Ken Hitchcock: What if?

Michigan News - April 17, 2009

After I talked to Ken Hitchcock the other day to confirm my suspicion that he’d have no interest in coming home to coach the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, it dawned on me I’d missed the most obvious question — what about the Edmonton Oilers?

I know, maybe you’re thinking that Brownlee fell down the stairs again and hit his head, or that I’m pining for a trip down memory lane to the 1980s when I rode the iron lung in the WHL with Hitchcock and the Kamloops Blazers.

The Oilers already have a coach and his name is Pat Quinn. They already have an associate coach in Tom Renney, who I’m guessing took the job here with the understanding he’d be first in line for Quinn’s job, should it come open. I’m not ignoring either obvious fact.

That said, the only reason I even asked Hitchcock about a job with the Oil Kings, a position he’s clearly over-qualified for, was the home hook, the full-circle thing. How appealing would it be for Hitchcock to come home to Edmonton to close out his career where it began?

I’m still thinking about it.

What are the odds?

Hitchcock, 58, has two years left on his contract with Columbus after being fired by the Blue Jackets this season. When I asked Hitch about any interest in the Oil Kings, he said: "I still have the burn to coach, but my heart’s still in the NHL right now. I feel like I’ve got five, six or seven good years left in me.

"I feel re-energized right now. I really just want to be ready for the next opportunity."

With 533 career wins, a winning percentage of .588 and a 1999 Stanley Cup ring with the Dallas Stars, Hitchcock is going to get that opportunity. The question I have is, might things play out so that opportunity unfolds here with the Oilers? I don’t know the answer — yet.

I also don’t know if Quinn will be back behind the bench next season. He has term left on his contract, but, at age 67, is Quinn really interested in being part of a rebuild? Did he have any inkling whatsoever he’d have the kind of season he just endured here?

Does Quinn, who is kicking back in California not far from where Hitchcock is laying low, really need, or want, the aggravation at this age and this stage in his career? I don’t know. I’ll be asking him.

Just asking…

And what of Renney? If Quinn opted not to return would Renney insist on running the show as the head man or would he be open to an associate set-up with Hitchcock if the Oilers pitched that to him?

Renney, 55, followed Hitchcock in Kamloops. He knows him well, not only from rubbing elbows at the Blazers annual summer golf tournament, but from Hockey Canada and off-season coaching clinics. Renney is no spring chicken as a coach, either, but if he was willing to share the gate with anybody at this point, it might be Hitchcock.

Likewise, Hitchcock has ties to Oilers GM Steve Tambellini and president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe through international competition going way back. Do they see him as the kind of hard-nosed coach that would fit this team now?

If things unfold as they might and there’s an interest there, all somebody has to do is pick up the phone and ask Columbus GM Scott Howson for permission to talk to Hitchcock.

Of course, all this is nothing more than speculation on my part. A bunch of what-ifs? I’m just asking…

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS . It’s easier to fill the building with a losing ice product , than it was building a winning team that the Gretzky’s years had and subsequently had such a tough time filling the building . It’s easier and cheaper to sell an image, than the real on ice products merits . So what or how much insentive is their to build a winner here again when all it takes is the much easier advertising hope image route? For those of us still hoping for a return to glory years , or even respectfull teams we might be looking at a long time into the future before we have a group committed to actually building an on ice product we might like and is competitive .

  • Caught the last half hour of Jim Matheson & Derek Van Diest on Nielson & Chase this morning… interesting stuff.

    I didn’t hear anything too earth-shattering, but they reiterated that they both felt Hemsky would be traded within the year (by the deadline if not sooner). Depending on the market, Matty figures a bigger forward & a d-man that can play. They also re-stated they believe Penner won’t be here once his contract is up.

    Sounds to me they should look to replace Penner in the Hemsky trade – Nathan Horton is the name I and many others have constantly thrown out. Not so sure about the availability of either Kings F Simmonds or Brown, but I’d guess they’re not as likely to be dealt. Dustin Byfuglien would be another big body out there.

      • I’m not sold on Byfuglien. He’s obviously not a top line player. He may not even be a 2nd liner, but he’d be great for the 3rd line with some potential upside on the 2nd line. I didn’t suggest to trade either one of them for him straight up… was just throwing out some big body’s off the top of my head.

        I know you’d rather just keep Hemsky for 2 years and then say goodbye, but perhaps the smart thing to do is move him while he still has more than a year left, no?

        • If the deal is right and Hemsky really doesnt want to be here, then there isnt much choice. It has to be done. I dont want anyone to leave for nothing in return.

          I think Hemsky is better than all the guys you mentioned, but that’s how it goes, I guess. The benefit of trading him this summer would be that the team can actually make a hockey trade. If they traded him at the deadline of his final year I doubt they would get much more than a Byfuglien + Prospect/Pick*.

          *Depending on the market of course

          • Maybe trade one of those two players at the draft and try to get a player like Jeff Skinner or maybe even someone higher up the list like that defenseman Gudbranson…get rid of the players that want out asap. Penner’s and Hemsky’s value is as high as it will ever be.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          I was thinking Hartnell from Philly might be an option.

          Who knows, maybe Bobby Ryan prices himself out of Anahiem and we could work something out :0

        • But the same part of me that provides the epic delusion that the Oil could still make the playoffs next year is holding out hope that Hemsky will be so enthused after playing with Seguin/Eberle that he signs for another 2-3 years.

  • smiliegirl15

    Out with Tambellini, in with Quinn, move Hitch into Quinn’s spot with Renney has his right hand man = a step in the right direction.

    Quinn began in hockey many years ago right here in Edmonton too so I don’t think he’d be sad to round out his career here either.

    Ah it all looks so simple on paper. If only Tambellini could read!!!

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I’m not a fan of bringing in Hitchcock. He had issues with the younger players in CBJ and I don’t know if that coming here is a better situation for him.

    • danjo1

      Likewise, I may be wrong but hasn’t he had a history of falling out with some of his players? Also what would he think of being in another rebuild. He did just come from Columbus. I don’t know how many more years of suck he can handle.

      • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

        I will give him credit for some of the things he has done, like taking a CBJ team and making them over achieve for a couple years or making Nash a more complete player.

        I just don’t see his defensive style working with the guys we have. I also don’t see him being that much better of an option then what we have.

          • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

            I agree but I like Renney’s system over Hitchcocks’s. We don’t have the talent to play a pure trap. Our guys are too small and lack defensive knowledge. We need to find an in between system and I think Renney’s would work better.

  • I think Hitch would do fine with younger players IF he knew that that’s what he was signing up for. In Columbus, he was expected to take the team to the next level… where if young players aren’t pulling their wait, you simply cannot wait for them. If he came here, he’d obviously know the gameplan was to teach this lot of youngsters the tricks-of-the-trade.

    FYI: the Devils have announced that Jacques Lemaire is retiring from coaching and will stay within the organization… wonder if thats a possible landing spot for Hitch?

    EDIT: Sounds like it’s finally John MacLean’s time. Of course, we’ve thought that before – as per Elliotte Friedman

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      I’m thinking if we are looking for a coach that we should be looking for young new blood. Has worked for a few teams already and it’ll be interesting to see how Maclean does in Jersey.

      • Personally, I see nothing wrong with Tom Renney running the show behind the bench… also had him on ‘my’ shortlist for the Flames last year, too. He’s not in-your-face, he’s a good communicator, seems smart & articulate, is a decent systems guy, wanted to be here bad enough to take an Associate gig… I say keep him on board and boot Quinn upstairs – he can take over for Tambellini if/when he gets shown the door.

        • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

          I really have no issue with our coaching staff and if Renney were to take over then I’d be okay with it. I do like that when we were healthy that Quinn was able to put together 4 solid lines. Not easy to do with our lineup. He had a plan and it was some what working.

  • Mike Krushelnyski

    I know Hitchcock says he still wants to coach, but if no offers come in, is there any chance he would be considered to run the farm in OKC? He’s been around the game forever at pretty much every level and might be a good fit there.

  • Hemmertime

    100 % correct.
    Alot of decisions are made due to the circumstances at the time. That doesn’t mean that they are always right. Fence sitting isn’t the answer either. So anything short of a time machine means bad decisions are sometimes made. Time for Klowe bashers to give it up and move on.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      The funny part is at the time most were applauding the deal (Staples even had a blog wrapping up what fans were saying on multiple sites).

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        Right – because we were all thinking ” positive ” and waiting for the storybook return of glory and the Stanley Cup. We had NO idea what was coming with the exception of Serious Gord. Bring on the draft.

  • Chris.

    I was anti-DFF. With Hemmer and Rehabi out I could see it was enividable… but I hated every minute of it and still don’t believe all that pain will end up being of net benifit to the organization.

    Does drafting Hall at the expense of being able to renew Hemsky make this a better club in two years? What about losing Penner, and Hemsky, and having Gagner tell his agent he wants a short term RFA contract?

    But things are what they are, the damage has been done… besides ~I’m sure firing Sparky will fix everything.~

  • Wedge: “At the time of the signing, he went to the all-star game and appeared to be emerging as ” a 1st line centre”

    At the time of his signing the 6 year-33M deal, Horcoff (nor anyone else) was playing as it was made public July 16, 2008. When it was “agreed” to who knows. He was into rehabilitation of his shoulder at this time post-surgery.

    From Edmonton Journal Feb 9 /2008:

    “””He might start rehabilitation on Monday, but it’s still going to be a long recovery time, until well into the summer.

    “Five to six months,” said Horcoff, who was operated on by the same doctor who fixed the shoulder of Oilers captain Ethan Moreau last season. Miniaci, who’s from Toronto and heads up the sports medicine program at the Cleveland Clinic, is the NHLPA’s medical consultant . “””

    Unless pressured by something (agent saying his client won’t negotiate during the season for example or maybe pressure by Katz?), Lowe could have waited to see how he played post surgery because Horcoff still had the last year of old contract to play out.

    On topic, is there not any highly regarded younger coaches around looking to make their mark? Let the coach, new training staff grow with the new younger players.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I’m suprised Hall’s playoff success isn’t getting more attention here. 7 points in his last 4 games to lead his team back from a 0-3 deficit.

    Pretty impressive and definitely helps pad his resume.

  • From Elliotte Friedman’s must-read 30 Thoughts (every Monday)…

    4. Oilers fans would be surprised to hear how many people around the NHL feel Steve Tambellini is right to drastically change the culture of the organization. The team will create opportunities for Ken Lowe, Lyle Kulchisky and Barrie Stafford – and should also honour them before a game next season.

    5. One of the things that must change: an alarming number of players complain that the Oilers are very difficult when it comes to getting new sticks and skates. I don’t know who’s responsible for that, but it’s not a good reputation.

    6. Tambellini also said he’ll meet with Pat Quinn in about a month to see how the coach feels after such a brutal season. Quinn said he’ll be back. Tambellini sounded pained even talking about it. He has great respect for Quinn.

    7. In the great Taylor Hall/Tyler Seguin debate, there is some question over who is more ready to play now. Bad idea. That’s the same logic that led to Toronto picking Luke Schenn over Tyler Myers. The Oilers aren’t going to contend for years. Take the guy who you think will be ready then.

    http://www.cbc.ca/sports/blogs/elliottefriedman/2010/04/vigneault-was-the-canucks-mvp.html

  • Ender

    dunciano wrote:

    Hitchcock… That would suck to have a skill killer like him as coach.

    RossCreek wrote:

    He sure sucked the skill out of Mike Modano AND Brett Hull AND Joe Nieuwendyk AND Sergei Zubov,eh? Not to mention the likes of Mike Richards AND Rick Nash… just to name a few. Yup, that Hitchcock sure is a skill-killer~

    dunciano wrote:

    Hitchcock helped dive 2 good teams to the bottom. Philly and Columbus.

    This was an interesting argument (more interesting than my real job, anyway) so I decided to research it a bit. The question was what effect, if any, did Hitchcock have on the point totals of the individuals RossCreek mentioned. Is Hitchcock really a skill killer?

    In order to be fair and account for injuries, I examined points per game and I looked at the three years each player played before Hitchcock compared to their first three years playing for him. I recognize there are defensemen involved but there’s only so much time in the day so points will have to suffice. Are you curious?

    I had to throw out Richards because his rookie year was played with Hitch and Hitch left the following season so there was nothing to compare. Modano, Nieuwendyk, and Nash all produced more PPG with Hitch than before they had him. Hull and Zubov dropped, though in fairness to Hitch Hull was 37 yrs old by the end of my comparison with him; maybe that wasn’t Hitch’s fault.

    All in all, I’m having a hard time labelling Hitch as a ‘skill-killer’ after the analysis. I don’t know that I’d prefer him over Renney but there’s nothing obviously wrong with him in terms of coaching skill players.

    • Ender

      Good work checking some numbers before rattling off a response, but it’s DUNCIANO . . . let’s-see-if-I-can-get-a-response-by-saying-something-stoooooopid DUNCIANO.

      Hitchcock is old school and I’m not sure if he’s a match here because he’s really not a helluva lot different than Quinn. Skill-killer? No. Defensive-minded? Yes. The right guy for a bunch of guys under 25? I’m not sure. This team needs a lot more than a change in coaches to contend, as we’ve seen over the past season.

      Again, I’m just looking at the circumstances and thinking out loud.

    • For Nash the first 3 years before Hitchcock got there were his first 3 years in the league.

      Nash points per game did not go up when Hitchcock got there.

      They sure should have as Nash was only 21, an ascending player.

      His points per game in fact dropped from 1.0 ppg to .76ppg with a minute more ice time!

      The next season: .86 ppg with 2 minutes more per game than before Hitchcock!

      Finally in the 3rd season he got back to where he was as a 21 year old before Hitchcock.

      Then dropped again the following season.

      • Ender

        First three seasons (02/03, 03/04, 05/06) Nash recorded 150 points in 208 games for a combined PPG of 0.72. In his next three seasons under Hitch, Nash recorded 205 points in 233 games for a PPG of 0.88. There wasn’t any point in breaking it down by year since a coach doesn’t change styles year-to-year; either he can coach skill or he can’t.

        The bottom line is that Nash scored more in his first three years with Hitch than he did before, just like Modano and Nieuwendyk.

        Edit: After checking in more detail, I see what you did there. You took his pre-Hitch number to be only from the 05-06 season, a career year for him. He has only put up that pace in one other year (08/09) and that was under Hitchcock. You can’t cherrypick a one-off year like that unless you do it for everyone else too; otherwise the study becomes a farce. Nash has not ever been a consistent point-per-game player, regardless of coach.

        • Ender

          This getting lame – but – as I said, its not fair to use his first 3 years in the league against his 4, 5, 6th years in the league. age 18-20 vs. 21-23.
          huge dif

          he was ascending before Hitch

          dropped quite a bit after

  • THEBIGD

    If Ken does not loose some weight he won’t be around much longer to coach at all.I remember when the Philadelphia Flyers were looking at him to coach their team,he was told at the time for this to happen he had to loose a lot of weight.Which he did and got the job with the Flyers.But as each year passes he has put on more and more weight.I am not a bif fan of Ken at all,but I would hate to see him have a serious heart attack or worse.So take care of yourself Ken.But I would not want him to coach the Oilers.Maybe the Oil Kings but not the Oilers as players tune him out pretty fast I am told.
    Cheers
    THEBIGD

  • If Tom Renney takes over for Pat Quinn, do they look at hiring another Associate Coach? I say – why not? My list: Perry Pearn, Scott Arniel, Marc Habsheid, Don Hay (the latter 2 also being candidates to coach in OKC if they wanted.

    How about:

    Hire Scott Bonner as Asst. GM/OKC GM (replacing KP).
    Fire Rick Olzcyk; hire Johnny Misley (former vice-president of Hockey Canada who recently stepped down to ‘pursue other professional opportunities in hockey’).
    “Promote” Pat Quinn to senior vice-president (a la Jimmy Devallano in Det).
    Promote Tom Renney to Head Coach.
    Hire Habsheid/Arniel (if he doesn’t get a head coaching gig) as Associate Coach.
    Re-assign Wayne Fleming to pro scout.
    Promote Mike Sillinger to Asst. Coach (with Bucky).
    Hire Hay/Habsheid as OKC Head Coach.
    Hire Pearn as Oil Kings Head Coach.

    • Chris.

      You’ll end up being an Oiler fan yet… If you keep reading, writing, and thinking about this team as it is slowly put back together over the next few years; you won’t be able to stop yourself from rooting for them when they finally make a run. Funny.

      • lol… maybe… or maybe I just can’t stand to see the “villains” be SOOOOO weak… kinda feel sad for the Oil lately… makes it hard to hate… lovable losers almost.

        Growing up with the Edmonton media, I’ve always read & thought about the Oil. Its part of the reason I hate them so much. I’m almost certin that if I grew up in Calgary that I would hate the Flames, etc.

    • Re: John Misley replacing Rick Olzcyk is a big time miss unless they add another person to the team.

      For better or worse Olzcyk is the resident CBA/capoligist expert and that is a critical role for any organization these days. John Misley isn’t qualified to take over that role.

      Olzcyk seems open for critisism at how well he has managed the cap as well and perhaps replacing him wouldn’t be a bad move but in comparing the two guys, he atleast has the necessary credentials.

  • Robin,
    I am curious as to whether the media is missing the boat on the whole “training/equipment staff reassignment” thing.
    Was it just me or did anyone else noticed right off the bat that the training staff was treated a little different this year. I’d call it displaced a little further down the bench. There was a new boss in town.
    With all due respect to the great Pat Quinn, where’s he been through this debacle while Tambelini is being thrown under the bus. I think this has Quinn written all over it. Can we agree least if there was a guy that could have saved the training staff it was Quinn. The GM doesn’t waltz in and can the training staff without input from the coach.
    I can understand that if it’s Quinn’s team and he’s uncomfortable for any reason with a training staff left over from another regime then he should be able to change that. It’s his sandbox. That may have come up before he was hired. It wouldn’t be an unreasonable agreement to “try them for a year and see how it goes. Could you do that for us Pat? They’ve been here a long time.”
    I think good on ST for taking the heat for his coach if it was Quinn who wanted the change. Bad on Quinn.
    JD

    • Yes, Jim. All the media guys in town failed to to pick up on something you figured out.

      Where’s Quinn been? He’s been in California taking a break, which is what I’d expect any 67-year-old man to be doing after a season like that.
      You’re looking for twists and turns where there aren’t any. Tambellini makes the calls, not Pat Quinn. This isn’t any more complicated than a team that finished 30th looking at everything and everybody.
      Taking the heat for the coach? Oh, the conspiracy and the obligatory cover-up. Please.

  • Hitch has had a fine career and is a good coach but for my dollar I would rather not have him here as the coach.
    Hitch is a defense first kind of guy and would rather see the Oil go to taking the game to the offense! Hey, I get defensive responsibility but not the defense first game plan Hitch has!
    It also has looked like he has had a few issues with the younger generation in Columbus. No inside info here, just observation of the year some of the youngsters there have had!

  • Ender

    no thanks to Hitch. he totally melted that CBJ locker room along with Filatov. with all the youth around the Oilers coming up it could be a brutal disaster.

    Edmonton loves their hometown boys and pals but the fit seriously isnt there for what Hitch wants out of players. he needs a team of vets to get anywhere without being a complete spaz. i dont even know if Renney is right for the job either.

    both together seems like a bad idea also. seems like Renney took the associate job thinking he’d end up supplanting Quinn.