St. Louis Blues: 5 Reasons Ken Hitchcock Is the Best Coach in the NHL
The Jack Adams trophy is awarded to the coach in the NHL "adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success". It is an award that every NHL coach strives to win year after year.
Hitchcock came into St. Louis determined to have the team reach its full potential. With two years of missing the playoffs, Hitchcock was ready to bring the team back into the postseason.
He did that and more. The Blues finished atop the Central Division, and only two points out of the top seed in the West and from the Presidents' Trophy. He brought the Blues back to the glory they had before the lockout.
Hitch was recognized as the best coach in the NHL, and here are the five reasons why.
'Defense First' Mentality
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Huge parts of the Blues' success this past season were the defense and goaltending.
The Blues had a GAA of 1.89 and allowed the fewest average shots per game with 26.7. Before Hitchcock came to St. Louis, the Blues were 17th in GAA (2.78) while still second in shots allowed (27.7).
While part of the success was due to Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak having monster years, another part was a security measure. Halak and Elliott could play a little farther out of the crease and make slightly riskier plays because they knew their defense was back to help them out.
Hitchcock taught his defensemen the effects that shot-blocking has for helping out their goaltenders and taught the forwards how important it was to backcheck to the zone.
A saying in sports is "Defense wins championships," and while the Blues didn't win a championship, they did prove defense is necessary for success.
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In his first year in the NHL since being fired in the 2009-2010 season, Ken Hitchcock won the Jack Adams award. While it is a prestigious award, it was not his biggest accomplishment.
When Ken Hitchcock took over the Dallas Stars in 1995-1996, the team ended with a sixth-place finish in the Central. The very next season, the Stars climbed up to the top of the Central Division, but lost in the first round of the postseason. In the 1997-1998 season, he led the Stars to a first-place finish in the Central again and lost in the conference finals.
And in 1998-1999, Hitchcock won the Pacific Division and led the Dallas Stars to their first and only Stanley Cup championship.
Hitchcock was able to take a bottom-feeder and turn it into a playoff-ready team in just one season. And after that season, he built off the success until the Stars ultimately won it all.
In St. Louis, Hitchcock took a 6-7 team headed for a bottom-half finish in the West and had it climb the standings until it was Central Division champion and a Stanley Cup threat.
Hitchcock is looking to add to the success of the last season like he did in Dallas. But with the complete turnaround he did with the Blues in just his first season, imagine where he can take the Blues by the time his contract is up.
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Because the Blues are such a young team, they needed someone to hold them accountable for the mistakes the team made. Davis Payne, being the players' coach that he is, could not reach the players enough to have them change their ways.
Ken Hitchcock made an impact immediately.
Hitchcock was respected in the locker room because of what he did in the past, and the players knew that. He took the players and held them accountable for the mistakes they made on and off the ice.
But he also made sure that his players bought into the philosophy of the team. He knew how important it was to make sure that the entire team was focused on the same goals, and not on individual goals.
Hitchcock took a young team that needed a sense of direction and righted the ship. He held his players and himself accountable, and had the team work as one.
Connection to Youth
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When Hitchcock was fired from the Columbus Blue Jackets, he didn't disappear from the sport.
In 2010, just weeks after he being fired, Hitch was behind the bench for Team Canada in Vancouver as an assistant coach. In pool play, Canada went only 1-1-1 with a plus-7 goal differential. It lost to the US team 5-3, but set up a fantastic gold medal game. Hitch helped lead Team Canada to a gold medal, with Sidney Crosby scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to seal the victory.
After the Olympics, Hitchcock was in the juniors, getting to know the players of the younger generation. He was always eying a return to the NHL and wanted a relationship with the players of the future.
Hitchcock may be a coach focused on structure and discipline, but he is a coach that his players want to play for. He has a connection with the older guys and is finding out how to build relationships with players early so when they get to the NHL, they already trust him.
Hitchcock is cementing himself in the NHL for years to come.
Working as a Team
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Hockey is the ultimate team sport, and no matter how good a coach is, his success depends on the team's success.
Hitchcock made sure that all of his players bought into the team's philosophies. Every one of his players knew why they were doing what they were doing.
All of his forwards knew why they were backchecking into the defensive zone and why they were forechecking deep in the offensive zone. Every defenseman knew why they were blocking shots in the defensive zone and why they would help pinch in the offensive zone.
But perhaps the biggest part of his team play was the fact he succeeded without a superstar.
The Blues are a team filled with great players. But none of them are household names. Before Hitchcock came around, few people outside of St. Louis knew of T.J. Oshie, David Perron or Patrik Berglund. Now, because Hitchcock put every player in a specific role to help the team win, fans and teams alike are now getting to know just how good the Blues are.
Hitchcock took a young, undiscovered team with raw talent and put it into a system designed to its strengths that helped it win. And that is the biggest testament to just how good he really is.