Let me be the first to introduce you to the new Avalanche head coach…Ken Hitchcock. Sure I’m writing this merely hours after the Avalanche pulled off their first home win of the season. A game that saw the struggling Matt Duchene show off his skill and brilliance on the ice to score the game winner against a hot Kings goalie, Jonathan Quick. You might be arguing that with Joe Sacco, this team has seen some slivers of success. (But I feel, unfortunately, that Sacco is NOT the coaching answer and will try to stay away from the negativity surrounding this position.) You might be hesitant to even look at what I’m presenting because of the "stigma" that surrounds Ken Hitchcock, but I hope you’ll look past the "absurdity" and see my point.
Hitch, as he’s known by his players & friends, has been around hockey for most of his life. You can look at his history and see that Ken loves the game. He's had coaching stints in Juniors and at Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus, and most recently at the IIHF World Hockey Championship. The key thing to take away from Ken Hitchcock is that the man knows how to lead teams to win. Hitchcock has shown that he can win with high, low, and developing talent. His coaching history has shown this, and yet it also reveals some truth behind the statement—he can win BUT can sustain it for only a time.
Let’s look at some historical data to support my case. We can see the evidence of Hitch’s winning ways. The style of coaching that Hitchcock utilizes is one of disciplined action. By playing disciplined, two-way hockey his teams have been able to play aggressive & fun. And it’s easy to quickly see success with it when his players BUY in to this system.
In 1996, while our Avalanche were moving to the Mile High and winning their first Stanley Cup, Hitchcock took over full-time coaching duties in Dallas. Initially, Hitch started off with the Stars mid-season in 1995. With a full season, Hitch would lead Dallas to a 1st place finish in their division and playoff appearance. His 2nd season, Dallas reaches the Conference Finals and Hitch coaches in the All-Star Game. His 3rd season in Dallas earns the Stars their team best franchise record of 51-19-12, and their first ever Stanley Cup victory. The following year, the Stars returned to the Stanley Cup Finals only to lose to New Jersey. Hitch would lead the Stars to the Playoffs 5 times while with Dallas, but would eventually lose his job due to a mediocre start in 2001.
Hitchcock quickly landed on his feet and returned to Philadelphia as a head coach. The years of 2002-2007 for the Flyers were a time where this team needed some strong direction and discipline. Already a talented roster, but Philly had some difficulty with putting it all together. Hitch would take the Flyers to the Conference Semifinals in his 1st season in Philly. His second season with the team, the Flyers were first in their division and would make a Conference Finals appearance, losing to eventual Stanley Cup Champions the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flyers would again make the playoffs the next season. Hitch’s Flyers would then get off to a horrendous 1-6-1 start in 2006 and he would be removed as head coach.
Hitchcock would then take over in Columbus. With the head coaching reins, Hitch would lead a young and low talented Blue Jackets team while increasing their progress three consecutive seasons—73, 80, and 92 points. Hitch would also get the 2008-2009 Blue Jackets to their first Playoff appearance. But history would repeat itself, and he would have a quick exit after another poor start.
But my key evidence to Hitchcock being the right man to lead our young and inexperienced Avalanche ties completely with the career of the greatest American-born player, Mike Modano. Here’s some stats on the American Icon:
Year Goals Assists Points +/-
95-96 36 45 81 -12
96-97 35 48 83 +43
97-98 21 38 59 +25
98-99 34 47 81 +29
99-00 38 43 81 Even
00-01 33 51 84 26
You can look heavily at the style of play that Mike Modano was playing before Hitch first took over with the Stars. Modano has always been known as a highly offensive minded player, but look at how his progression changed when Hitch took over. At first glance, you see that his plus/minus drops off, but what you’re not seeing with these stats is how Hitch had entrusted a lot of defensive mindedness and key situations to Mike. When I see this and how Hitch had developed Modano into a more solidified TWO-WAY player, I get excited at the prospect of what Hitch could do with the extremely talented and young Avalanche. Imagine how much of an impact that this disciplined style could have on Landeskog, Johnson, O’Reilly, and most importantly another number 9, Matt Duchene.
I think that Hitch would be a perfect fit to really turn this young, talent-filled team to the next stage of Playoff progression. Hitch has the knowledge and our team has the potential to truly excel toward playoff dominance. I say this but also realize that Ken’s time in Colorado would and should be a short one. Eventually leaving a strong, disciplined and grown team for say…oh….Steve Konowalchuk?
As I type this, I’m watching NHL Live! interview Aaron Portzline, Columbus Dispatch beat writer for the Blue Jackets talk about coaching and general manager changes. Bob McKenzie also spoke on the possibility of Hitch returning to Columbus. I’d really like to see Hitch make the jump to Mile High and see how he can instill his winning style into our extremely talented but very inexperienced team.