With their playoff chances fading fast in the difficult Central Division, the St. Louis Blues surprised the hockey world on Tuesday morning by firing coach Ken Hitchcock , as CDA News originally reported. Following the firing, the Blues filled his position by installing top assistant Mike Yeo as his replacement for the remainder of the season.
The move came as a shock given that Hitchcock had planned to step aside at the end of the season, but with the Blues having lost five of their past six games and falling to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the team decided to speed up the timetable, according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Ken Hitchcock learned of his firing following a 5-3 home loss to Winnipeg on Monday night, and the Blues officially announced the move on their website on Tuesday morning.
“I believed in Ken,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said at a press conference announcing Ken Hitchcock’s firing. He went on to ay that last summer, what his goal was, and what he hoped to do this season.
“When I called Mike and I brought him in, this isn’t how I thought it was going end up.” He wanted the team to have a good season, and Yeo would continue to learn from a Hall of Fame coach. Armstrong thought the team was going to be competitive, that was quickly shown not to be the case.
The Blues had been above .500 for much of the season and appeared to be in position to challenge for a division title, but they recorded just five wins in January and entered February on 53 points, good enough for a tie for the last playoff spot. Their defense has been unusually bad for a Ken Hitchcock-coached team, as St. Louis ranks third-worst in the league in goals against. In their past seven defeats, the Blues have given up at least five goals in all of them, which led them to also fire goaltender coach Jim Corsi.
Yeo takes over the Blues with 32 games left in the season and time running out to fix the organization’s problems. According to Armstrong, the Blues’ biggest issue was that the team had become a group of “independent contractors” and focused more on their own personal performance rather than the good of the team.
As for Ken Hitchcock, he enters the likely end of his NHL coaching career three months earlier than he expected. He guided the Blues to the playoffs in each of his five seasons in St. Louis, but never got the Notes into the Stanley Cup Finals, with last year’s loss in the Western Conference Finals to San Jose marking his best performance. He leaves with a record of 248-124-21 with the Blues and has 781 career regular-season victories, leaving him one short of tying Al Arbour for third-most in NHL history.
Readers, was this the right move for the Blues to make right now? Can Yeo lead St. Louis into the postseason? Or will this end with St. Louis watching playoff hockey in April instead of participating? Sound off in the comments below.
Commentary by Dan Angell