Ken Hitchcock interview: Oilers coach talks admiration for Andy Reid, 2003-04 Flyers, more

Ken Hitchcock interview: Oilers coach talks admiration for Andy Reid, 2003-04 Flyers, more

EDMONTON, Alberta — Ken Hitchcock just can’t get enough.

The 66-year-old is now behind the bench for his fifth different NHL team, and his sixth different head coaching job.

Hitchcock is currently third on the NHL’s all-time wins list behind Scotty Bowman and Joel Quenneville.

I caught up with Hitchcock Friday as we discussed coaching a superstar, the 2003-04 Flyers, new Flyers assistant Rick Wilson and his admiration for Andy Reid.

JB: "Have the Oilers and your previous teams responded because of a different voice in the room?"

KH: “No, I don’t think that’s right necessarily. I’ve learned over time that the pregame prep — and I’ve said this to people — the pregame preparation is one of the most overrated things in our sport. Because you’re saying the same things over and over again. But postgame preparation is not. It’s really important. And how you move the train along the tracks is all in your postgame review. I’ve learned that critical stuff back when I was in Dallas and in Philly. Everything you do on non-game days matters.”

JB: "Do you have a lighter side after all these years?"  

KH: “I don’t believe there’s a lighter side, but I’ve learned over time in generations. When I first started in this game, you told players what to do and that was it. Then you got to what and how to do it. And that became relevant. And now it’s what, how and why, and what’s in it for them. And you better be prepared to go the distance in explaining all of those in detail or you’re not going to get a buy-in."

JB: "Do you know when players are tuning you out?"

KH: “My job is to get players to do things that are really uncomfortable, and find value in that. When you get to a team that does it, but does it [inconsistently], you know that it’s hard. Your job is to get them through the wall and out the other side. That’s very difficult to do.

"The feel you have as a coach is, when it’s inconsistent, you know that there is some resistance in the room. That’s when you need the general manager [to have your back]. When they do it, and they don’t do it. And they do it, and they don’t do it. The feel that you have is, somebody or something is stopping them.”

JB: "Which teams did you coach that were ready to listen?"

KH: “Sometimes teams are in the position where they’re ready to listen. That happened to me in Philadelphia, and we just took right off. The year we lost in the conference finals, we had the best team by a mile. If we stay healthy, there’s nobody that touches us. We win a Cup. I’m dying on that vine with that one, because I knew how good we were.”

JB: "Why aren't you on a beach in Florida?"

KH: “I just had coffee with Rick Wilson (Flyers assistant) and we both said, ‘Are we friggin’ nuts?’ We were the mayors of the coffee club. I got to tell you. Both of us miss one thing and that’s the thing that drives us, and that is we both love having a stake in the game. Whether it’s a coach or as a consultant or whatever, we love having a stake in the game.

"That’s the fuel that is our fire. I can’t watch hockey as a fan. When I was watching a game when I wasn’t coaching, I’d watch until I had the information, then I’d turn the TV off and watch the History Channel. But I needed that stake. That’s the same as Rick. That’s the fuel that fires us up. I’ve had long talks with Tony LaRussa. I’ve had long talks with Andy [Reid] about this stuff. That’s why we don’t want to get out.”

JB: "You mentioned Andy Reid. Is there a coach you truly admire?"

KH: “I like the way Andy does business. I like the way Andy does it. I like the way he runs his operation. I like the way Tony did it. There’s a group of us. I really admire the way [Mike] Babcock does it. I really admire the way Mike does things. He’s not afraid to go into the tough areas with emotions with the players, and I like the way he does business.”

Hitchock on coaching Connor McDavid: “The thing that’s unique to him is that he’s a fearless, reckless player. He’s a tremendous athlete, a tremendous player but he’s fearless — willing to pay any price to score a goal, to attack. He goes into places that make me nervous just being on the bench. Absolutely reckless and fearless, in order to get into scoring areas.”

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5 Flyers takeaways: Why Brian Elliott is back, what could be next, more

5 Flyers takeaways: Why Brian Elliott is back, what could be next, more

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers continued their busy roster construction with the re-signing of goalie Brian Elliott on Wednesday afternoon to nail down the team's backup for Carter Hart in 2019-20.

General manager Chuck Fletcher has made things happen, while the start of the July 1 free agency period has yet to arrive.

With that said, let's get into five takeaways on the recent developments with the Flyers:

1. Good for the Hart?

The Flyers did their homework in search for a backup goaltender. After exhausting and analyzing all avenues, they were confident with bringing back Elliott, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent.

"We took full advantage of the shopping period, as I believe he did, too," Fletcher said Wednesday at Flyers Skate Zone. "We spoke to quite a few goaltenders this week, quite a few agents for goaltenders this week. We did a lot of due diligence looking into everyone's background, medical histories and stats — everything we can do."

Fletcher said the Flyers talked "extensively" to both Elliott and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Cam Talbot. Ultimately, Talbot indicated to the Flyers that he was "looking for a situation where he felt he might play a little bit more than what he anticipated playing here," Fletcher said.

As we wrote here, Elliott was a cost-effective, internal option for the Flyers. Does his recent injury history make the decision a risk? Absolutely, but Fletcher noted how Elliott finished the 2018-19 season healthy and said the 34-year-old feels "the best he's felt in a while" since his core muscle issues.

He has a full summer of training. He's not just rehabbing, he's training.

At the end of the day, we know Brian as well as, if not better than, everybody — we know his medical history, we know how he fits in the room, we know how he fits with Carter and we know how well he plays.

He takes care of himself, he's a high-end competitor and he's a good teammate. For us, it made a lot of sense.

2. Net gains

Elliott is competitive and will push Hart for playing time. Given Talbot was eyeing more starts elsewhere, it's clear Elliott was receptive to the situation with the Flyers: Hart is the guy. It doesn't mean Elliott won't be needed. After all, Hart will be only 21 years old and in his first full NHL season, while the Flyers have 17 back-to-back sets on their schedule.

"I anticipate both guys playing," Fletcher said. "I think the days of a 65- to 70-game goaltender are probably gone. Somewhere in the 30-to-50 range for each guy … it'll depend on performance, health and schedule."

If the Flyers can get 30 games out of Elliott, they'd take it. Even after he missed a 40-game stretch last season with a lower-body injury, Elliott still managed to play 26 games.

3. Placing Pitlick

The Flyers on Monday acquired forward Tyler Pitlick in a trade with the Stars.

How does the 27-year-old work into the team's plans?

"He's been mainly a bottom-six player," Fletcher said. "He's played the third line, he's the played fourth line, he brings good size, he's a good skater. Has a pretty consistent north-south, physical game. Brings a lot of energy. Shoots the puck pretty well, he can certainly score a goal, but his bread and butter is that puck pressure, forechecking type of game. The size and the speed fit well with what we want to try to create in terms of our bottom six."

The Flyers definitely want to be tougher to play against and Pitlick should help. If anything, he gives Alain Vigneault and the coaching staff another piece. Moving Ryan Hartman in the deal offered the Flyers a bit more cost certainty with the cap and signing their restricted free agents.

4. More to come?

Are the Flyers done adding? Not necessarily.

The club has around $16 million in cap space if Philippe Myers makes the roster over David Schlemko. Fletcher still needs to sign four restricted free agents in Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Scott Laughton and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

"We have plenty of cap space to bring our players back," Fletcher said. "Whether we have enough to go add another player, I'm not sure about that."

With the way the offseason has gone, don't ever rule out a trade. But it sounds like if the Flyers are seeking anything else, it will come in the form of depth at forward.

"We feel we've made some key additions, we've filled some holes and we have some pretty good young kids coming, too," Fletcher said. "I think our depth will be significantly better and hopefully on July 1 and 2, we'll have some more announcements to make on some players that can come in and help our organization — whether it's in Lehigh Valley or Philadelphia. I think we'll be in a good space in having good players and having sufficient depth."

5. A kid's game

Fletcher has not ruled out a prospect taking a job within the group of forwards. That, along with the cap, are reasons for why the Flyers don't appear overly eager to land a high-end forward before training camp.

Some prospects that could potentially fill out the Flyers' lineup: Aube-Kubel, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev, Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe.

"We have five real good wingers — certainly better wingers than any team I've been a part of," Fletcher said. "To me, that wasn't an area of weakness. But we'll see. We'll also see what comes out of training camp. Just watching this development camp, there are a lot of young kids, and ideally they all get some time in the American league, but there's a lot of high-end talent here.

"It's been impressive to see. Our scouting staff has done a tremendous job. This is the most talent I've seen in a development camp in my whatever number of years I've been in the business — both in terms of quality and quantity and every position.

"At some point, there are certainly players in this camp right now that could impact our roster in a positive way."

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Flyers sign Brian Elliott to 1-year contract extension

Flyers sign Brian Elliott to 1-year contract extension

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers have their backup for Carter Hart.

Brian Elliott on Wednesday signed a one-year, $2 million contract extension with the Flyers. The 34-year-old was set to become an unrestricted free agent after two seasons with the Flyers in which he went 34-22-8 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .908 save percentage over 69 games (65 starts). He has battled injuries each year, missing a 40-game stretch last season because of a lower-body injury and significant time in 2017-18 following core muscle surgery he underwent on Feb. 13.

The backup to Hart will be crucial in 2019-20. Not only will Hart be just 21 years old and facing his first full NHL season, but the Flyers also play 17 back-to-back sets, which is four more than they did a year ago. Thirteen of those sets will be a part of stretches in which the Flyers play three games in four nights.

"Brian has played well for us the last two seasons," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a release by the team. "He is a proven, quality goaltender who competes and battles hard every time he has the net. We are excited to have him rejoin our team."

The Flyers had Elliott and Cam Talbot, two soon-to-be unrestricted free agents, as No. 2 options. They also could have gone the trade or free-agent market route. Fletcher, though, had more pressing areas to address like signing Kevin Hayes to bolster the forwards, reshaping the defense and creating as much cap flexibility as possible. Elliott was a veteran, cost-effective, internal option, but was he the best option?

While Elliott doesn't appear as the most reliable backup given his age and recent injury history, he's played in a tandem for most his career, is familiar with the Flyers and has at least been productive when healthy. He'll have to prove he can stay healthy enough to spell Hart from time to time. If he can't, the Flyers could be in trouble — again — and scrambling for somebody that can be trusted.

At his end-of-the season press conference, you could sense Elliott's competitiveness.

"The mentor thing gets kind of caught up. It's a tough word choice," Elliott said. "I think [Hart] needs someone that is going to help him along the way and push him to be better. Hartsy is a great young goalie and is going to be good in this league for a long time. The Philly fans have a lot to look forward to."

The Flyers have around $16 million in cap space if Philippe Myers is on the roster over David Schlemko. Fletcher has to re-sign restricted free agents Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Scott Laughton and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

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