St. Louis Blues Must Now Replace Three Key Staff Members

Nov 20, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; St. Louis Blues assistant coach Kirk Muller (left) and head coach Ken Hitchcock (right) during the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 20, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; St. Louis Blues assistant coach Kirk Muller (left) and head coach Ken Hitchcock (right) during the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Blues are facing the prospect of a major coaching staff rebuild for the final year of Ken Hitchcock’s reign as head coach.

St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong already knew he had a tall task awaiting him on Tuesday morning, when he announced that head coach Ken Hitchcock would be retained for one more season–his final season before a scheduled retirement that was also announced Tuesday–which consequently meant that it would only be logical to offer all of Hitchcock’s assistants one-year contracts as well.

In an unsurprising turn of events, not all of the assistants were thrilled with the prospect of not knowing where they’d be after 2016-17, especially if the Blues make another deep playoff run and most coaching jobs are already filled by the time they hit the market. Thus, assistant Brad Shaw had already decided to leave the organization by the time Armstrong announced Hitchcock’s extension on Tuesday.

In a more unforeseen development, though, assistant coach Kirk Muller–who was the head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes from 2011-14 and was seen as a potential successor to Hitchcock–also decided to leave the organization on Wednesday. The Blues will also have to fill another major vacancy, as Andy Strickland reported on Wednesday that strength coach Nelson Ayotte has decided to leave the Blues and pursue other opportunities.

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That means the organization will have to replace three guys who have served a combined 22 years on the Blues’ staff (10 each for Shaw and Ayotte and two for Muller). That’s not even considering the possibility that assistant Ray Bennett, who has been on the staff for the past nine seasons, and goalie coach Jim Corsi, who has been around for the past two, could depart.

While the Blues have run through plenty of assistants over the past decade without much noticeable difference, Shaw has been in charge of the penalty kill for that entire time, so it will be interesting to see how that unit evolves next year without him. The Blues face the possibility of losing four key PK contributors this offseason in forwards David Backes, Troy Brouwer, Scottie Upshall, and Kyle Brodziak, so whoever takes over the penalty kill next year might be faced with a heavy task as they try to prepare guys like Jaden Schwartz and Dmitrij Jaskin to contribute to that unit.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford reported on Wednesday that the Blues could have interest in bringing aboard Darryl Sydor, who spent his final season as an NHL player in St. Louis during 2009-10. That would be a high-risk, high-reward move, as Sydor ran the top penalty kill in the league in 2014-15, with the Wild killing 86.3 percent of their penalties. However, Sydor was arrested shortly before the start of the 2015-16 preseason for drunk driving with his 12-year-old son in the car. He spent two weeks in jail and spent time away from the team, but he rejoined the Wild in November. It’s unknown how much of a role he actually had in the Wild’s PK this season, as his duties were limited upon his return, but whatever the case, the Wild’s kill ranked 27th in the league this year (77.9%).

In addition to bringing in a strong defensive mind to replace Shaw, the Blues will also need someone to replace Muller as a facilitator of their power play (which ranked sixth in the NHL during 2015-16), a mentor to all their young forwards–a group that could further expand if guys like Backes, Brouwer, Upshall, Brodziak, and Steve Ott exit this summer–and perhaps even as a head coach in waiting, a role that many assumed Muller possessed before his exit on Wednesday.

Interestingly, the most attractive option to replace Muller might just be the guy who was Sydor’s boss in Minnesota, Mike Yeo. He’d fit in well as the power play coach, and considering that he led the Wild to a first-round series victory over the Blues in 2014-15, he’d certainly be a good guy to at least take a look at for a year as a potential replacement for Hitchcock. First, though, the Blues will have to hope that Yeo doesn’t get hired as the head coach by the Anaheim Ducks or Calgary Flames.

Next: What to Make of Doug Armstrong's Offseason Plans

As far as a strength coach, the Blues will need to find someone quickly, because they’ll need a coach to lead offseason conditioning workouts, particularly when rookies arrive in St. Louis in July for the Blues’ annual prospect camp. Fortunately, there seem to be much more knowledgeable strength and conditioning coaches available than there are power play and penalty kill specialists.