The Blues have made a change behind the bench after losing five of their last six games.
After losing a fourth straight game at Scottrade Center on Tuesday night–their worst such streak since 2006–the St. Louis Blues announced on Wednesday morning that they’ve relieved head coach Ken Hitchcock of his duties and elevated associate head coach Mike Yeo to the top position.
The move ends over half a year of coaching awkwardness, as the Blues brought back Hitchcock for one final year last June but also named Yeo as the designated head coach in waiting after Hitchcock’s existing assistants, Kirk Muller and Brad Shaw, decided to pursue other opportunities rather than accepting one-year deals with the Blues.
Hitchcock, who took over as the Blues’ head coach early in the 2011-12 season, finishes with a 248-123-41 record in St. Louis. He departs with the second-most wins and the best point percentage in Blues history. Hitchcock finishes what could be his final head coaching job just one win shy of Al Arbour for third all-time on the coaching wins leaderboard.
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The Blues have been extremely inconsistent all season, especially since the start of the new year, but it’s difficult to say that it’s been Hitchcock’s fault. Several different individuals were very much at fault as the Blues struggled to a 5-8 record in January.
Hitchcock is arguably falling on the sword for two individuals who haven’t looked too good at all during 2016-17. First of all, goalie Jake Allen has been a major disappointment thus far. In his first season as the Blues’ full-time starter, Allen has a 2.86 GAA and .895 save percentage. His backup, Carter Hutton, hasn’t been too impressive either, and the Blues have a league-worst .887 save percentage despite allowing just 27.6 shots per game, the fourth-fewest in the league.
Perhaps more significantly, it’s been a very rough year for GM Doug Armstrong. During the offseason, he signed Allen to a new four-year, $17 million-dollar deal that kicks in next season, and he allowed heavy-hitting veterans David Backes and Troy Brouwer to depart in free agency. Those players’ absences have very much been felt this season, and Armstrong signed just one NHL veteran to replace them: former Blues draftee David Perron, who started off nicely but now has just one goal and six assists in 13 games since the new year.
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He’s also handed out several other questionable contracts over the past few years, including a four-year, $28 million-dollar deal to center Paul Stastny, a five-year, $27 million-dollar contract for center Jay Bouwmeester, a three-year, $14.1 million-dollar pact for center Jori Lehtera, and a potentially harmful four-year, $23 million-dollar deal for forward Alexander Steen that will kick in next season. When you also factor in the odd long-term deals that he awarded to veteran defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Carl Gunnarsson, the Blues could be cap-strapped for several years down the road due to Armstrong’s decisions.
This will be Yeo’s second NHL head-coaching job. In 349 games for the Minnesota Wild between 2011-16, Yeo went 173-32-44 while leading the Wild to the playoff three times, winning first-round series in two of those seasons. Ironically, it’s almost a year to the date that he was fired by the Wild; Minnesota dismissed Yeo on February 13 of 2016.
Yeo will be the 25th head coach in franchise history. Ironically, his head coaching debut will come on Thursday night, when the Blues will be honoring one of their former head coaches, Bob Plager, who coached 11 games in 1993 before resigning. Plager’s number 5 will be lifted into the rafters before the Blues face the Toronto Maple Leafs.
As NHL.com’s Lou Korac first reported, goalie coach Jim Corsi was let go along with Hitchcock. Goalie development coach Ty Conklin and assistant GM Martin Brodeur will share the goalie coach job over the remainder of the season.