames 5, Vancouver Canucks 2

New York Islanders 3, San Jose Sharks 1

Los Angeles Kings 4, Buffalo Sabres 2

 

Wing or center? Jason Spezza will play both this season, says Hitchcock

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The signing of Martin Hanzal has given the Dallas Stars added depth up the middle, and that should leave coach Ken Hitchcock with some interesting options for his group of forwards.

One of those options? Giving 34-year-old center Jason Spezza some time on the wing.

That’s what the Stars’ head coach told the Dallas Morning News on Friday:

Q: How do you see Martin Hanzal and Jason Spezza in regards to the center position?

Hitchcock: To me, Hanzal is a center. The role Jason will have is a split duty role, and if I play Spezza on the wing, it will be a left wing. Jason will play a lot of center and some wing. We need to start with the puck, so he’s definitely going to be taking draws on his strong side.

Q: So will Spezza and Hanzal play on the same line?

Hitchcock: Probably not. You could see Faksa on a line with Hanzal. I think those two could fit well together.

Having Tyler Seguin, Spezza and Hanzal gives the Stars a pretty good 1-2-3 punch up the middle, if that’s what Hitchcock chooses to do, with the possibility of Seguin centering a line with Jamie Benn and Alex Radulov, another big free agent signing this summer for Dallas.

The Stars have made a number of significant moves this off-season with the intention of getting back to the playoffs and back into contention for top spot in the Western Conference after a disappointing 2016-17 season.

Spezza was among those that struggled last year in Dallas, as he scored only 15 goals and 50 points in 68 games.