Hitchcock To The Rescue, Again
More often than not, when a team makes a coaching change there isn’t an immediate or dramatic turnaround that season. One of the exceptions to the rule is the man coaching against beleaguered Sabres Head Coach Lindy Ruff Saturday night.
Ken Hitchcock was brought in by the St. Louis Blues management back on November 6th. The Blues fired Davis Payne with the young but talented team treading water at 6-7. Under Hitchcock, considered one of the top task masters in the business, St. Louis has done an about face. They’ve recorded a stunning 21-5-6 record with Hitchcock behind the bench and are among the best teams in the Western Conference.
This is nothing new when it comes to the man who led the Dallas Stars past the Sabres for a Stanley Cup Championship. The Stars franchise (Dallas and before that Minnesota) had never recorded a 100 point season until Hitchcock showed up. He took over for Bob Gainey during the 1995-96 season and was under .500 the rest of that season. But then Dallas ripped off five straight 100 point seasons, made two Cup Finals and won one.
Next stop was Philadelphia. As opposed to St. Louis, Dallas and Columbus which I’ll get to in a moment, the Flyers were not in terrible shape when he got the job. Philly was coming off a 97 point campaign when Hitchcock took over in 2002-2003. Still, the Flyers had three consecutive 100 point seasons but they flamed out in the playoffs, never making it to the Finals and getting thrown out of the 06 playoffs by the Sabres in the first round. That of course was the year Hitchcock responded to a question from WGR’s own Brian Koziol with “tell Lindy to (expletive) off.”
The miracle worker struck again in Columbus. Hitchcock was hired by the Blue Jackets during the 06-07 season and again there were no great strides the rest of that season but in his first full year the Jackets ended up with a franchise best 80 points. The season after that, Columbus got up to 92 points and made the playoffs for the first time. It’s still the only post season berth in their relatively short history and the Jackets haven’t been the same since Hitchcock was fired.
That’s the downside to Hitchcock. By all accounts he’s a tough guy to play for and eventually his coaching style creates enemies on his roster. The players get tired of his approach, the team’s record starts to suffer and management brings down the axe. But if the track record holds up, Blues fans should be in for at least a few successful seasons and playoff appearances.