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.”
Shattenkirk expects changes, but he supports Hitchcock
The St. Louis Blues’ time is now — or at least, it’s supposed to be. In theory they’re a pretty good team and we have seen a lot of evidence to support that in the regular season, but in four years they have only won one playoff series.
At this point the Blues are drawing comparisons to the San Jose Sharks of old that consistently dominated in the regular season only to come up short in the playoffs. That seems unfair to the Sharks though because in their 10-campaign playoff streak from 2004-14, they were never booted in the first round in back-to-back years. St. Louis has done it three times in a row.
So if the goal is to compete for the Stanley Cup, it seems that changes are likely on the way in St. Louis.
“I would assume so,” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk told NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “Army’s (GM Doug Armstrong) not a guy who’s going to sit back and let this happen year after year.”
Whatever Armstrong does though, Shattenkirk hopes it doesn’t involve showing head coach Ken Hitchcock the door as the blueliner is convinced that the veteran bench boss with 708 wins under his belt is the right man to guide the team going forward.
Similarly, forward T.J. Oshie doesn’t think the current core of players is the problem.
“I guess if you watch the game and you don’t just look at the stat sheet, the core group has been playing some pretty good games since the playoffs,” Oshie said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford. “We’ve been doing a lot of things that Hitch has been asking us to do, and for whatever reason we haven’t gotten the goals… We just haven’t gotten the goals.”
Whatever course Armstrong decides to take, it is important to note that there’s no easy fix. The San Jose Sharks had a lot of turnover during its decade of futility and it never ended up being enough.
Bottom line: The #stlblues have scored 38 goals in 18 playoff games past 3 seasons, or 2.11 goals per game. Simply doesn't cut it.
They weren’t happy after a Game 3 shutout loss to the Minnesota Wild. But the St. Louis Blues emphatically bounced back on Wednesday.
The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to St. Louis for Game 5 on Friday. The Blues were dominant against the Wild in Game 4, coming away with a 6-1 victory after a great start in the first period. The offensive outburst might garner most of the attention, especially when Vladimir Tarasenko scores a goal like this and goalie Devan Dubnyk gets chased from the game.
“It looks like we’ve joined the tournament now and we’re dialed in. We’ve got home-ice back, we’re dialed into our game, we’re going to be hard to play against when we’re dialed in this. Not fun to play against.”
The Wild couldn’t regroup after a slow start.
Minnesota cut the St. Louis lead to two goals early in the second period, as Jared Spurgeon converted on the power play, but any momentum gained from that was didn’t last long.
“It didn’t have the feel of the type of game that we were going to come back,” said Wild head coach Mike Yeo.
“We weren’t on it from the start, and it got worse. Normally, I think we start well but we stay with our game very strongly as far as whether we’re ahead [or] whether we’re behind, and tonight we broke that, that’s for sure.”