‘I’ve got no issues’ with Hitchcock, says Blues captain Backes

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While it was hardly a glowing endorsement, St. Louis captain David Backes did offer support for head coach Ken Hitchcock who, on Tuesday, signed a one-year extension with the club.

“I’ve got no issues with him,” Backes said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Does he ride guys hard and has he been on my case at times, where it’s made me angry? Yes. But he does it in the light of trying to make our team better, trying to make each individual player better.”

Prior to the playoffs, many assumed Hitchcock’s future in St. Louis would be decided in the playoffs — specifically the first round (as in, could he get the Blues past it?) The answer was “no” for the third straight year; the Blues lost in six games to Minnesota, and it was widely speculated that would be the end of Hitch’s time with the organization.

But that’s why they call it speculation.

Shortly after the loss, Blues owner Tom Stillman preached composure, saying that while he was “frustrated and disappointed” with the way the season ended, he wasn’t ready to “throw people under the bus.”

“For two reasons I don’t think that’s a great idea,” Stillman explained. “First, you should take a careful, deliberate look at what happened — what we did, what we didn’t do — and then make sure we figure out how we don’t do that again, and break through in the playoffs.

“The other reason is a matter of, I guess, leadership. We have an organization that’s going to continue forward, and I’m responsible for making sure that the organization gets it right and is successful. I don’t think it’s helpful if I’m up here and start blaming people and cutting off people’s heads.”

Those words suggested the Blues knew they had a good coach in Hitchcock — and to be fair, few question his knowledge and tactical ability — but needed time to analyze the relationship between Hitch and his players. This was, after all, the same coach that’s been accused of wearing down people with his demanding nature and, at times, an overwhelming “information overload.”

Just consider what T.J. Oshie said about the Blues following a bad loss to Vancouver in March.

“I know we’re not [in the playoffs] yet, but there’s a lot of information going around, and guys are getting a little indecisive,” Oshie explained. “I’m not sure what it looks like from up top, but I think guys aren’t really sticking with their gut and going with their first instinct.”

This isn’t to say the Blues were anti-Hitch. In late April, Blues d-man Kevin Shattenkirk threw his support behind the head coach.

Backes re-iterated as much today. The captain said that while that playing for Hitchcock is challenging, those challenges can often be rewarding.

“I think if you get caught up in those individual moments at the time you’re under the gun, having an interview, those comments come out,” he explained. “But when you take a step back and you realize, ‘Oh that’s why he was all over me because I was not being as productive as I could be,’ he’s very effective.”

Report: Blues will stick with Hitchcock ‘barring anything dramatic’

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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.

source: AP
Source: AP

 

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.

Blues have ‘no answer’ about re-signing Jackman

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Barret Jackman wants to keep playing hockey, and wants to do it in St. Louis.

That much is known.

What isn’t known, though, is if the Blues want to bring back their current longest-tenured player, who sits No. 2 among the franchise leaders in games played.

“We’ve got to look at the cap and we’ve got to look at the role that he wants on the team,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong said of Jackman, per the Post-Dispatch. “Then I’ve got to find out the role the team has for him.

“So there’s no answer to that right now.”

Jackman, 34, is in the last of a three-year, $9.5 million deal with St. Louis, where he has has spent his entire 14-year career. Though he’s never blossomed into the star many projected upon winning the Calder in 2003, Jackman’s had a very solid run as a durable, physical and shutdown defenseman that blocks plenty of shots (finishing second on the team this year.)

He also knows he wants to keep playing not just next year, but beyond.

“I have lots left in me,” he said. “I don’t know, four-five years, year-to-year. The body’s the best it’s felt in years. I’ll continue to keep playing.”

The issue, of course, is that the Blues have big money already tied up in their defense with the Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk contracts. There are cheaper options for bottom-pairing guys, and the club will need to free up some money this summer to ink Vladimir Tarasenko to an extension.

Jackman knows all this, and the reality of his situation.

“I don’t think my play’s dropped off year after year,” he explained. |I still feel like I help the team. With the cap issues and things like that.

“It’s going to be up to (Blues general manager Doug Armstrong) and coaches to see if I fit in.”

Hitch needs ‘time to reflect’ before making decision on future

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Two days after the St. Louis Blues bowed out of the playoffs, yet again in the first round, head coach Ken Hitchcock wasn’t sure if he’d be back behind the bench next season.

“I need time to reflect,” Hitchcock said, per KMOV’s Andrew Allsman. “I feel like I’ve let people down.”

Hitchcock does not have a contract for next season. And despite what GM Doug Armstrong said in October — that it’s “up to the players to get the job done,” i.e. the coach isn’t the problem — it’s possible we could see a situation, like we saw in San Jose, where there’s a mutual parting of ways.

To be sure, if Hitchcock were to move on from St. Louis and wanted to keep coaching, he’d be an interesting candidate in a place like Edmonton.

“He’s hard on us, but he does it because he knows the right way and how to get to this position,” said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, per NHL.com. “You can never take that away from the way he coaches. He coaches fundamentals. It’s something we needed and we were able to get here because of him.”

Let’s face it — if there’s one team in the NHL that could use a fundamentals-based coach, it’s the Oilers.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

“We’re not naive to the fact that we let our fans down with our postseason play,” said Armstrong. “We need to find a way to address and overcome.”

Easier said than done.

Related: Blues owner ‘disappointed and frustrated,’ but not ready to ‘throw people under the bus’

Shattenkirk expects changes, but he supports Hitchcock

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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.