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This interview with NHL legend Bernie Nicholls posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on February 10th, 2014. The LA Kings were in search of their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, and though Nicholls had moved on from their coaching staff, the lessons he left them with clearly had taken root. LA captured that Cup, and the players that Nicholls mentioned working with specifically appeared even more dominant than they did in 2012.
The audio of this interview can be heard on the XP PSP: the eXPat Pro Sports Podcast by clicking here, or by listening/downloading on iTunes.
Posted by Dave Cunning under Interviews on Feb 10, 2014
When you think about the LA Kings and what players have meant the most to the team since their inception in 1967, most long term fans would not omit Bernie Nicholls from their list of all-time greats. Though he spent time with six different NHL clubs over 19 seasons, the nine seasons Nicholls played with the LA Kings were most his impactful, and what he is best remembered for. His 150 point season in 1988-89, team records of most points in a game and most goals in a season, and fifth place position in all-time team points left an impression on the franchise and its supporters that holds up to this day.
Nicholls was also an instrumental part of the coaching regime that replaced Terry Murray in LA in 2011, and set the Kings on course to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
I caught up with Bernie via telephone just prior to the Superbowl to talk about all things Kings, coaching, his career, what’s wrong with the slumping LA team and how he’d fix them, where he keeps his Stanley Cup ring, and why he declines his New Jersey Devils’ alumni game invitation every year.
First of all, how’d your Superbowl predictions turn out?
I got killed. I had Denver. Every one of my bets was with Denver. It was not a good day for me.
It’s tough to find a properly defined role to say what your job description with the LA Kings is right now. “Consultant” or “unofficial assistant coach” is what I’ve read in various reports. Whatever it is, it was enough to get you a day with the Stanley Cup when LA won two years ago. Can you clarify what you do with the team?
It was an assistant coaching job. They said I was a consultant to the coach, Darryl Sutter. But I did everything that the assistant coaches did, pretty much. I did more with the players than the coaches. I think I was a lot closer to the players. It was still like an assistant coaching role. I worked the power play, worked with the kids. When they were slumping or getting down, I think it’s always easier for players to talk to a former player than the head coach. I had a really good rapport with the players. It was along the lines of an assistant coaching role.
You’re talking about this stuff in past tense, are you not with the team anymore?
Yeah I’m not with them now, I didn’t go back this year.
How did the opportunity come up, initially? Word is you worked for free in the beginning because you wanted to work with the team so badly.
I was always asking to try and work with the Kings. They were the team I wanted to [work with] but it didn’t really work out. Then once Terry Murray got fired and they hired Darryl, I called Darryl right away and gave him the idea. Once he took over, I came down with him. It worked out great.
You scored 475 goals, and 1209 points in your career, including 88/89 when you scored a ridiculous 70 goals and 150 points. But that was a different era – people often criticize the goaltending of that time, and goaltending styles and equipment have evolved a lot since then. When you work with today’s players on scoring, do the same principles from when you scored 70 in a season apply, or did you have to take new approaches when helping in that department? How did your experience in your era overlap into players of today having success in this era?
Well I think scoring goals is scoring goals. In my opinion, obviously goalies are better now, and players are much bigger and stronger, but for the most part when you’re playing hockey you still have to score goals, and do the things to give yourself opportunities to score goals. That’s the sort of thing you can teach guys. To me, it’s just working hard. When things aren’t going well, you’ve got to work hard, work your way through it, be yourself in those hard places, and things will work out for you.
Obviously the Kings are having trouble in the goal scoring department these days. What is their problem in your opinion, and how do they fix it? Is it at the point where trading for new players is necessary, or is it just a matter of refining what they have? The team is by no means in short supply of goal scorers with the likes of Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar, but the Kings are second last in goals per game average with 2.25, only better than Buffalo’s 1.83 (top team is 3.42), and second last on the power play with only 13.9% (top team has 24.7%).
They do have some offensive talent, for sure. They play a great defensive system, but for some reason they find it very difficult to score, and I’m not really too sure why. They do have some very talented players. They could create more on the power play. They’re second last, that’s not good. That’d be a start – create, and give themselves more opportunities that way, and just try to find chemistry. I know when Darryl put Kopitar and Carter together they worked very well together, but I think they’ve just cooled off. But it’s tough to score in this league. That’s the biggest problem, and those guys are finding that out real bad right now.
Is that a product of coaching, or of other teams adjusting to their style of play?
The other teams, for sure. Darryl allows the guys to create opportunities. That’s one thing that he does do. He gives guys opportunities to be creative. But one thing about Darryl, if you’re not working hard and you’re not competing, you won’t have an opportunity to be on the power play or be in an offensive role. He demands that you work at it, but sometimes that just doesn’t work.
On the flip side of those negative stats, LA is league best in goals against average with 2.07, gives up the third fewest shots per game with 26.8, has the most wins when winning after two periods with 100%, and win the most face-offs in the league with 53.3%. How has the team been able to accomplish those positive instances alongside the slump? Is there more to it all than having an elite goaltender in Jonathan Quick and great backups in Scrivens and Jones to him, as well as guys like Carter, Kopitar, Stoll, and Richards being dynamite in the faceoff circle? Or is it simply Sutter’s coaching systems, perhaps?
In my opinion, they have the best goalie in probably the world in Quick. They play great defense. That’s Darryl there – he demands his systems are great, a good work ethic, whistle-to-whistle hard nose play, and the players do that, man per man. That may be why you don’t see as many goals from that team, because they do play such a defensive game. No one cheats. To create offense, they play their defensive role, and that gives them an opportunity, but maybe doesn’t give them quite the opportunity to score as many goals. They take care of one end, and that’s key for them. They play so well defensively. They’ve got a good defensive system and a great goalie. That’s why they’re in every game. If they could score goals, they would win every game.
You mentioned you worked with the “kids”. Who were those guys you worked with the closest, and what did you focus on with them?
One thing I preached more than anything — and we worked on it everyday — I’d take Drew Doughty or Voynov out and just work on their trade. You watch good athletes in general, they work hard, and they work hard on their trade. Whether it’s a football player throwing passes all day, or a hockey player shooting hundreds and hundreds of pucks every day. That was key. We would do that. You work with those guys, work on one-timers, quick release, shots from the slot, coming out of the corner…you just work on things to help you create goals. Guys working on their trade is one thing I tried to work on more than anything.
You played with six teams during your NHL career, including nine with the LA Kings. Is there any particular reason you decided to work with LA when your playing days were over, instead of one of your other five former teams? Do you feel you identify with LA the best of them all? Did you have opportunity to work with the Rangers, Oilers, Devils, Blackhawks or Sharks?
LA was the team I approached first. They were the team I wanted to coach. I knew most of the guys there, I spent more time in LA, they were the team I played with the most. I still say it was my team as far as the team I felt most comfortable with. I just liked the guys too. When Darryl went there I felt it was a great opportunity for me to go there. It was more or less because they were my first team, I played the longest there, and I’m there more than any place.
What was it that made you feel LA was your team more than any of those other five you played with?
I played in the organization for ten years, and the others were for two or less. It was the first team I played for, and for the longest, my kids are there… I feel more comfortable with the LA team than any other team I guess.
Do you do any sort of alumni stuff with those other teams, or are you primarily just an LA guy?
I still do some alumni stuff for Chicago a little bit, San Jose I have. I haven’t for the other ones, but I would. I’ve been asked every year to go to New Jersey, but it’s moose hunting season for me at that time and I can’t make it. But I’ve done charity games for the other teams as well, and I enjoy doing it, for sure.
When the Kings won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, did you feel any personal connection with the championship as a former Kings player, and further as a player who was so instrumental in the smaller successes the team had while you played? You’re fifth in all-time team points (758), and even have a couple of team records that Wayne Gretzky doesn’t have: most points in a game by a King (8), and most goals in a season (70) – those sort of things tend to stitch you to a team pretty tight, especially to fans in retrospect. Obviously you weren’t on the ice when they won, but did you feel like that was your Cup too?
Well, it’s not the same as playing, obviously, but it’s a close second. Being around the guys, you get the joy from watching them compete everyday. You know, as a former player, what they go through and what it takes to be successful. You’re out there helping them any way you can, and if you’ve added a little bit to their success, then great. You hope that you did, and looking at it like that, yeah you do feel like you’re part of it.
Did you get your name on the Cup, or a ring?
I got a ring, yeah. It’s on my dresser in my bedroom.
An interview with you I read said you had never touched the Stanley Cup, presumably before you got your hands all over it when the Kings won. How good did it feel to finally be able to break that vow?
It was really exciting. More so for the players than myself. It’s much different as a player than as a coach, assistant, or whatever it may be. But it was still really, really exciting to be there. My daughter was with me, and we spent a lot of time with it that night. It was really exciting, no question.
Was there any one player on that team that you felt you identified with most, had the best rapport with, and was particularly happy to watch win the Cup?
Other than one or two players, no one else had won the Cup, so they were all really, really excited. I played similar to a Mike Richards I guess, but I think I could identify with the skilled players – Kopitar, Doughty, Carter – that’s kind of the role I would have taken. Those guys played so well, and so well as a group. They were not going to be denied. They had as good of a run in the playoffs as probably any team has ever had. It was pretty cool.
Why in particular is that tradition of not touching the Cup unless you’ve won it so revered? Lots of people with or without hockey backgrounds seem to uphold that approach — even former players who will never win it.
I think it’s just respect. As a hockey player, you realize how tremendously difficult it is to win, that it’s such an honor to win, and until you do win I just don’t feel, and I’m sure there’s a lot of people who don’t feel like you should be touching it as far as players and former players who’ve never won it. It may be a little weird, but it is what it is. I just think the players have so much respect for the Cup that if you don’t win it, you don’t deserve to touch it.
What are your thoughts on the NFL’s tradition of the winning team’s owner touching the trophy first, rather than how the captain gets first touch in hockey?
I have no problem with that. Everything’s different. Every league’s different. That’s great too. The owner is the one who pays all the players all the money, so he’s responsible for the team, and it’s his team, so I have no problem with him touching it first either. I’m not sure every player gets their trophy for a day like hockey does though, which is just amazing.
So if Dean Lombardi, or Kings owner Philip Anschutz had touched the Cup before Dustin Brown did, you’d be ok with that? Or is it just ok for the NFL because it’s a totally different sport with its own unique customs?
I love the way we do it. They way it’s presented on the ice, the way they do it I think is great. Football’s different. They have the big stage, the owner, GM, and coach are up there, and then they’ll call up one or a couple of the players to talk, but that’s fine too.
Another interview I read with you regarding the 2012 playoffs quoted you as saying,
“We had a big meeting the night before Game 1, and I went for a walk after, and it was like I went right back to (being) a player. I was really excited, I had the butterflies, I was just so amped up, I was so excited – that was the first time for me in 12 years. It was unbelievable. To have that feeling is great – athletes get it a lot before big games and I had it. I could have played that night, I could have played, I was ready to go!”
How hard is it to be in a position like that and not be able to play? How often do you get to play these days? You seem like a player that genuinely loves to play the game.
Well I don’t think it’s like you want to jump on the ice and go, that kind of wears off after you’ve been out for a couple of years. But just that thought – I hadn’t been around the game in a long time, or in a competitive setting like I was there, back in the game again. As athletes, you’re kind of wired different than most. Regular season games are regular season games, but once you make the playoffs, your body and your mind knows it’s a different animal. You feel different the day of the game — your body does, your mind does. For me at that time, we had the meeting, and I just went for a walk, and I felt like I did in one of my playoff games when I played again. It’s a great feeling to have. It’s tough to explain unless you’ve been there. Most athletes who have been there understand. It was really a cool feeling to get that again – to get those butterflies, to get all excited about the game. It’s difficult when you can’t do anything though. If I’m working the power play and I’m watching them and they go 0 for 5 or something and you go, ‘wow, I maybe could have helped,’ not that I could, but your mind still thinks you can, and you’re body says, ‘noooo, you can’t.’
Did you get the chance to skate on the Dodger Stadium ice during the Stadium Series event?
I didn’t. They dropped the ball so bad. Out of all the outdoor games, the only one they did [alumni games at] was the Winter Classic. They had Toronto and Detroit and they had two games. That’s how many alumni they had. They had 40,000 people there for an alumni game. I can’t believe why at Yankee Stadium they wouldn’t let the Rangers and Devils play an alumni game, or at Dodger Stadium. I heard Luc [Robitalle] tried, but the league wouldn’t let them. I just can’t believe they wouldn’t let them do that. It would have been so cool.
I still do fantasy camps, though. I’m going to do Wayne Gretzky’s fantasy camp in Vegas in March, I’ll try to do the Kings, I think I’ll do the Sharks at the end of March. I still love to skate. Even to this day, I put my skates on, and I still feel like a kid when I go out on the ice. It’s something that will probably never leave me, and I hope it never does. It’s always fun to put those skates on.
Are you one of those players who is superstitious and still uses all his old gear, or have you upgraded your equipment over the years?
My pants I had in Chicago in ’94, I don’t wear a helmet anymore but I still have my CCM helmet from LA, my skates I’ve had for a little while but new skates are always better than the old ones anyway. I’ve got my old gloves too. I still like the old setup.
So you didn’t get on the Dodger Stadium ice, but did you get down to the event? Did you get any beach volleyball in on the court in left field?
No, I was at home. I was back in Canada for it. I wasn’t out there. I would have liked to have went, but I was back in Canada, in the snow.
Well that was a poor decision.
It was a terrible one.
To your knowledge, is there any reason the Kings decided to go with gray jerseys for the game, rather than a throwback to the purple and gold version, like most teams tend to do for outdoor games?
I think they did the same as New York. They went white and black I think. I just think they did all that for advertising and for merchandise to sell. The uniforms looked beautiful. The Ducks’ were different, so were the Islanders’ and Rangers’. I just think it was a big money grab to sell merchandise. Just another jersey. The Kings always wear the old jersey on legends night. There are about three times a year that they’ll bring the old purple and gold out.
When you look back on your career as both a player and a coach, what’s that one moment that stands above the rest of them?
I think having an opportunity to play with Wayne Gretzky was great. Just playing in the NHL. I feel like I’m just a kid when I’m playing. To think you get to play a game every day in front of thousands of people, I can’t think of anything better to do. Just everything about it to me is amazing. Playing in the NHL for that long, playing with the great players that you play with, travelling around… it was a dream that most kids dream about and only a select few get an opportunity to do, and I was fortunate to be one of them.
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This interview with Logan Couture posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on December 19th, 2012, amidst the NHL’s most recent work stoppage. He was clearly ready to get back to work.
Couture went on to lead the Sharks in goals (21), game winning goals (5), power play goals (7), and a couple other categories in 2012-13, as well as sign a 5 year/$30 million contract extension with the Sharks. 2013-14 was not as good to Couture though. He suffered a wrist injury that required surgery, and took him out of the Sharks’ lineup for 17 regular season games. The playoffs were not nice to San Jose either, as they lost in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion LA Kings, despite holding a 3-0 series lead at one point.
Interview with Logan Couture: “They’re hard-line guys, they don’t give you the time of day, and they barely even look at you”
Posted by Dave Cunning under Interviews on Dec 19, 2012
Logan Couture is ready to play NHL hockey again.
So ready in fact, that he left the European club he had been playing with early to return home to North American preparation and anticipation of once again donning a San Jose Sharks jersey and taking NHL ice.
The only problem is that the NHL still isn’t ready for him, nor anyone else.
In the meantime, Couture will settle for suiting up along side Steven Stamkos, PK Subban, Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, and 34 other locked out NHL players on December 19th at Maple Leaf Garde—err, the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens in Toronto, for the 2012 RBC Play Hockey Charity Challenge, in support of the NHLPA’s Goals and Dreams Fund.
I caught up with Logan via telephone for an interview just prior to the event, and he graciously chatted with me about everything from his experience in Europe, to his thoughts on the lockout, the owners, and where he’ll be skating until the NHL finally calls.
You just returned home to Ontario after a three month stint with Genève-Servette in Switzerland’s National League A. How was your experience over there, and how does it feel to be home?
Couture: “It’s good to be back. I’d rather be playing in San Jose, but it does mean I get to spend some time with my family. This will be my first Christmas at home in four or five years since my junior days, so I’m looking forward to that. It was my first time in Europe, and the distance from my family and time change were both really tough.
Switzerland’s a beautiful country, so it was a good experience in that sense. The food was really good. Driving though the Alps on road trips was pretty cool. The hockey was pretty good and the organization was great. They treated me and my teammates very, very well. Being so far away was the toughest thing. I missed my family. Not being able to watch sporting events at regular times and stuff like that was hard too. I was watching football games at 1 am, and I missed the baseball playoffs. I’m a big fan, so that was tough for me. I tried to keep up with it as best as I could though.”
Why did you leave the team? Statistically you were doing great – your 23 points in 22 games still lead the team in points today, despite being in Canada. Did you part on good terms?
Couture: “Yeah I left on good terms. I just told them that I was thankful for the opportunity that they gave me, but that I wanted to come back home because I felt I was ready to play back over here. I had hoped the season would have started by now, but in the meantime I’m enjoying spending time with my family while I can. I went over there to get in shape and get ready for the NHL season. After the three months I was there, I felt like I was ready to come back and play over here, with the hope that the season was going to start. I’m sure a lot of the other guys who have also come back felt the same way. You get to a point where you feel good about your game, you feel like you’re ready to play, and where you don’t want to risk injury anymore. I figured it was time for me to come back home.”
You were one of 19 locked out NHL players competing in Switzerland. Why did you choose Switzerland out of all countries you could have chosen; and in particular, why Genève-Servette?
Couture: “I chose Switzerland because Joe [Thornton] told me about how good of an experience he had there during the last lockout. The general consensus from guys on our team was that they’d heard great things about Switzerland. I talked with my agent, and we worked out a deal with the team there. Genève-Servette gave me a chance and said I could come over and play for them as quickly as I wanted, so I agreed to come.”
How did you interact with Joe Thornton on the ice when your team played his team, Davos? As NHL teammates, do you guys go easy on each other in a league that doesn’t matter as much as the NHL, or if you had him lined up in the corner did you hit him like anyone else? What about the other NHLers in the league when you played against them?
Couture: “If it’s Joe, I’m not going to hit him over there, that’s for sure. He’s a teammate. Obviously I don’t want to get hurt either. I’m not the most physical player in the world, and over there I was even less of a physical player just because I didn’t want to take that chance of getting hurt. I try not to put myself in dangerous spots. You have to be careful though, hockey’s a dangerous sport.”
As you will be going into your fourth NHL season eventually, do you feel playing against a lower level of competition in Europe may have been a detriment to your development as an NHL player? For example, did the unfamiliar size of the ice, or the pace of that league and its players throw off your timing while playing with/against less skilled players than you’re used to? Or maybe you didn’t get passes when and where your used to, or the speed and physicality was harmfully different? Do you think the same is bad for other young NHLers that are now scattered around other European countries, the AHL, and other places to be playing down a level? Will any of this hurt you or them as players when you eventually come back to the NHL?
Couture: “I think it’s the best case scenario for the guys right now. You’d rather be playing than not playing. Even when you’re playing there, it takes some time to get your timing down and into a rhythm. Guys that haven’t played yet this year aren’t going to have that right now; they’re going to be behind in that aspect when it’s time to play again. You are playing with lesser skilled guys over there, but I still think that being on the ice every day in practice and games will make you a better player, no matter who you’re playing with, as long as you’re working on your game. I spent as much time as I could after practice working on puck skills and different things, trying to improve.”
What do you think about the notion of your arrival on that team meaning you squeezed someone else out of their lineup – maybe a domestic player, or someone who won’t ever make it to the NHL – while you were only a temporary member of that team? In your opinion, is it fair for locked out NHL players to come to Europe and take those jobs?
Couture: “It’s hockey. It’s a competitive sport. Would people be saying the same thing if an 18 year old came into an NHL camp and knocked a veteran out of his job? It’s the same thing – people play to take someone’s job. You go into a training camp to take someone’s job so that you can play. I don’t really understand why people say that. When I made San Jose, I ultimately put someone out of a job. That’s just the way hockey is, and all pro sports are.”
Is there any chance that your return home is a cryptic indication that a resolution to the lockout is on the horizon? What are your current thoughts on the lockout?
Couture: “I read a rumor on Twitter that said I was coming back because I knew a deal was coming, but no, there’s nothing like that happening. We’re at a stage now trying to figure out the best way to move forward with these negotiations. We’re hoping something can get done in the near future, but there’s nothing being said right now that’s going lead to a deal in the next couple of days or anything like that. It’s not true.”
Are you optimistic that a deal is indeed forthcoming, and there will still be an NHL season?
Couture: “Yeah, you have to think it’s going to get done. It would just hurt so badly to see a season wasted. It hurt the players last time – I wasn’t in the league yet then, I was just a hockey fan – and it hurt as a fan to watch a full season go by without any hockey. For it to happen two times in an eight year span – I mean it really plays with the fans. It’s tough for a sport to recover, especially in some of the markets down in the States. Even where I play in California, it’s going to be tough for teams to recoup their fan base. In these next couple of weeks, somehow we need to find some way to get a deal done. We’re at a stage right now where we’re trying to do whatever it takes to get the season started. We’re still willing to negotiate. We’re doing what we can to get it going.”
Do you think those California based teams will suffer in particular, despite LA and Anaheim each winning a Stanley Cup in the last five years, plus San Jose’s recent rise to prominence?
Couture: “I can speak for San Jose – in the last couple of years, and even when the team got Joe Thornton, hockey in the area really, really took off. There was an increase in kids starting to play at an earlier age, and stuff like that. I think it’s within reason to think that’s because the Sharks have been good the last six or seven years. They’re selling out every game and people are interested in hockey. You take another year away from those fans and some of the ones you just won over in the last few years are going to leave for something else. Look at Florida – they made the playoffs last year, had a good run, probably won some new fans over – now there’s no hockey, and those fans are fine with something else [note: there are seven other pro sports teams in that state]. It’s tough to watch.”
Has this lockout left you feeling any ill-will or animosity towards the owners, or San Jose’s owner in particular? Or do you look at this situation objectively as a business deal?
Couture: “I don’t know, it’s all up in the air. The owners aren’t allowed to speak publicly, nor to us. We have no idea what each owner is thinking. I’ve been in meetings before, but you’re in there with [Craig] Leopold, [Jay] Jacobs, [Murray] Edwards – they’re hard line guys, they don’t give you the time of day, and they barely even look at you. They’re there for one reason, and that’s to help their teams make money. I wish we could hear from all 30 teams’ owners, but obviously they’re not letting them speak out and have their opinions known. I’m sure if they were able to, there would be a bunch of them with different opinions right now. All the players are allowed to speak their minds. It’s tough. I don’t know where the San Jose owners stand on this. You hear things, but you never know until you hear it from them, so you can’t really hold judgment against them until you know the truth.”
As far as Players Association meetings and negotiations with the league, how did you stay in the loop while you were overseas, and even now while you’re in Ontario?
Couture: “It’s all through the phone in scheduled conference calls. There’s an app we check for updates. They supply us with numbers for the players who are in the meetings, and if you have a question you want a player to answer instead of Don, you can call the player and ask him, and he tells you word for word what he heard in the meeting. You get 10 to 20 different opinions, usually all saying the same thing. They’re in all those meetings, so we hear the truth from those guys.”
Any chance you would return to Europe over Christmas to compete in the Spengler Cup tournament for Canada? Where are you going to skate until the NHL resumes?
Couture: “No, not this year. I think I’m going to stay in North America for the rest of the season. I’m going to skate with the London Knights in the OHL when they start up again after Christmas break. I want to go down and skate with some of the guys in San Jose in a few weeks too, hopeful that the season will start. I don’t know exactly what the timeline is, but there isn’t much time left to get this deal done.”
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My 2012 interview with St. Louis Blues’ head coach Ken Hitchcock posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on September 19, just prior to the NHL and NHLPA coming to terms with each other to stop hockey’s latest work stoppage. Since we spoke, the St. Louis Blues have twice finished 2nd in the Central Division, and in the Western Conference top 4 two times as well, but found themselves bounced from the playoffs in the first round on both attempts.
On a brighter note, “Hitch” was named assistant coach for Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he and the team won gold. He also rose to 8th all-time in coaching wins (2nd amongst active coaches) shortly after he collected his 600th NHL win — one of only 11 NHL coaches to do so.
Posted by Dave Cunning under Biography, Interviews, Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues on Sep 19, 2012
While the NHL lockout rolls on, fans may forget there is a group of personnel that is not aligned with either the NHLPA or team owners in CBA negotiations, yet is directly affected by the league’s labor stall – NHL coaches.
Nearly a year after taking over as head coach of the St. Louis Blues, guiding his team to a second round playoff appearance, and winning the Jack Adams Award for the NHL’s Coach of the Year, Ken Hitchcock is just as busy preparing for a season with an unknown start date as he would be if it were already underway.
I had a chance to interview Hitchcock and he gave me his thoughts on his coaching philosophy, on replacing Davis Payne in St. Louis during last season, and other topics.
Hitchcock on evaluating his team during training camp:
“When you start your training camp, you know within three or four players what your team’s going to be like. You’re not working from a base of 60 players, you’re working from a base of 30 players — you’re trying to educate all 60 that attend, but you know the 30 that are going to try out for the 22 or 23 spots. Every coach visualizes what his lines will look like, and what his team will look like; you already know them in your mind, so those are the players you observe. We watch them whether they are already in St. Louis, or in junior, the American Hockey League, Europe – they could be anywhere – those few are the guys we keep our eye on.”
On what role he plays in scouting for the Blues:
“I stay out of it. There are other people who have that duty, and we stay in our own area of expertise. Everyone else has a job to do – our scouts have their own responsibilities, and ours as coaches don’t include scouting. Other people do that and do it well. All we would do is get in the way.”
On the fact that he is still learning as a coach:
“I have a thirst to learn, and to be part of a team – whether it’s as the head coach, assistant, associate, consultant, or whatever – I love being part of a team. I find great joy in being a small part of something pretty big, and having to work together. My thirst for knowledge leads me to try and find out why teams in all kinds of activities – in sports, business, or whatever – are successful. I want to learn that stuff. Part of that is the technical package –the systems of play and everything, but a big part of it is the synergy or the chemistry that goes on with your hockey club. I want to learn why certain people are successful, why they continue to succeed, and what they’ve learned. I know I don’t have all the answers, and I know I don’t have all the experiences, so I seek them out instead. I enjoy the journey of seeking out information and other people’s opinions, and watching other people perform.”
“Talking with my peers and watching how my peers practice and play feeds the hunger for learning that I have. I talk with other coaches all the time. As long as you’re in that constant learning path, you stay fresh, you stay energized, and you stay current. The minute you get satisfied, or the minute you lose your flexibility and feel like you don’t have to learn, in our business, I think that’s when you become very stagnant. If you stand still, the game starts to go by you.”
On coming in and replacing the previous coach (Davis Payne):
“Over time, you learn what sells to your players and what doesn’t. One of the things that experience tells you is that when you’re in a critical situation, or one where there’s a lot of anxiousness and anxiety, you find out that less is more – that less information and keeping it simple becomes more effective over time. The other aspect is – and I don’t want to call it luck – but when there’s a change, your players need to see instant success for them to buy in. We simplified, and in the four games we played in the first eight days we had wins over Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh, and an overtime loss. Because of that immediate success, the buy-in became a lot easier and more black and white for the players. Every new coach that comes in sells a new program, and if there’s no success early, the buy-in takes longer.”
“When you look at the history of coaching, usually what happened when a coach had success is his players bought in, starting with the leaders. When the leaders buy in, the rest of the players have no choice but to come along. When you have great leadership, and you have cooperative leadership with the staff, you usually have a very successful team. What happens to a lot of coaches is their leadership changes – through trades, retirement, or whatever – that’s when you reach a crisis stage. Your team’s chemistry starts to change, the way of doing business changes, and a transition phase begins. Coaches get fired in that transition phase. Trying to create new synergy and new energy while going through a leadership change and missing a bunch of guys because of it is hard to do. You win in the National Hockey League because a team’s leaders follow their coach, and the players follow the leaders. When there’s a vacuum effect taking place, that’s when it gets chaotic.”
On what happened with Bruce Boudreau in Washington:
“He’s a good coach. Sometimes there are certain horses for certain riders. Sometimes good coaches don’t fit with the personnel that’s on the team, and sometimes they fit perfect. Once you’re a good coach, you don’t all of a sudden become a bad coach. Sometimes change is good for both parties – the players and the coach. It doesn’t mean it’s a matter of bad people, it just means a fresh approach might work better. You can find other ways to do it than changing the coach, and usually if a guy’s a good coach, that option is a last resort.”
What he thinks of the level of play in hockey today:
“This is an unbelievable time to be a hockey fan – this is the highest skill level I’ve ever seen and worked with. Everybody’s a good skater, the knowledge on the players that come from junior and college is at a high level, so they’re able to adapt much quicker. The whole game is at an incredible level. I don’t care how many goals get scored, it’s all about the intensity level and the execution – this is as high as I’ve ever seen it in my life.”
His opinion on the Kings who defeated the Blues in the second round of the Western conference playoffs:
“Nothing they did surprised anybody. The division they played in was incredible — really high end teams. Just getting points out of their own division was a struggle. When they made their personnel changes with about 25 games left in the season, they became big and fast. Anybody who played them in the last 20 games knew exactly how good they were. We played them twice, and we left both games going ‘Oh my god, are they ever a good team’. Nothing they did in the playoffs was surprising.”
On the stress of coaching and how it affects you:
“Coaching requires a lot of focus, a lot of energy, and a lot of work. There’s a tremendous amount of stress on coaches, especially in our sport because there’s so many teams that can win the Stanley Cup. Quite frankly, sometimes coaches lose their energy, get frustrated, or they get critical or cynical because of the stress, the demand, and the combination of everything. Sometimes, the energy level that was there at the start isn’t there at the end. Teams decide to make changes to create a higher energy level. We all think that we should coach forever, and we all think that we should never get fired, but we don’t see the things that other people see. We don’t see the read that players have of our body language, or the little things that ownership or management see.”
On his energy level when he coached in Dallas and Columbus:
“When I got the job in Dallas, I thought that would be my first and last job. I thought I was going to coach there forever. I never thought I’d be let go in a million years. But I did. And as disappointed as I was getting let go in Columbus, the year and a half I had off gave me energy for the next five or six years. It gave me a freshness, an energy, and an enthusiasm that is necessary to coach in the NHL. As a coach, you’ve got to look in the mirror – it’s a hard look, but you have to if you want to stay current.”
On the transient nature of coaching in the NHL:
“In this business, you learn not to hang pictures. We love St. Louis and I hope I stay here forever, but you come to understand that you’re in a transient situation, and that’s just the way it is. That’s the nature of our business, and we’ve gone about living that life. I’ve got great energy right now, but the moment my energy drops, I’ll be the first guy to knock on the General Manager’s door. But the way I feel now, I feel like I could coach a long time. The players have given me faith and hope, and that’s really rejuvenated me. The players have really created an enthusiasm for me, and I can hardly wait for the season to get going. I’m going to get every ounce out of this team and myself.”
There is a lot of statistical data out there to help compare the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers ahead of their 2014 Stanley Cup Final meeting, and an incredible number of rabbit holes one could venture down when attempting to analyze all the data made available. With stats gleaned from NHL.com, here’s a brief look at the the teams’ 2 regular season meetings from the categories I find most important, to show how they stack up versus and solo so far in the first 3 rounds of playoffs.
HEAD TO HEAD October 17 (Staples Center), November 17 (MSG)
Despite an even head-to-head record, NYR seemed to have a slight statistical advantage when playing each other.
*No longer on NYR’s roster.
**Quick only played 1 of the 2 games. Ben Scrivens played game 2, and is no longer on LA’s roster.
|Goals, PG AVG||73 — 3.48 (1st)||54 — 2.70 (8th)|
|GA — AVG||60 — 2.86 (9th)||45 — 2.25 (2nd)|
|PPG — %||17 (1st) — 25.4 (5th)||11 (5th) — 13.6 (10th)|
|PK%||81.2 (9th)||85.9 (2nd)|
|Total PIM||272 (16th)||200 (14th)|
|Blocked Shots||314 (4th)||331 (2nd)|
|Hits||898 (1st)||587 (2nd)|
|FOW — %||735 (1st) – 52.9 (2nd)||601 (3rd) – 47.5 (12th)|
|Leaders||Goals (Gaborik -12), Assists (Kopitar -19), Points (Kopitar -24), +/- (Williams – +11)||Goalie Wins, Save % (Lundqvist)|
With a slight edge in playoff statistics, LA seems to have the advantage through 3 rounds. They should dominate in face-offs, hits, goals, assists, points, +/-, shots, on the power play. Despite LA’s touted defensive domination, it’s actually NYR that leads the two on the penalty kill, PIM, goals against, shots against, blocked shots, and goaltending.
Of interest: Rangers are 100% when shots are even, and when leading after 2 periods.
By the numbers, this series may be closer than many assume. With more category leads in the above categories, I am giving the nod to the LA Kings to win the 2014 Stanley Cup. But those are just numbers — let’s see what the games actually bring!
If your team has been eliminated from the playoffs, it can be tough to choose another squad to root for while the remainder of the post season plays out. One way some people prefer in choosing an adoptive team is to go on player nationalities. With the Montreal Canadiens being the only team based in a Canadian city to qualify for the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, and having been eliminated in the Eastern Conference Final, many Canadian fans may wonder whether it’d be better to align with LA or New York. I posted this same breakdown in 2012 when the LA Kings met the New Jersey Devils in the Final, and below you’ll find the 2014 edition. Hopefully it will help corral some of you lost, wandering hockey souls towards the appropriate roster while you try to pick up the shattered pieces and ease the pain of your true team’s season gone sideways.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
The active roster of the Los Angeles Kings features 24 players – 16 of them are Canadian, 5 are American, 1 is Russian, 1 is Slovakian, and 1 is Slovenian. Add 1 Canadian if you count head coach Darryl Sutter. The Kings have 1 more Canadian in their lineup than the Montreal Canadiens did – the only team based in a Canadian city that made this year’s playoffs.
Representing Canada (67%: +7% since 2012): Jeff Carter, Kyle Clifford, Dwight King, Jordan Nolan, Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll, Justin Williams, Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Brayden McNabb, Jake Muzzin, Robyn Regehr, Jeff Schultz, Martin Jones (Darryl Sutter).
Representing the USA (28%: -7% from 2012): Dustin Brown, Trevor Lewis, Matt Greene, Alec Martinez, Jonathan Quick.
Representing Europe (12.5%: +.05% from 2012): Slava Voynov, Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik
Assessment: Predominantly CANADIAN.
**NOTE: If LA wins the Stanley Cup, Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty will have won both Olympic gold and the NHL crown in the same season — aka the DCC.
NEW YORK RANGERS
The active roster of the New York Rangers features 27 players – 13 of them are Canadian, 7 are American, 5 are Swedish, 1 is Norwegian, and 1 is Swiss. Add 1 Canadian if you count head coach Alain Vigneault.
Representing Canada (48%): Derick Brassard, Dan Carcillo, Derek Dorsett, Dominic Moore, Rick Nash, Benoit Pouliot, Martin St. Louis, Justin Falk, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, Marc Staal, Cam Talbot, Brad Richards (Alain Vigneault).
Representing the USA (26%): Brian Boyle, Ryan Haggerty, Chris Kreider, JT Miller, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, John Moore.
Representing Europe (26%): Jesper Fast, Carl Hagelin, Oscar Lindberg, Mats Zuccarello, Anton Stralman, Henrik Lundqvist, Raphael Diaz.
Assessment: Predominantly CANADIAN.
**NOTE: If NYR wins the Stanley Cup, Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash will have won both Olympic gold and the NHL crown in the same season — aka the DCC.
If you’re basing your newly acquired team allegiances upon the nationality content of each team, here’s how you should focus your cheering:
-If you are Canadian, and want to cheer for the highest volume of Canadian players, you should be cheering for the LA Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals, because they have the majority of them.
-If you are American cheering for Americans, the LA Kings again are your huckleberry.
-If you’re European cheering for Europeans, you should side with New York.
So with all that being said, who do ya got? Leave a comment to state your allegiance.
Well it’s getting on in the 2014 NHL playoffs, and it’s about time to dust of the old Double Championship Challenge for it’s second quadrennial go-round. If this seems Greek to you, click here to catch up on what the 1st Quadrennial Double Championship Challenge was all about. You may recall Rich Abney walked away with a championship t-shirt and four years of bragging rights in 2010 after picking the Chicago Blackhawks’ Canadian Olympic team members to win gold and the Stanley Cup in the same season.
So let’s have at it — cast your votes on who will win this quadrennial’s crown as outright best in the world.
Here’s who’s left:
Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp — Chicago Blackhawks [note: Keith & Toews can repeat as back-to-back DCC champs]
Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter — Los Angeles Kings
Martin St-Louis, Rick Nash — New York Rangers
Carey Price, P.K. Subban — Montreal Canadiens
Here’s who’s eliminated:
Marc-Édouard Vlasic, Patrick Marleau — San Jose Sharks
Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz — Pittsburgh Penguins
Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo — St. Louis Blues
Ryan Getzlaf , Corey Perry — Anaheim Ducks
Matt Duchene — Colorado Avalanche
Jamie Benn — Dallas Stars
Patrice Bergeron — Boston Bruins
Here’s who did not qualify:
Roberto Luongo — Vancouver Canucks
Mike Smith — Phoenix Coyotes
Shea Weber — Nashville Predators
John Tavares — New York Islanders
And unlike 2010 when Corey Perry joined Canada’s World Championship roster after winning Olympic gold in Vancouver, there are no players or staff that are representing Canada twice in the same season this time around.
Who’s your pick? Leave a comment to let us know! Choose correctly and you’ll be eligible to win an exclusive prize from Serenity Now…The SDC Blogs.
Rules: To enter, leave a comment on this post with your name, your pick, and where you’re from. One vote only — no do-overs. Those who select correctly will be entered into a draw for the grand prize. Good luck!
With the puck about to drop on the final 2 games of the 2014 NHL Stadium Series, TiqIQ.com has passed along some interesting data on average secondary market ticket prices for the March 1st Blackhawks/Penguins game in Chicago at Soldier Field. If you were planning on attending, but haven’t bought a ticket yet, here’s what you should expect to have to shell out:
-Current average ticket price for Saturday’s game: $230.77 (down 18% this week and 67% since its peak on 9/23/13)
-Cheapest ticket currently listed: $91 (originally $139), Section 432
-Most expensive ticket currently listed: $845 (originally $325), Section 308
All I know is, if I’m gonna cough up $825 to sit in a seat in the farthest section away from the ice in the stadium, my seat better come with an open mini bar, and the NHL Network installed into the back of the seat in front of me.
Comparatively, here are the average prices for the previous four Stadium Series games of 2014, as well as the upcoming Heritage Classic, ranked from most expensive to least:
-Yankee Stadium – Rangers/Devils – $244 ($89)
-Yankee Stadium – Rangers/Islanders – $206 ($43)
-Winter Classic – Red Wings/Maple Leafs – $156 ($57)
-Dodger Stadium – Kings/Ducks – $199 ($117)
-Heritage Classic – Canucks/Senators – $182 ($74)
Speaking of buying things hockey related, I know a t-shirt worthy catchphrase when I hear one, and thusly I put one on one. After TJ Oshie’s unfathomable shootout performance against Russia, “TJ Sochi” was one of the best nicknames to emerge from the Sochi 2014 Olympics, so here’s what I did with it:
Visit my Etsy store and make this shirt yours before everyone forgets about that fateful night in Sochi! It may even help to cover the American shame of losing the bronze medal game 5-0 and finishing fourth, after posting a video like this:
In episode 4 of XP PSP we discuss:
-The demise of the LA Kings and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Conference Finals, and the Hawks/Bruins Cup Final from all angles.
-steps to take when choosing a new playoff team to cheer for when yours has been ousted.
-Superstitions of fans and athletes, and how they affect performance.
-The NBA Final between the Spurs and Heat.
Canadians Should Cheer For The LA Kings, and Who American and European Fans Should Pull For in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final Four.
With the elimination of the Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Montreal Canadiens from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs — and every year Canadian city based NHL teams are either eliminated from the playoffs or do not qualify — there is a certain level of Canadian fan disengagement from the NHL as Canada’s best hopes of bringing the Stanley Cup back north are snuffed out. But with nationalistic pride in mind, there are still plenty of – predominantly, in fact – Canadian born players to cheer for on the remaining four American based teams. Here are the numbers to show you which teams are in fact the most Canadian, American, and European, and to whom your drifting allegiances would be best to land upon:
Canadians: Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Gregory Campbell, Johnny Boychuk, Daniel Paille, Tyler Seguin, Shawn Thornton, Dougie Hamilton, Adam McQuaid, Wade Redden, Rich Peverley, Andrew Ference, Chris Kelly.
Americans: Matt Bartkowski.
Europeans: Dennis Seidenberg (Germany), Jaromir Jagr (Czech Republic), Zdeno Chara (Slovakia), David Krejci (Czech Republic), Kaspars Daugavins (Latvia), Tuukka Rask (Finland).
22 total active players
Canadians: Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Dave Bolland, Daniel Carcillo, Corey Crawford.
Americans: Nick Leddy, Brandon Saad, Patrick Kane, Brandon Bollig.
Europeans: Michal Rozsival (Czech Republic), Marian Hossa (Slovakia), Michal Handzus (Slovakia), Michael Frolik (Czech Republic), Johnny Oduya (Sweden), Marcus Kruger (Sweden), Niklas Hjalmarsson (Sweden), Viktor Stalberg (Sweden).
21 total active players
Los Angeles Kings:
Canadians: Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Justin Williams, Drew Doughty, Tyler Toffoli, Dustin Penner, Dwight King, Jake Muzzin, Robyn Regehr, Jarret Stoll, Colin Fraser, Kyle Clifford, Brad Richardson, Keaton Ellerby, Jordan Nolan, Tanner Pearson, Jonathan Bernier.
Americans: Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, Trevor Lewis, Rob Scuderi, Matt Greene, Alec Martinez.
Europeans: Slava Voynov (Russia), Anze Kopitar (Slovenia).
25 total active players
Canadians: Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Pascal Dupuis, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy, Brenden Morrow, Matt Cooke, Tanner Glass, Craig Adams, Deryk Engelland, Simon Despres, Marc-Andre Fleury.
Americans: Joe Vitale, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Beau Bennett, Brandon Sutter, Mark Eaton, Paul Martin.
Europeans: Evgeni Malkin (Russia), Tomas Vokoun (Czech Republic), Douglas Murray (Sweden), Jussi Jokinen (Finland).
25 active players
So, with all that being said, if your favorite/regional team has been eliminated, and you are in the market for a new team to temporarily align with and would prefer to cheer for a new team and/or players based on nationality, you now should have all the information necessary to appropriately select your new allegiance.
The 2014 NHL Winter Classic has been officially (re)announced, and so have the jerseys each team will wear for both the main event and the alumni game. Not everyone appears to be as enthusiastic about the choice for the New Year’s Eve alumni game’s uniforms as Gary Bettman does.
The jerseys for the real teams will wear on New Year’s Day are, on the other hand, phenomenal. The potential 100,000+ fans in attendance at Michigan Stadium will be far happier to see Toronto in these ones — both of Detroit’s look sharp.
Also announced was the return of HBO’s 24/7 series, this year following both the Leafs and Red Wings behind the scenes as a lead up to the Winter Classic game. I still would love to see HBO place this amount of cinematic drama on the Stanley Cup Final — which is far more important than the mid regular season game that the WC is — but my opinion continues to fall upon deaf ears. Either way, I love this show, and I’m glad HBO stayed on board post-lockout to put it back on the air.
Also reported (albeit not confirmed) by multiple sources was that an outdoor game (assumably the Winter Classic) in 2014 will be played — get this — in Los Angeles. You know, a place where people tired of being cold retreat to in order to escape the most necessary ingredients for outdoor ice hockey — cold and ice. It seems environmentally impossible, but Dodger Stadium is apparently getting a $100 million face-lift, so who knows what it’ll be capable of. Seems like an odd thing to lie about, but I’ll wait for confirmation from the NHL before I believe it. If it’s true, I sure am pumped for the LA Kings.
Reports also hint at the return of the Heritage Classic, to be played at a Canadian venue.
While all those games were be announced as happening, looks like the NHL’s Europe Premier games for 2013 have been dealt the opposite fate — reports say 2013-14’s version of the across the pond games are out, with much discussion to be had on the NHL’s future international presence.