Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The (semi-)return of Ken Hitchcock

Just thinking things through after a long Easter weekend...

The World Championships isn't just about getting Ken Hitchcock back
behind an NHL bench...it might just be his last chance to help
the Columbus Blue Jackets become the team he hoped it would be.
So Ken Hitchcock, still under contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets (I believe?) gets the job as head coach of Team Canada for the World Championships.

He brings in Scott Arniel as an associate coach under the pretense of stocking the talent pool for Hockey Canada with young coaches.  An "investment in the future" or something like that.

In the post-season interviews, Arniel lets slip that he and Hitch have not spoken since Arniel was hired as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  He then says that he and Hitch have already agreed to have "a couple cups of coffee."  Surely, they'll be restricting the conversation to Team Canada.

Then it's announced that former NHL winger Arniel will be coaching defense for Team Canada.  Under defensively-minded Hitchcock.  You know, the one who took the same CBJ defensive squad that Arniel had last season and...well...got to the playoffs.  Arniel lets slip that he's pumping Brad Berry for coaching tips because, well, he hasn't coached defense before.

And then the team is announced.  Blue Jackets Rick Nash, Antoine Vermette and Marc Methot all accept invitations to join the squad.  (Steve Mason was invited but turned it down.)  Nash throws out a line about how interesting it'll be to have his current and former coaches on the same staff.  Then Nash is appointed team captain.

And then, Arniel suggests that the CBJ might want to have a second "system" to fall back upon because, well, playing with your hair on fire every night tends to wear the team down.  Especially on back-to-backs.  More or less, he says, "I made a rookie mistake."  And a rather large one at that.

That's a lot to digest, isn't it?

Well, here's my take.  I have no inside information, just piecing the puzzle together like everyone else.

Hitch has been in exile.  Surely, he's been watching his former team.  Surely, he's seen the struggles that The Rookie Coach has gone through.  The team can't play any consistent defense.  They can't make the power play work.  They can't score enough in 5-on-5 to compensate.  The starting goaltender needs a shrink.

So what does Hitch do?  Two words: TRAINING CAMP.

Just my opinion, but Ken Hitchcock is bringing Arniel (and as much of the CBJ core as he can get away with) halfway around the world to teach  (or RE-teach?) them how to play - and hopefully win - through fundamental hockey.  He's going to force The Rookie Coach to learn The Hitch Way on defense - and The Hitch Way to coach and manage games.  He's going to force Nash to be the leader that he knows Nash can be...and probably show Arniel how getting Nash to play both ways can be a good thing.  He's going to give Vermette and Methot a chance to shine.  And he was going to show Arniel how a little defensive support would have made Mason an infinitely better goalie - had Mason agreed to play for Team Canada.

Let's hope The Rookie Coach uses
this World Championships opportunity wisely.
And Arniel and Hitch are going to have LOTS of quality time together.  Two cups of coffee?  Maybe...every day.  Hitch is going to offer The Rookie Coach everything he can.  Why?  I don't know, really.  Perhaps it's because Hitch knows that he took the fall for the personnel mess that is the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Perhaps it's because he knows that the team COULD be better than it has shown for the last couple of seasons.  Perhaps it's a loyalty to the late Mr. Mac.  Perhaps it's because Hitch sees a decent young coach in Arniel who's stuck out on an island in Columbus and wants to throw a life preserver before Arniel becomes to coaching what Steve Mason is to goaltending.  Or perhaps Hitch just wants to prove Howson wrong, once and for all.

Regardless, I'm genuinely pleased that Ken Hitchcock is a big enough man (no jokes - I'm serious, it takes a special guy to do all this) to look past his having been relieved of duty to turn this opportunity to showing HIS head coaching talents for NHL suitors into a (last?) chance to make a positive impact on the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise.

I only hope that The Rookie Coach brings a big notebook...and fills it with copious notes.  This is a rare opportunity, one that might never come his way again.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting take, DBJ, I hope you're right.

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  2. DBJ -
    Awesome post. This had to come from you, as I love Hitch too much to be a credible poster. He has so much to offer, and has taken steps on his own terms to open doors. Its all pretty cool, and while there is not a lot of commentary on this otherwise in the blogosphere, I'll bet this has raised a few eyebrows for 'hockey insiders' (which I most certainly am not). To have Hitch be able to hold down a meaningful role with the Columbus organization would be a very big thing for the health of the franchise.

    So best wishes to the gang from the CBJ in the Worlds. I hope they do well.

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  3. Thanks, guys. I'm no Hitch fan-boy. (Actually, I'm more of a Claude Noel fan-boy...but that's another issue for another day.) But the CBJ influence on that Team Canada roster and staff FAR exceeds the influence that any one team - let alone the third worst in the West - should have on any World Championships squad.

    Hitch clearly has ulterior motives. Which, in this case, makes me very, very happy.

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