The Ken Hitchcock Effect

Florida Panthers v Philadelphia Flyers

If the words of Nikita Filatov are not enough to describe how much of an effect Ken Hitchcock has on his young players, then you will definitely want to read this.

The young Russian said in a recent interview, when questioned on his decision to return to the NHL, “I highly doubt it. But [moving] Ken Hitchcock can really help it.”

There is a pattern and we will show you it.

On January 8, 1996, the Dallas Stars appointed Hitchcock’ as their head coach. This team displayed a nice mix of veterans and youth with promising players like Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen, Jamie Langenbrunner, Richard Matvichuck (acquired via trade), Trent Klatt and Darryl Sydor.  This same team found chemistry together eventually leading them to a Stanley Cup Championship just three short years later.

However, in his first season, the kids barely saw the ice. Outside of Modano and Matvichuck, forwards Lehtinen, Langenbrunner and Klatt played a defensive checking role. Lehtinen was not drafted to be a defensive type player. Yes, he developed into a very good two-way player but a lot of his offensive potential lied to rot with Hitchcock not using him in a more offensive role or in a more offensive system.

Let’s face it though, that was the “old NHL.”  We play a “new NHL” now.  In the old NHL Hitchcock won a cup.  In the new NHL he has two winning seasons.

Even when Hitchcock was hired by the Philadelphia Flyers, his system did not help the youngsters. Players like Patrick Sharp and Justin Williams needed to develop in a different system, not one defensively demanding and usually requiring a heavily veteran team.  The style simply strayed too far off what they were accustomed to in their development.

Williams and Sharp were shipped out of Philly with both scoring 30 goals with different teams.  Bobby Clarke thought less of the two moving them because they were not able to fit in Philadelphia. They may have been rushed but the the Hitchcock system crippled their development.

One name that is still around and that can be looked at in comparison to Modanos early years in Dallas, Simon Gagne. Gagne saw a rookie season that had two more seasons of promise to follow.

The Hitchcock system depleted Gagne’s scoring and upside. In 2002-03, although an injury limited Gagne to 46 games, he scored only nine goals. The following year, in his closest to a full season to date, he did score 24 goals but many felt it was due to the Hitchcock style and with a more offensive minded coach he  would of surpassed 30 goals.

As of today, the Columbus Blue Jackets head coach has already limited players like Filatov and Derrick Brassard.  His lone trustworthy youngster, like Modano and Gagne seems to be Jacub Voracek.  The former 7th overall pick even struggles to score goals in such a crippling system, managing only 17 in 125 games.

Due to this system and their confidence in Hitch the Blue Jackets  most likely lost Filatov for good.  A potential top line talent who clearly will not return unless changes are made.  Can you blame him?  Last season, he scored three goals against Minnesota only to have his ice time reduced to under eight minutes the next game.

We know that Hitchcock is signed through 2012 and with a team with a limited budget like Columbus, they might fear where paying him through ’12 could be a problem.  Last night, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that Columbus needed to beat Edmonton or the coach may need to pack his bags.  Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch immediately refuted the rumors.

With speculation rising all around the internet, the only thing we can do is wait.  Yes the team won last night in Edmonton, but one can only think the leash is still a short.  Keep in mind they won 3 of the last 24, the worst losing streak in franchise history.

Anthony Curatolo
NHLHS Senior Writer
acuratolo@nhlhotstove.com
Twitter: @ACHockeyGuys

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