This is part of St. Louis Blues day at PHT…
The St. Louis Blues have one of the more interesting coaching situations in the NHL this season.
We already know that it is going to be Ken Hitchcock’s last year behind the bench because he has said he plans on stepping away from coaching at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. So he isn’t going to be coaching the team in 2017 no matter what the team does this year, so it doesn’t seem like it would be much of a pressure situation.
But it probably still is. At least a little bit.
What makes this a bit of a pressure situation for him is the way the Blues have gone about lining up his successor, former Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo. He is already a member of the coaching staff as an assistant, and we know he is going to be the next head coach of the Blues. It is just a matter of whether it happens after the 2016-17 season as originally planned, or sometime before then.
And that is where the pressure might be on Hitchcock a little bit this season.
Even though the Blues have been one of the best teams in the NHL over the past four years under Hitchcock, winning at least 49 games in each of the past three seasons, Hitchcock always seems to be sitting on the hot seat because of the team’s shortcomings and early exits when the playoffs start. Before last season, where the Blues advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals, the team had been knocked out in the first round in three consecutive seasons, and it seemed likely that if they did not win that Game 7 in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015 that they might have just cleaned house and gutted the whole thing over the summer after another early exit.
Because they got through it and then won another Game 7 against the Dallas Stars in the second round, it definitely bought everybody another year. At least to start.
When you put everything together this situation just seems like an obvious candidate for an in-season coaching change if the Blues do not have a fast start out of the gate, or are not where management wants them to be around the mid-point of the season. Hitchcock has already seemingly been on the hot seat within the past year or two, everybody knows he is not coming back after this season, and the Blues don’t have to do anything to find a replacement if they need one in the middle of the season. Because the replacement is already going to be working — literally — behind the team’s bench this season.
Is there some heat between St. Louis Blues superstar Vladimir Tarasenko and hard-nosed head coach Ken Hitchcock?
Some are floating that thought, especially following what looked like a tense exchange (see video above) during Game 6.
Hitchcock is the sort of “gruff” coach who, the story goes, doesn’t always get along with certain players.
One can debate things back and forth and over-analyze various interactions between the two, but it seems clear that a huge chunk of Hockey Twitter believes that Tarasenko isn’t being used properly.
Simply put, plenty of smart people think that he isn’t getting the sort of ice time that befits a sniper who’s really cemented himself among the elite during this regular season and an impressive first round.
Here are some stunned reactions:
There were plenty of less polished responses that expressed similar thoughts in pretty amusing ways:
(ALL CAPS OFTEN GET A LAUGH.)
It may be an exaggeration to imply that there is any bad blood between Hitchcock and Tarasenko, even if the latter might be a little peeved that he isn’t getting more opportunities to influence games. (Tarasenko’s been brilliant, after all.)
Even so, this could be the sort of strategic decision that draws some serious criticism if the Blues bow out in Game 7.
Long known as one of the NHL’s more innovative coaches, St. Louis’ Ken Hitchcock has come up with a new strategy:
Instead of using his timeout, he’ll make a superfluous goalie change.
More, from the Post-Dispatch:
On two occasions this season, Hitchcock has pulled Jake Allen or Brian Elliott from the game briefly, buying time for his team without burning a timeout.
The latest instance happened in the second period of Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Toronto, after the Maple Leafs took a 3-1 lead.
Allen was called to the Blues’ bench and looked frustrated by the move. Replaced by Elliott, he was off the ice for 2 minutes, 8 seconds before returning.
Hitchcock admitted Elliott and Allen dislike the strategy — “I don’t think they’re OK with it,” he said — but added that he wasn’t going to waste his single timeout if he didn’t have to, regardless of who he riles up.
To be honest, it’s not a bad move.
Hitchcock’s strategy is especially important this year with the implementation of the coach’s challenge, as bench bosses need to have their timeout available in order to make one.
Earlier this season, Avs head coach Patrick Roy admitted he didn’t call timeout during Minnesota’s four-goals-in-5:07 outburst against his club, because he wanted the option to possibly challenge a call later in the game.
When his St. Louis Blues blanked the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-0 on Saturday, Ken Hitchcock passed Pat Quinn for fifth all-time in wins for an NHL head coach with 685.
While shootout victories likely helped to some extent, it’s worth noting that Hitchcock reached this mark in 1,285 games while Quinn hit 684 wins in 1,400. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Hitchcock should finish the 2014-15 season in fourth place all-time, as Dick Irvin sits at 692 wins in 1,449 games.
Here’s the top five, via Hockey Reference:
1. Scotty Bowman – 1,244
2. Al Arbour – 782
3. Joel Quenneville – 734
4. Dick Irvin – 692
5. Ken Hitchcock – 685
As far as other active head coaches with a lot of wins (beyond Coach Q in Chicago, who isn’t that far off from second place), Lindy Ruff has 631 wins, Barry Trotz has 581 and these guys round out the top 30:
16. Darryl Sutter – 527
17. Mike Babcock – 509
18. Paul Maurice – 502
23. Alain Vigneault – 492
24. Dave Tippett – 480
26. Claude Julien: 453
29. Peter Laviolette – 419
Could be interesting to see where some of those coaches end up down the line.
We don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but things haven’t gone all that great in the playoffs for the St. Louis Blues.
Three years in a row the Blues have had huge regular-season performances, and all they have to show for it are two first-round losses and one second-round exit. A single series win over the San Jose Sharks isn’t anything to hang a banner over, and that’s something coach Ken Hitchcock knows.
What’s done in the Blues has been a mix of two things: Shoddy goaltending and a lack of offensive punch. St. Louis will look to answer those issues with a netminding tandem of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, and an offense that added Paul Stastny. They also hotly pursued Jason Spezza in an effort to further boost goal production, but Stastny’s addition was what helped make the Blues winners on paper in free agency.
We know the Western Conference is difficult and the Blues’ division got a lot more difficult last season with the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, and Minnesota Wild all finding their way. Throw them into the mix with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Central Division is a bloodbath waiting to happen. Just what the Blues needed, right?
That’s why there’s so much pressure on Hitchcock. Should the Blues make the playoffs and suffer another early exit, it will certainly lead to questions about his work behind the bench, as well as for the players on the ice. But as we’ve seen in the past, those kinds of battles usually result in the coach losing first.