St Louis Blues v New York Islanders

Hitchcock expects Stastny to endure ’emotional tug of war’ in return to Colorado

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After eight sometimes-tumultuous seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, Paul Stastny will enter the Pepsi Center wearing a St. Louis Blues uniform tonight.

Head coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that some positives might come from Stastny facing the Avalanche for the first time after being a member of the team for eight seasons.

“You just have to play,” Hitchcock said. “You know there’s going to be an emotional tug of war going on. You’re visiting with friends, you’ve got people that know you on the other side. He hasn’t played a hockey game against Colorado, we’re two months into the season. Just stay with it. I think the biggest thing is his two linemates have to pick him up a little here. There’s going to be some real emotion on his side, positive and negative. He’s going to play as well as he can play, we know that, but the other two guys have a responsibility to help him out a little bit here.”

The 28-year-old said that Colorado will “always be a piece of home for me,” as NHL.com’s Rick Sadowski notes.

Judging from his early stats, Stastny is still not quite at home in St. Louis.

He only has 12 points in 21 games while averaging less than 16 minutes per game for the first time in his NHL career (he never logged less than 18:10 per contest with the Avs). Stastny’s possession stats aren’t as strong as usual, either.

Could such an emotional evening help the expensive free agent forward start to turn things around with his new team? The already powerful Blues would certainly appreciate that.

Armstrong throws full support behind Hitchcock

St. Louis Blues v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Six
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Even if the St. Louis Blues players are growing weary of their demanding head coach, as the whispers around the league suggest may be the case, it doesn’t sound like GM Doug Armstrong has any inclination to get rid of Ken Hitchcock.

“Yeah, as I’ve said, I look where we were before he got here, and I look where we are now,” Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch. “We’re light years ahead of where we were. … Now, quite honestly, it’s basically up to the players to get the job done.”

Armstrong added that Hitchcock will be the one who determines when there’s a coaching change.

“When he feels that he doesn’t have the desire to do that, I have a job for him that’s going to keep him in the organization for many years,” said the GM.

Related: Risk Factors: St. Louis Blues edition

Hitchcock has gone from finding analytics offensive to useful

Ken Hitchcock
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St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock gets an analytics breakdown between each period to help him get a sense for which matchups are working and which aren’t. That information has helped him make adjustments that have been the difference in close games, but when advanced statistics were first pushed on the veteran bench boss, his reaction was completely different.

“It took me a year and a half to get past being offended by somebody telling me to look past the visual,” Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I was (angry) about analytics coming in, but now it’s changed. I see how useful it is, but I had to get past, ‘You’re telling me …’ I found it offensive when I first started. Now I use it for what it is and it’s good, but I had to get past the mental block of that.”

Hitchcock took pride in being able to analyze the game based on what he saw, but he now believes analytics can help him come to conclusions quicker. It’s allowed him to make changes during a game that he might not have thought about until he had a chance to review the tape. He also cited an example of a time when he broke up a line that appeared to be working based on what he saw, but looked ugly statistically.

“The analytical information was right on the mark,” Hitchcock added. “And it was stuff, I guarantee if I mention the names, you’d say that’s a great line. It should work. We’ve seen it before and (the line) was a nightmare.”

Advanced statistics are moving into the mainstream, although one of the St. Louis Blues’ division rivals, the Colorado Avalanche, are a noteworthy exception.

Hitchcock’s advice to Mueller on making Blues: just play

Mathias Seger, Peter Mueller
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While Peter Mueller boasts the advantage of at least having a contract (rather than just a tryout invite) with the St. Louis Blues, he must still make a strong impression since he signed a two-way deal.

(The 26-year-old’s contract is worth $700K at the NHL level but drops to $250K in the AHL, according to Cap Geek.)

As nerve-wracking as the prospect of fighting for a spot might be – particularly after going overseas last season, especially on a team Mueller referred to as a “powerhouse” – Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock gave the journeyman forward very simple advice.

With a history of concussion problems and a false-start or two in his career, it would be understandable if Mueller (pictured playing for Team USA) might fear over-thinking things, especially with a defensive-minded coach like Hitchcock. There’s plenty of logic in setting him loose, however, as there’s always the chance he could be a late-blooming prospect (he was selected eighth overall in 2006) like Benoit Pouliot.

Granted, with 13 forwards listed and Jaden Schwartz still in need of a contract, Mueller still faces a significant challenge in sticking around. Taking a positive approach can’t hurt though, right?

Hitchcock: Cole has opportunity to be top-six defenseman

Ian Cole
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Ian Cole was taken in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, but his climb up the ranks has been gradual.

He spent three years in college and then another three seasons bouncing between the AHL and NHL before he stuck with the Blues in 2013-14. However, he still only ended up playing in 46 games and averaged just 15:05 minutes per contest when he did dress. That could change next season though.

“This is a real opportunity for Ian,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s paid his dues. He spent time in the minors. He’s spent time as the seventh defenseman. He’s matured as a person and as a player. It’s his time.

“There’s an open spot, a regular shift. There’s everything there waiting for him, just step up and grab it.”

Hitchcock will be looking for Cole to play a physical game and join the rush. He also expects him to find a balance between playing aggressively and not making “irrational decisions” defensively. That being said, the Blues bench boss is willing to live with some defensive mistakes as a trade off for his work with the puck.

At the same time, Cole’s been focused on improving his positioning as he gets ready to compete for a top-six spot during training camp. Even if the opportunity is there, it’s not a given that Cole will stay out of the press box in 2014-15. Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Barret Jackman are all expected to play regularly when healthy, so Cole will be fighting for one of two spots with Jordan Leopold, Carl Gunnarsson, and Chris Butler.