Even if the St. Louis Blues players are growing weary of their demanding head coach, as the whispers around the league suggest may be the case, it doesn’t sound like GM Doug Armstrong has any inclination to get rid of Ken Hitchcock.
“Yeah, as I’ve said, I look where we were before he got here, and I look where we are now,” Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch. “We’re light years ahead of where we were. … Now, quite honestly, it’s basically up to the players to get the job done.”
Armstrong added that Hitchcock will be the one who determines when there’s a coaching change.
“When he feels that he doesn’t have the desire to do that, I have a job for him that’s going to keep him in the organization for many years,” said the GM.
Related: Risk Factors: St. Louis Blues edition
St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock gets an analytics breakdown between each period to help him get a sense for which matchups are working and which aren’t. That information has helped him make adjustments that have been the difference in close games, but when advanced statistics were first pushed on the veteran bench boss, his reaction was completely different.
“It took me a year and a half to get past being offended by somebody telling me to look past the visual,” Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I was (angry) about analytics coming in, but now it’s changed. I see how useful it is, but I had to get past, ‘You’re telling me …’ I found it offensive when I first started. Now I use it for what it is and it’s good, but I had to get past the mental block of that.”
Hitchcock took pride in being able to analyze the game based on what he saw, but he now believes analytics can help him come to conclusions quicker. It’s allowed him to make changes during a game that he might not have thought about until he had a chance to review the tape. He also cited an example of a time when he broke up a line that appeared to be working based on what he saw, but looked ugly statistically.
“The analytical information was right on the mark,” Hitchcock added. “And it was stuff, I guarantee if I mention the names, you’d say that’s a great line. It should work. We’ve seen it before and (the line) was a nightmare.”
Advanced statistics are moving into the mainstream, although one of the St. Louis Blues’ division rivals, the Colorado Avalanche, are a noteworthy exception.
While Peter Mueller boasts the advantage of at least having a contract (rather than just a tryout invite) with the St. Louis Blues, he must still make a strong impression since he signed a two-way deal.
(The 26-year-old’s contract is worth $700K at the NHL level but drops to $250K in the AHL, according to Cap Geek.)
As nerve-wracking as the prospect of fighting for a spot might be – particularly after going overseas last season, especially on a team Mueller referred to as a “powerhouse” – Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock gave the journeyman forward very simple advice.
With a history of concussion problems and a false-start or two in his career, it would be understandable if Mueller (pictured playing for Team USA) might fear over-thinking things, especially with a defensive-minded coach like Hitchcock. There’s plenty of logic in setting him loose, however, as there’s always the chance he could be a late-blooming prospect (he was selected eighth overall in 2006) like Benoit Pouliot.
Granted, with 13 forwards listed and Jaden Schwartz still in need of a contract, Mueller still faces a significant challenge in sticking around. Taking a positive approach can’t hurt though, right?
Ian Cole was taken in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, but his climb up the ranks has been gradual.
He spent three years in college and then another three seasons bouncing between the AHL and NHL before he stuck with the Blues in 2013-14. However, he still only ended up playing in 46 games and averaged just 15:05 minutes per contest when he did dress. That could change next season though.
“This is a real opportunity for Ian,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s paid his dues. He spent time in the minors. He’s spent time as the seventh defenseman. He’s matured as a person and as a player. It’s his time.
“There’s an open spot, a regular shift. There’s everything there waiting for him, just step up and grab it.”
Hitchcock will be looking for Cole to play a physical game and join the rush. He also expects him to find a balance between playing aggressively and not making “irrational decisions” defensively. That being said, the Blues bench boss is willing to live with some defensive mistakes as a trade off for his work with the puck.
At the same time, Cole’s been focused on improving his positioning as he gets ready to compete for a top-six spot during training camp. Even if the opportunity is there, it’s not a given that Cole will stay out of the press box in 2014-15. Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Barret Jackman are all expected to play regularly when healthy, so Cole will be fighting for one of two spots with Jordan Leopold, Carl Gunnarsson, and Chris Butler.
The St. Louis Blues made perhaps the biggest splash of free agency locking down forward Paul Stastny to a four-year, $28 million deal to shore up their center position.
What did Ken Hitchcock think of the moves the team made? He’s a big fan and not just about the addition of Stastny as he told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (paywall).
“It was really good news for us as coaches. But it was a combination of (Joakim) Lindstrom, (Jori) Lehtera and Paul,” Hitchcock said. “These are three point-producing players who really enhance our hockey club. All three are capable of playing top-six roles.
“Paul is a real good fit for us with the way he plays and the way we play. Lehtera is a real good fit, and we feel like Lindstrom has really improved his game. He has a number of good friends on the hockey club and he’s going to be given a real chance to play in the top nine and see where it goes. It gives us the competitive depth to keep up with what’s going on in the West.”
Never mind the Western Conference, the Central Division is going to be harsh enough to get out of.
The Chicago Blackhawks added Brad Richards, the Dallas Stars added Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, the Minnesota Wild brought on Thomas Vanek, and the Colorado Avalanche may have lost Stastny but they added Jarome Iginla.
Hitchcock said he feels his team isn’t that far away from winning the Stanley Cup and this Blues team might be the best one he’s had. That might be true, but the competition out West got a lot stiffer this summer.