Ken Hitchcock will be back behind the St. Louis Blues’ bench next season. The club announced today that the veteran head coach has agreed to return on a one-year contract.
That return was far from a certainty after the Blues once again failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs. There were reports the club was talking with Mike Babcock about replacing Hitchcock, before Babcock decided on Toronto.
But there’s no denying the Blues’ regular-season success (175-79-27) under Hitchcock. For them, it’s been a matter of getting it done in the playoffs, where the past three years they’ve lost to some good teams in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Minnesota.
There will be a press conference this afternoon to discuss the extension.
The St. Louis Blues suffered another crushing playoff letdown in 2014-15, fueling speculation that they might make a big change behind the bench. It sounds like they’ll stick with head coach Ken Hitchcock, after all, however.
That’s the word from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, who said that Hitchcock will remain Blues head coach “barring anything dramatic” during the final moments of this Saturday Headlines segment.
It’s unclear what sort of things would qualify as “dramatic,” although recent stories indicate that both sides were going through some soul searching (rather than the Blues merely pondering a change). Hitchcock mentioned that he needed time to reflect while the team spoke of a decision-making process still taking place heading into this weekend.
It’s pretty easy to lay out the pros and cons of Hitchcock’s tenure with the Blues.
The regular season results have been brilliant. From 2005-06 to 2010-11, St. Louis only made it to the playoffs once (and was summarily swept in 2009). Hitchcock took over during the 2011-12 season, and St. Louis has made the postseason every year he’s been at the helm. In fact, the Blues have won two Central Division titles – no small task – and have finished second or better in his four seasons.
Of course, the success dries up after the final game of each regular season. They’ve only won one playoff series with Hitchcock in charge, even as expectations climbed quite a bit in the past couple seasons.
It would be foolish to pin the blame on Hitchcock alone, yet at 63, it’s understandable if the veteran coach would elect to move on (or for his team to seek a new voice).
On the other hand, it also makes a lot of sense for this to be a last chance season, even if this offseason brings about some big changes.
While there are some big concerns this summer (star winger Vladimir Tarasenko is an RFA and veteran blueliner Barret Jackman is a UFA, among others), some of the Blues’ bargains are on the verge of getting raises.
Jake Allen needs a new contract, while Brian Elliott’s $2.5 million bargain evaporates after 2016-17. Kevin Shattenkirk’s super-cheap at $4.25M, yet that goes away after 2016-17, too. David Backes only has one year left at $4.5M while Jaden Schwartz should expect a big bump from $2.35M after 2015-16.
Long story short, it makes sense for the Blues to take a measured approach with Hitchcock … but they’ll expect dramatic results if he returns in 2015-16.
Armstrong: All Blues signings on hold ’til Tarasenko ‘taken care of’
With the future of head coach Ken Hitchcock up in the air, the club will now put all restricted and unrestricted free agents on the backburner in order to deal with this summer’s No. 1 priority — re-signing Russian sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.
“We are not going to be active in signing other players until we get him taken care of,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong said, per the Post-Dispatch. “If it means allowing players to go to free agency, if it means making players sweat it out on what their deal’s going to be, he’s the priority for us.
“I’d like to partner with him, I’d like to partner with Mike [Liut, Tarasenko’s agent]. If it happens in May, great. If it happens in June, great. If it happens in August, great. He’s the primary guy.”
To be fair, the Blues don’t have a ton of other decisions to make this summer. RFA goalie Jake Allen is No. 2 on the priority chart after Tarasenko, and the club has suggested it’d like to try and get something done with RFA d-man Roberto Bortuzzo.
As for UFAs, longtime Blue Barret Jackman’s future is in doubt. Armstrong said last week the club has “no answer” at the moment to questions about re-signing Jackman, which is obviously tied to Tarasenko. Trade deadline pickups Olli Jokinen, Marcel Goc and Zbynek Michalek would appear to be lower on the aforementioned priority chart.
Armstrong isn’t divulging much about the status of negotiations with Liut, but did reveal a few nuggets. One, there is zero chance No. 91 leaves via an offer sheet, with Armstrong saying it’ll be “easy” for the club to match whatever’s put forth. Armstrong also said the deal will be contingent upon next year’s salary cap, and that — in keeping with the deal struck last summer for forward Jaden Schwartz — Tarasenko will be hamstrung a bit by his RFA status (lest we forget Tarasenko just wrapped his entry-level deal, which paid a base salary of $900,000.)
“He’s going to be very well compensated on a second contract,” Armstrong explained. “But you make more money when you have more rights. He doesn’t have unrestricted free agency rights and that’s just the nature of the beast.
“That’s the business. He gets it, Mike gets it, I get it.”