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Lockout over, short camp and schedule will challenge NHL coaches

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Ken Hitchcock

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock says he’ll have to keep things simple and tweak some routines. (David E. Klutho/SI)

By Stu Hackel

UPDATE (Sat 10:22 PM): Chris Johnson of Canadian Press tweets the Memorandum of Understanding has been signed which official ends the lockout. The league issued a press release shortly afterward. Schedules are set to be released immediately (the full NHL schedule is here) and teams can begin conducting transactions two hours after the signing, probably around midnight Eastern Time. Training camps will open Sunday. The NHL is, after 119 days back in business. Eric Duhatschek of The Globe and Mail tweeted, “Originally, NHL scheduled to play 82 games in 183 days, or 1 game every 2.23 days. Now, 48 games in 98 days, or 1 game every 2.04 days.”

 The NHLPA ratified the new CBA Saturday and, pending the completion of the Memorandum of Understanding between the owners and the players on the new CBA, the NHL’s 30 clubs will open training camp on Sunday. Six days later, we start the abridged 48-game season, what most are calling a sprint to the postseason — quite a change from the way the regular season is viewed in a normal year: as a marathon.

UPDATE (Sat. 5:40 PM): The NHLPA has announced its members voted to ratify the CBA, but said that the agreement cannot become official until the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is finalized. Jesse Spector of The Sporting News tweeted that 667 players voted to accept and 12 voted “No.” There were reportedly  84 abstentions.  More on the delay in the previous update.

UPDATE (Sat. 4 PM): Somewhat unexpectedly — or perhaps not, considering the erratic nature of this entire process — the announcement of the PA’s ratification of the CBA has been delayed. This is because the Memorandum of Understanding between the league and players is still being drafted by the lawyers for both sides. The MOU summarizes the agreement reached in the negotiations and functions as the legal document of owner-player relations until the complete CBA is drafted, which is a much longer process. The NHLPA tweeted on Saturday morning, “Per agreement with the NHL, we will announce results of player vote later today. Discussions to finalize the MOU continue this morning.” Sports law analyst Eric Macramalla, whose thoughts explaining various legal moves during the negotiations, tweeted about the MOU earlier Saturday afternoon, “Drafting NHL Memorandum is massive legal undertaking; complicated issues, Canada/US laws – takes time; will be done today; NHL sked follows.” Teams and the league have refrained from releasing their schedules until the MOU is done and the NHLPA announces the results of its ratification vote, which concluded Saturday mooring. It is widely expected that the players approved the deal and training camps will open on Sunday. Teams also cannot make any roster moves, including contract signings and trades, until the MOU is completed and, while players have resumed skating at team facilities, coaches cannot join them as long as the lockout has not been officially concluded.

Because hockey players and coaches thrive best in familiar situations, the unusual nature of this season will require major adjustments in the way they prepare for and approach the opening puck drop. The shortened season will be thrilling, but nerve-wracking for everyone, with little time for experimentation or room for error.

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  • Published On Jan 11, 2013
  • My favorite hockey stories of 2012

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    Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

    One year after a tragic plane crash decimated the KHL team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl returned to the ice. Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov (left, greeting former Capitals teammate Alex Ovechkin after a game) has been tending goal. (Photo by Yury Kuzmin/KHL Photo Agency via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    A big dark storm cloud lingers over any celebration of hockey in 2012. It’s the NHL lockout and it has been showering grief on the game and its fans for over three months. Now, it also makes my job here a bit easier compared to my colleagues who are covering other sports because so little has happened between June and December that the range of choices for my favorite stories of the year has been sliced dramatically. Still, I’d rather be burdened by having to choose from a full plate.

    That said, here are my 10 highlights. (You can read other SI.com writers’ picks here and view a gallery of the 112 most amazing sports moments of 2012 here.)

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  • Published On Dec 20, 2012
  • Can Blues rise against rugged Kings?

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    The Blues hope to get defenseman Alex Pietrangelo back from his injuries, but it will take a team-wide effort to get St. Louis out of its surprising funk vs. the Kings. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    What a curious little theme we’ve had going recently in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs — addition by subtraction. The Devils were forced to play without sniper Ilya Kovalchuk and came up with a fine road performance in beating the Flyers 4-1 on Tuesday. The Capitals cut into Alex Ovechkin’s ice time in Monday’s Game 2 and beat the Rangers 3-2 (although he was certainly out there a lot in Game 3′s near-doubleheader loss to New York). The Predators, playing poorly and down 2-0 in games to the Coyotes, suspended their two top scorers for Wednesday’s Game 3 at home and pulled off one of their trademark textbook  victories, a 2-0 Pekka Rinne shutout.

    Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way for the Blues earlier this week. They were without their best defenseman — maybe their best player — in Alex Pietrangelo for Game 2 at home against the Kings, and rather than respond positively to the adversity, they played their worst period in memory, falling behind 4-0, never recovering, and ultimately losing 5-2. Now, they must skate in Los Angeles for the next pair, and the upstart Kings have a chance to put them in the sleeperhold.

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  • Published On May 03, 2012
  • Who’s in the hunt for Coach of the Year?

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    Another season of dealing with age, injuries and getting the most out of his team likely won’t be enough to earn Detroit bench boss Mike Babcock his first Jack Adams Award. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    It’s been a rough season for coaches. Eight have been replaced, three — Lindy Ruff, Tom Renney and Todd McLellan – have been injured and forced to miss some games, and then there’s poor Randy Cunneyworth, the good soldier who accepted the toughest coaching job in the league, with the Canadiens,  which was made all the more difficult because they are no good and he’s unilingual.

    With the NHL season heading down the home stretch, our thoughts also turn to the good work some coaches have done. These are the men who deserve consideration for the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year.

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  • Published On Mar 07, 2012
  • Taking stock of goaltending

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    Goalies can be like Mama Gump’s box of chocolates — you never know what you’re gonna get — and that’s been very true for the St. Louis Blues with Brian Elliott (left) this season. (Minas Panagiotakis/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    The news from St. Louis that the Blues have rewarded Brian Elliott with a two-year contract extension sparked a few thoughts about goaltending in general and the Blues in particular.

    There is no official NHL award for comeback player of the year, and even if there was, Elliott might not actually be a good choice because his earlier incarnation as a goalie for the Ottawa Senators produced only one good season (29-18-4, 2.57 goals-againt average and .909 save percentage with five shutouts in 2009-10) and a few not so good ones. But his work so far this season (15-5-1, 1.68 and .937) has him swimming with the big fish of NHL netminders, namely The Bruins’ Tim Thomas, the Predators’ Pekka Rinne and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist. (SI.com’s Michael Farber looked at Elliott’s emergence in a recent column.)

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  • Published On Jan 19, 2012
  • NHL: The first-half report

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    The Rangers and the Bruins have clearly been the class of the NHL so far. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    The NHL’s  regular season is at the halfway point. A number of teams have hit the 41-game mark and the 615th contest of the 1230-game schedule was played on Monday. So here are some things that have struck us so far, in no particular order.

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  • Published On Jan 11, 2012
  • Blue Jackets adrift in NHL’s backwater

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    Like so much that has gone wrong for the Blue Jackets throughout their history, adding Jeff Carter (left) to help set up sniper Rick Nash (right) has turned out to be a miserable failure. (Photo by Terry Gilliam/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    It seemed as if the electrician arrived shortly after the Blue Jackets’ lost 7-4 to the no longer mighty Ducks on Sunday to fix the lightbulb over GM Scott Howson’s head. When it went on at last, a bright idea arrived: It was time to fire the coach of the NHL’s 30th-best team.

    The truth is, the Jackets aren’t exactly swimming in money and they didn’t relish the thought of having to pay yet another coach not to coach. Further to Howson’s credit, he was loyal to Scott Arniel, his hand-picked selection, for longer than anybody expected. Arniel might well have what it takes to be a good bench boss — the players never quit on him – but Scotty Bowman couldn’t turn this impoverished group into winners. That task now falls to Arniel’s former assistant, Todd Richards, who had been head coach of the Minnesota Wild for the last couple of years while not getting them to the playoffs either time.

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  • Published On Jan 10, 2012
  • It’s the time of the season for NHL coaching upheaval

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    Despite his recent three-year extension, coach Randy Carlyle was given the old heave-ho at the season’s quarter pole before the struggling Ducks fell too far out of the playoff race. (Joe Scarnici/ZUMAPRESS.com)

    By Stu Hackel

    As this week dawned, Bruce Boudreau was coaching the Capitals, Paul Maurice was bench-bossing the Hurricanes and Randy Carlyle was directing the Ducks. It’s only Thursday and, today, Bruce Boudreau is directing the Ducks, Kirk Muller is bench-bossing the Hurricanes and Dale Hunter is coaching the Caps. What will tomorrow bring?

    Firing coaches has gone viral in the NHL. Why? “It’s about the time,” says Scotty Bowman, the legendary Hall of Famer who won nine Stanley Cups as a coach. “The first quarter of the season is gone. You’re coming up to the one-third mark now. The end of this month you’re halfway. These teams, if they don’t make a move now, it’s going to be a long season and they’re not going to catch up.”

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  • Published On Dec 01, 2011
  • Coaches at work: Flames friction, rematch in Buffalo, Bylsmaspeak and more

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    Philosophical differences between coach Brent Sutter and captain Jarome Iginla do not bode well for the Flames. (Colleen De Neve/ZUMAPRESS.com)

    By Stu Hackel

    Coaches are hired to be fired, as the saying goes. But what happens in between cements the perception we have of the guys who stand behind the bench in the NHL, the ones who prepare their teams in long hours of meetings and video study. It’s a hard job, especially when fans, the media and even the players believe they know better than the coach what a team should be doing.

    That seems to be the situation in which Flames coach Brent Sutter finds himself vis a vis his captain Jarome Iginla. Sutter believes his team won’t be the consistent force it can be unless everyone buys into his scheme, and that Calgary will continue to play as a bunch of individuals and not realize the potential of its collective talents. Specifically, he wants Iginla — the 15-year NHL veteran who has topped the 1,000 point plateau and is only 11 goals away from 500 — to concentrate on his defensive game.

    Right now, the 34-year-old Iginla is minus-12, with only five goals and four assists — not vintage Iggy.

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  • Published On Nov 23, 2011
  • Blues come calling, a Leafs mystery, more

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    Goaltender Brian Elliott has been a surprising part of the Blues’ turnaround under coach Ken Hitchcock. (Jimmy Simmons/ZUMAPRESS.com)

    By Stu Hackel

    Some thoughts from around the NHL:..

    The Blues defeated the Panthers Thursday tonight in a matchup of  two of the NHL’s more interesting clubs — and who would have thought they’d describe them that way a couple of weeks ago? The Blues are improved since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach, winning four of five and in the fifth getting a point after losing the postgame skills competition to the Maple Leafs.

    The Blues’ wins have all come at home, but now they play five of their next seven games are on the road. Their special teams play is better. Hitchcock has simplified the game for the players (Bernie Miklasz’s column today in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has more on that) and, probably most importantly, the Blues are getting very good goaltending, especially from Brian Elliott, who was not even guaranteed a roster spot in training camp.
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  • Published On Nov 17, 2011


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