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Ken Hitchcock returns to coaching, replaces McLellan in Edmonton

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Ken Hitchcock’s retirement lasted a whole 221 days.

On Tuesday morning, the Edmonton Oilers announced what we’d all been waiting for: that head coach Todd McLellan had been fired. What we didn’t expect to hear was the 66-year-old Edmonton native getting back behind the bench to replace him.

McLellan’s days were numbered in Edmonton. After making the playoffs in 2017, we all expected that that was the beginning of the Oilers taking steps to being a respectable team again. Well, last season they crashed back back down and returned to having an early offseason.

In parts of four seasons in Edmonton, McLellan led the team to a 123-119-24 record. There was only so much Connor McDavid could do.

Saddled with some bad contracts (Milan Lucic, Kris Russell) and a few bad trades later (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle), general manager Peter Chiarelli was unable to build a support system around McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. It’s resulted in a 9-10-1 Oilers team that is heading for another summer of hoping to win yet another lottery.

There’s no light at the end of the tunnel right now for the Oilers and it’s going to take some serious re-shaping to turn things around. But will Chiarelli be the one in charge of that?

“I’m certainly not absolving myself of any responsibility on the player personnel and this isn’t just an indictment of Todd or the players,” Chiarelli said Tuesday. “This is a collective thing. It’s our job to get to the playoffs. We owe it to our fans and I felt this was the right move for it.”

As for Hitchcock, whose status will be evaluated at the end of the season, he announced in April that he would be retiring after a season back with the Dallas Stars and has been a consultant with the team since. While the NHL’s third-winningest head coach has been able to find success from a number of stops in his career, it’s hard to imagine him pulling a miracle in Alberta and steadying what looks to be a sinking ship.

MORE: How much longer can Oilers go on like this?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blues GM on team’s core group: ‘They have to get us out of this’

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Craig Berube has been through this before. Three games into the 2013-14 NHL season he replaced Peter Laviolette in Philadelphia. He may have been fired 18 months later, but immediately he helped turn around the Flyers’ season and led them to a playoff berth.

The mandate is the same now in St. Louis where Berube, who had been an associate coach with the Blues since last season, takes over a team that’s once again underachieving and in next-to-last place in the Western Conference with a 7-9-3 record. A look at the various statistical categories and you’ll see that they’re middle of the road. Nothing great, nothing terrible — they just… are. And that’s why Yeo is out of a job. He couldn’t take a roster that was upgraded over the summer and bring them to a level beyond mediocre.

Four months after being fired by the Minnesota Wild in 2016, Yeo was hired as the successor to Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis. That plan was sped up after Hitchcock’s firing in Feb., 2017 and the Blues went 22-8-2 down the stretch and eventually were dumped out of the playoffs by the conference champion Nashville Predators in the second round.

What helped that revival was balanced scoring and Jake Allen posting a .941 even strength save percentage in his final 24 starts that regular season. But that number wasn’t sustainable and since the end of the 2016-17 season Allen has a .914 ESSV% in 73 appearances. 

[Blues fire Yeo, name Berube interim head coach]

This season it’s not just on Allen. The possession numbers could be better. Vladimir Tarasenko is shooting 4.26 percent at 5-on-5. David Perron is goalless in November. Patrick Maroon is goalless all season. We’re still waiting on rookies Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas to make an impact.

Ryan O’Reilly’s back must be hurting from carrying the team through 19 games.

Good goaltending can mask many things, and it will also make you wonder if allowing Carter Hutton to walk was the best idea. It should also up the pressure on GM Doug Armstrong, who’s now hired another coach to try and fix a mess. (At least he top-10 protected that 2019 first that went to the Sabres in the O’Reilly trade.)

When Armstrong met the media on Tuesday, he honed in on his team’s core group, and was fed up with how their output.

“We’re not good enough,” he said. “As a general manager, the wins and losses fall on hockey operations and as the president of hockey operations and the general manager of the team there’s things that need to be addressed. We’ve stayed patient with the core group of players and that patience now is at its thinnest point.”

The head coach is gone. The boss, for now, remains. There won’t be a handful of trades coming to re-shape the roster. Armstrong is putting this season directly on his top players.

“The core group’s equity that built up is gone,” he said. “We transferred into a different group. That group isn’t three people; that group’s eight or nine people in my opinion. They have to get us out of this.”

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If Berube’s not the answer long-term, then who do the Blues turn to? The obvious candidate is Joel Quenneville, who’s clearly been enjoying his unemployment.

But Quenneville won’t come cheap and is still under contract to the Blackhawks through the end of the 2019-20 season. The Blues would need to seek permission from Chicago to go about hiring him and then they’d have to work out a big money contract. Would owner Tom Stillman be open to ponying up the cash for a fix?

Hey, Todd McLellan’s available now and comes with a cheaper price tag.

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Here’s a fun fact: Since Armstrong took over from Larry Pleau in 2010 the Blues are tied with the Boston Bruins for the third-most regular season wins (365). That’s pretty good considering the Central Division can tout two Stanley Cup champions, two Presidents’ Trophy winning teams and three Western Conference playoff titles over that span.

Of course, during that same period the Blues have only advanced out of the second round once.

Digging deeper into the NHL’s records and you’ll find that Armstrong’s Dallas Stars teams had the fourth-most regular season wins during his 2,118 days as the team’s GM. The end result? One second round appearance, 2002, during the year he took over the gig midseason.

Davis Payne, Hitchcock and now Yeo have taken the fall for their underperforming teams. How much longer does the architect get to keep building them?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL On NBCSN: Points starting to come for Sharks’ Erik Karlsson

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Offensively, things are going pretty good for the San Jose Sharks. Their 68 goals through 21 games has them near the top of the NHL.

Of those 68 goals, only six have come from their blue line with Erik Karlsson joining the “goals scored” club on Saturday night against St. Louis. The blast came on his 62nd shot of the season, which, along with his 95 percent PDO, shows that the opportunities have been there — it’s just that the puck hasn’t been going in for him.

“I’ve been feeling good all year, it just hasn’t worked out on the scoresheet,” Karlsson said after Saturday’s victory. “But sometimes that’s the way it is. I don’t think I’m doing anything different now. As a team, we’re progressing, and we’re playing better hockey at times. That includes me, and everyone in here.”

We know the kind of offense the Sharks can provide, especially from a back end that also features Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The September acquisition of Karlsson, who scored nine goals and recorded 62 points last season with Ottawa, only bolstered that as well as a power play that can easily break the 20 percent mark (19.7 percent success rate this season).

[How much longer can Oilers go on like this?]

But it hasn’t been an easy plug-and-play for Karlsson and the Sharks through a quarter of the season. Finding himself partnered mainly with Vlasic and Brenden Dillon, Karlsson’s impact on the offense is still a work-in-progress. 

“[H]e’s been playing some real good hockey, and I think he’s been really solid for us lately,” said Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. “For me, the offense is a bonus. We know it’s going to be there and the numbers are going to be there at the end of the year because they have to be based on what he’s doing, but he’s been real solid all over the ice for us lately.”

DeBoer’s right. Karlsson, per Natural Stat Trick, is currently tied for the NHL lead among defensemen in individual shot attempts (120), top five in possession (59.92 Corsi percentage), top-10 in high-danger chances for (85), and top-10 in Corsi for relative percentage (5.61), which means the shot differential of shots directed at the opposing team’s net per 60 minutes when he’s on the ice. He’s currently on a three-game point streak with a goal and four assists.

So it’s not as if we’re seeing a different Karlsson now that he’s wearing teal instead of red and black. Through 21 games the bounces haven’t been going his way. But considering his body of evidence, sooner or later his impact will be felt in San Jose.

Randy Hahn (play-by-play) and Bret Hedican (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Oilers-Sharks from SAP Center in San Jose.

MORE: Ken Hitchcock returns to coaching, replaces McLellan in Edmonton

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Crosby closer to return; Heiskanen’s usage

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The AHL’s Cleveland Monsters and Rochester Americans will be taking part in a unique home-and-home series. The teams will host Nickelodeon nights on Dec. 26 (in Cleveland) and March 22 (in Rochester) and they’ll wear Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Foot Clan jerseys. [Amerks]

• “Mike Yeo had to go. This isn’t a free pass for him. But the core players on the St. Louis Blues have now been passengers on two ships that hit the iceberg.” [Post-Dispatch]

• The slow start by the Pittsburgh Penguins is as ugly as it looks. [Pensburgh]

• While Sidney Crosby is progressing towards a return to the Penguins’ lineup, Matt Cullen is now out “long-term,” according to Mike Sullivan. [Tribune-Review]

• A few days after Willie O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, his old team, the San Diego Gulls, honored him with throwback jerseys and a bobblehead. [Color of Hockey]

Mike Hoffman on returning to Ottawa Monday night: “It almost doesn’t feel like a road game. I spent a good chunk of my career here. I have a lot of good memories in this building. These are the fun games I look forward to, coming back to the place where you started.” [Ottawa Citizen]

• Another season of the Edmonton Oilers showcasing just how top heavy they are. [TSN]

• It’s time for Todd McLellan to go in Edmonton. [Edmonton Journal]

• Have you seen the pads Scott Darling will wear when the Carolina Hurricanes don the Hartford Whalers throwbacks? Beauty.

Brian’s Custom Sports

• The Sergei Bobrovsky / Artemi Panarin storyline continues to hover over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Will it turn out to be a distraction? [Sportsnet]

• The Dallas Stars’ usage of rookie defenseman Miro Heiskanen has been interesting and really makes most of his skillset. [Dallas Morning News]

• The Detroit Red Wings will be without Darren Helm for 6-8 weeks after the forward suffered a shoulder injury. [NHL.com]

• It’s time for the Anaheim Ducks to realize exactly what they are. [Anaheim Calling]

• Expand the NHL playoff format? No thanks. [Spector’s Hockey]

• How the NBA can be a blueprint for making hockey fun again. [Courier Post]

• A look at some of the most surprising developments so far of the 2018-19 NHL season. [Yardbarker]

• The soon-to-be 32nd NHL city has a rich history with the sport already. [Seattle Times]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bye, bye Broad Street Bullies? Flyers don’t have a fight yet

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by Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Hockey in the NHL is a far different game than it was 45 years ago, when the Broad Street Bullies ruled the ice with their fists.

In the 1970s, the Philadelphia Flyers had guys like Dave ”The Hammer” Schultz, Bob ”The Hound” Kelly and Andre ”Moose” Dupont to not just beat opponents but beat them up, too.

The current Flyers may still carry the ”Bullies” nickname but they are hardly bullying anyone: They are one of only two teams in the NHL that has not been assessed a fighting major a quarter of the way through the season.

The old Bullies can hardly believe it.

”They’re two different animals, the way the game is today,” Kelly said. ”With the rules today, you can’t hit anybody, you can’t verbally intimidate anybody, so that takes a lot out of it. You don’t have to fight anybody. The biggest thing you’re given is a face wash.”

It’s no secret that fighting has been weeded out of the game over the years, but nobody expected the Flyers to be on the leading edge of the anti-pugilistic trend. With tough players like Wayne Simmonds, Radko Gudas and Dale Weise, Philadelphia isn’t exactly a group of shrinking violets. Even general manager Ron Hextall fought five times during his playing career and he was a goaltender.

This is the latest in a season the Flyers have ever gone without an official NHL fighting penalty, eclipsing the previous record from 1967. That was the first year of existence for the franchise and it was before the players were beaten up in a brawl against the St. Louis Blues, an incident that prompted founder Ed Snider to demand a tough-as-nails approach.

”We have a new mascot called Gritty now, and I think the Flyers’ fans expect that from then players to play like Gritty because of the name he has,” said Bullies-era defenseman Joe Watson, who believes the current team is more about finesse. ”Fighting is a form of intimidation. … Players think twice of going in the corner with this guy or that guy because they might get a punch in the face or hit severely or so on and so forth, and it just doesn’t seem to happen right now. We do have guys that can handle themselves. I don’t know why it has happened this way. It’s hard to believe.”

Philadelphia has no fighting majors and a 9-9-2 record through 20 games. While the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers lead the league with seven fights apiece, the Flyers and Arizona Coyotes are the only ones stuck on zero.

”I think we’re team tough,” Weise said. ”I don’t think anyone takes advantage of us. I think if the situation arose, we’ve got a lot of guys that can handle themselves. But I just think the way hockey is going, you can’t take a stupid penalty (if you) go and get an instigator or something like that or get a roughing and put (another) team on the power play.”

Philadelphia isn’t a small team, with players averaging 6-1 and 198 pounds, but Jakub Voracek said: ”I really cannot say that we are big and tough if we don’t have a fight yet.”

Maybe the answer lies in some of that size and toughness.

”When you have a Wayne Simmonds on your team, I don’t think people want to fight him and it’s always good to have a guy like that who can play,” said Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, who holds the Flyers’ all-time penalty minutes record with 1,815 and 171 fights during his career. ”If there had to be a fight, he’s a pretty good deterrent guy to have. I just don’t think anybody wants to fight Wayne Simmonds. That’s probably why there’s no fights.”

Simmonds and his teammates have tried to goad opponents into fights and a handful of times have dropped their gloves only to find no willing dance partner. According to HockeyFights.com, less than 16 percent of games leaguewide this season have had a fight, down from 41 percent as recently as 2009-10.

The NHL years ago sought to curb staged fights between enforcers, and even a lot of the fighting following big hits has decreased.

In 2009-10, 171 games included more than one fight. Last season, only 41 games had more than one.

”I don’t feel there’s any hate in the league anymore,” said Kelly, who dropped the gloves 97 times in the NHL. ”The rules have definitely changed the whole game, the whole approach and it’s holding back a lot of the physicality that players used to play with. It’s not worth the fight, and unfortunately you have to watch your teammate skate off hurt or something because somebody got cheap shot or did something and you just can’t afford to want to jump in and help out.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said people can debate whether the sport is better with less fighting, but most agree there is still a purpose for it. Commissioner Gary Bettman has suggested an occasional fight keeps tensions from boiling over, something Tocchet agreed with.

”The league’s trying to take control of the head injuries, the hitting from behind, the cheap stuff, sticking a guy behind his knee,” Tocchet said. ”The NHL’s trying to clean that up, so you don’t need that deterrent of a guy going in there and policing (the game) himself. I still think that there’s still a need for fighting in certain places … The odd time a guy needs to be reminded that he can’t do the stuff he’s doing on the ice if things aren’t being called.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports