St. Louis Blues won’t bring back any assistant coaches in 2017-18

Apr 8, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; St. Louis Blues head coach Mike Yeo looks on from the players bench against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Blues defeated the Hurricanes 5-4 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; St. Louis Blues head coach Mike Yeo looks on from the players bench against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Blues defeated the Hurricanes 5-4 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

Mike Yeo will have an entirely new coaching staff for the 2017-18 season.

With their 2016-17 campaign now nine days in the rearview, the St. Louis Blues made headlines on Tuesday afternoon, announcing that they’ve parted ways with their entire staff of on-ice assistants. Coaches Ray Bennett, Rick Wilson, and Steve Thomas won’t return for the 2017-18 season. Thomas and Wilson were on the Blues’ staff for just one year, while Bennett had been around since 2006.

With goalie coach Jim Corsi having been fired in February and replaced on an interim basis by assistant GM Martin Brodeur–who will return to the front office for the 2017-18 season–the only member of the coaching staff who will return next season will be video coach Sean Ferrell. Ferrell, who has been part of the Blues’ support staff since July of 2013, could be a candidate to move into an assistant role next season.

The departure of Conklin, who was a roving instructor and was rarely seen in St. Louis outside of prospect camp and training camp, is not exceptionally surprising. The Blues will be hiring a new goalie coach, and if Conklin wasn’t going to be the guy now, perhaps they figured that now the best time to part ways. To varying degrees, the decisions to part ways with the other three assistants are more unexpected.

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Bennett had been with the Blues for 10 and a half seasons, having lasted through the administrations of four different head coaches (Andy Murray, Davis Payne, Ken Hitchcock, and Yeo). While he was rarely seen, Bennett was often praised for his work as the Blues’ “eye in the sky,” providing evaluations and advice from the press box during games. Whoever ends up replacing him will have big shoes to fill.

Wilson’s departure is somewhat surprising since he served as an assistant under Yeo for his entire tenure with the Minnesota Wild and followed him to St. Louis. There’s a trio of reasons that his split with the Blues is understandable, though, First of all, he’ll be 67 years old this year and is nearing retirement age–not necessarily the most ideal thing when he’s working under a 43-year-old coach who wants to put together a long-term plan. Secondly, he actually had stronger ties to Hitchcock, having worked under him in Dallas, and it’s easy to see him going back to work under Hitchcock as the veteran coach makes his return to the Stars. Thirdly, the Blues’ defense experienced a noticeable drop-off in play during the early part of this season, and it’s distinctly possible that they just didn’t mesh with Wilson as well as they did with his predecessor, Brad Shaw.

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Thomas was added to the staff last year shortly after Yeo was hired, so naturally it would have been safe to assume that Yeo liked him as an assistant. The Blues’ improvement this season started when Thomas moved from the press box to the bench, so it seemed as if he was doing good work. Apparently, though, he didn’t fit in well on Yeo’s staff for some reason or another, so he’ll be replaced.

While it’s certainly possible that some of the assistants, who signed on to work for Hitchcock before the 2016-17 season, didn’t want to return and work under Yeo, the fact that the entire staff is leaving sure makes it seem like it was a conscious decision to let the entire staff go.

With Wilson, Bennett, and Thomas gone, this will be the second consecutive offseason during which the Blues’ staff has undergone a major makeover. Shaw, the penalty kill coordinator, and power play coach Kirk Muller chose to depart after being offered one-year contracts last offseason, triggering the hirings of Yeo and Wilson as their replacements, as well as the addition of Thomas as an additional assistant.

St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues /

St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Jeremy Rutherford wrote Tuesday that candidates to join Yeo’s staff will include Dan Bylsma and Michel Therrien, both of whom were fired from NHL head coaching jobs over the past season, as well as Craig Berube and Darryl Sydor, who were part of the coaching staff for the Chicago Wolves, the Blues’ AHL affiliate, in 2016-17.

Yeo worked as an assistant under both Bylsma and Therrien with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sydor was part of his coaching staff in Minnesota and looked to be one of the NHL’s top rising assistants before receiving a DUI in 2015. He seems to have repaired his reputation somewhat by staying out of trouble during a season with the Wolves, and he’d be a logical candidate to take over the defensive coaching responsibilities.

Berube is the only coach on that list who has never worked with Yeo on a day-to-day basis, though they obviously had to form a relationship this season as Berube was coaching the Blues’ prospects in the AHL. Berube, who served as the Philadelphia Flyers’ head coach for two seasons, received widespread acclaim for his work with the Blues’ young players this season, and he certainly seems to be deserving of a promotion.

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For selfish reasons, the Blues would probably like to keep him in the AHL this season, but since he has a two-year contract with the Wolves, they’d be in jeopardy of losing him this offseason if they lose their affiliation with the Wolves. He’d be a candidate for other NHL assistant jobs anyway, so if they really see him as an essential part of their organization, now is probably the time to pull the trigger and promote him to the NHL staff.