Hitchcock to San Jose Makes Sense
As our friends at Puck Daddy recently noted, NHL teams often hire a hard nosed coach to replace a players coach and vice versa. While Ken Hitchcock has yet to be fired by the Blues, another early postseason exit could very possibly spell the end of the line. Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy specifically mentions that now former Sharks head coach Todd McLellan could be a good fit in St. Louis and sums up by briefly mentioning the Sharks might be among teams interested in Hitchcock. The veteran coach taking on the Sharks job isn’t a difficult conclusion to reach if you agree with JR.
JR on McLellan
Former Shark (one of two seasons spent with McLellan) and current NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick had the following to say to the San Jose Mercury News recently about McLellan:
“They need someone with a firm hand, someone who is not afraid to challenge the players verbally. I thought Todd [McLellan] was a great player’s coach. If there was one thing that I wish he did more was be a little bit more verbal and vocal on a fiercer side.”
Hitchcock is that type Roenick is referring to and I completely agree with his assessment. While players should have plenty of self motivation, coaches do have a role in getting the best out of certain players and that can at times include a verbal tongue lashing. Coaching isn’t an exact science, it is often just a matter of the right guy at the right time. Darryl Sutter was fired by both the Sharks and the Flames before winding up in Los Angeles to win two Stanley Cups. Hitchcock won a Cup with Dallas but has been fired multiple times in the years since despite a strong reputation as quality NHL coach. Bench bosses have shelf lives, it is as simple as that.
The Sutter Mold
As for the Sharks, it feels like it is time to go back to the Sutter type mold they used to have, perhaps put a little more pressure on a team that has gone stale and maybe a bit too comfortable. Furthermore, while it is still highly unlikely, Hitchcock, if hired, has the stature to really get his way with the roster. If Brent Burns struggles as a defenseman early next year, Hitchcock could very well push Wilson on moving him back to forward. Not only did Burns score his first goal as a Sharks forward against Hitchcock’s Blues but he also scored a game winning goal to cap off a hat trick against the Blues while playing up front in 2013-14. Hitchcock saw first hand how Burns can destroy teams as a forward.
Again, very, very unlikely any coach pushes Wilson to change Burns back to forward. However it is slightly more likely with a veteran established coach than a first time NHL head coach. Not to mention Hitchcock’s defensive trap system ought to help big time as San Jose had an extremely porous year defensively in 2014-15. San Jose’s biggest problem in the loss to the Kings in 2013-14? Too many odd man rushes. That is where the neutral zone trap would aid the Sharks in cleaning up the middle of the ice. Taking away time and space of the opponent and not getting stretched out too thin will help the goals against. Now for a number of years recently the Sharks had been getting more focused on defense. Thornton specifically has transformed his two-way game the last four or five seasons and the team has followed suit. Unfortunately that defensive focus has tailed off over the last 12 months. Hitchcock behind the bench can reestablish that defensive commitment on a team that should be able to roll three quality lines next season. With a full year out of center Chris Tierney on the third line, scoring should be less of a problem. Especially when you add highly skilled 2014 first round pick Nikolay Goldobin is likely to make an impact as well up front. Defense and goaltending are the biggest issues going forward.
Hitchcock is the ideal coach to replace McLellan in that he won’t be overwhelmed about filling McLellan’s shoes like a rookie coach might and he brings the necessary “anti” McLellan attributes if you will. More raw-raw and defensive minded coach to change up the environment and fix the core problem areas of the squad.