BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Ken Hitchcock is ready to step behind a NHL bench again.
Despite the disappointment of seeing his Canadian team sent home from the IIHF World Hockey Championship with a quarter-final loss to Russia, the veteran coach proved something to himself during the tournament.
“For me it’s all about building teams,” Hitchcock said after Canada’s 2-1 loss to Russia on Thursday night. “If I get the chance I’m very confident now that I can build a good team. If this group can buy in this quick, then you give me two or three months with a decent hockey club …
“If you’re willing to buy in, this thing works.”
Five NHL teams are currently without a head coach and Hitchcock is one of the biggest names available. He’s clearly looking for a different job than the one he last had in Columbus, where he guided a young team to its first ever playoff berth before being fired in February 2010 after three-plus seasons.
Reports have linked him to the New Jersey Devils, a veteran team that underachieved in the first half of last season and went on to miss the playoffs.
“I know (my name) is everywhere,” said Hitchcock. “We’ll see.”
Ottawa, Minnesota, Dallas and Florida are also looking for a new head coach.
Pete DeBoer, fired by the Panthers after the regular season, was an assistant on Hitchcock’s staff at the world championship and could also be a candidate for NHL jobs during the off-season. Scott Arniel of the Blue Jackets was Canada’s other assistant in Slovakia.
“The whole coaching staff did an outstanding job,” said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson.
The 59-year-old Hitchcock has coached more than 1,000 NHL games with Dallas, Philadelphia and Columbus and won a Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999.
Interestingly, one of his most pointed comments following Thursday’s loss was directed at Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk. He scored the winning goal against Canada—something he also did at the 2008 world championship—prompting a Russian reporter to ask Hitchcock if Kovalchuk was giving him nightmares.
“He wasn’t much of a nightmare at the (Vancouver) Olympics,” Hitchcock responded.