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.) 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.

‘I’ve got no issues’ with Hitchcock, says Blues captain Backes

Ken Hitchcock, David Backes, Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund

While it was hardly a glowing endorsement, St. Louis captain David Backes did offer support for head coach Ken Hitchcock who, on Tuesday, signed a one-year extension with the club.

“I’ve got no issues with him,” Backes said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Does he ride guys hard and has he been on my case at times, where it’s made me angry? Yes. But he does it in the light of trying to make our team better, trying to make each individual player better.”

Prior to the playoffs, many assumed Hitchcock’s future in St. Louis would be decided in the playoffs — specifically the first round (as in, could he get the Blues past it?) The answer was “no” for the third straight year; the Blues lost in six games to Minnesota, and it was widely speculated that would be the end of Hitch’s time with the organization.

But that’s why they call it speculation.

Shortly after the loss, Blues owner Tom Stillman preached composure, saying that while he was “frustrated and disappointed” with the way the season ended, he wasn’t ready to “throw people under the bus.”

“For two reasons I don’t think that’s a great idea,” Stillman explained. “First, you should take a careful, deliberate look at what happened — what we did, what we didn’t do — and then make sure we figure out how we don’t do that again, and break through in the playoffs.

“The other reason is a matter of, I guess, leadership. We have an organization that’s going to continue forward, and I’m responsible for making sure that the organization gets it right and is successful. I don’t think it’s helpful if I’m up here and start blaming people and cutting off people’s heads.”

Those words suggested the Blues knew they had a good coach in Hitchcock — and to be fair, few question his knowledge and tactical ability — but needed time to analyze the relationship between Hitch and his players. This was, after all, the same coach that’s been accused of wearing down people with his demanding nature and, at times, an overwhelming “information overload.”

Just consider what T.J. Oshie said about the Blues following a bad loss to Vancouver in March.

“I know we’re not [in the playoffs] yet, but there’s a lot of information going around, and guys are getting a little indecisive,” Oshie explained. “I’m not sure what it looks like from up top, but I think guys aren’t really sticking with their gut and going with their first instinct.”

This isn’t to say the Blues were anti-Hitch. In late April, Blues d-man Kevin Shattenkirk threw his support behind the head coach.

Backes re-iterated as much today. The captain said that while that playing for Hitchcock is challenging, those challenges can often be rewarding.

“I think if you get caught up in those individual moments at the time you’re under the gun, having an interview, those comments come out,” he explained. “But when you take a step back and you realize, ‘Oh that’s why he was all over me because I was not being as productive as I could be,’ he’s very effective.”