The St. Louis Blues expedited their coaching change earlier than originally planned, as they announced on Wednesday that head coach Ken Hitchcock was being let go.
Associate coach, Mike Yeo, was named as the replacement to Hitchcock behind the bench. In addition to firing Hitchcock, the Blues also terminated goaltending coach, Jim Corsi. Blues assistant general manager, Martin Brodeur, and goalie development coach, Ty Conklin, will take over the duties for the remainder of the 2016-2017 season.
Blues general manager, Doug Armstrong said, “Obviously, it is a difficult day for myself. I made a hard decision to change coaches. Mike will take over. I am excited about that. It is a great day for Mike, a rebirth for this group of players. We are excited.”
In six seasons with the Blues, Hitchcock went 248-124-41 behind the bench, with a 20-27 record in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blues finished first or second in the Central Division, in each of his four full seasons in St. Louis.
After falling to the Winnipeg Jets, 5-3 on Tuesday, the Blues are currently sitting in fourth place in the Central, with 53 points and a 24-21-5 record.
Following last season, when he led the Blues to the Western Conference Finals, the team resigned him for one more season as he announced 2016-2017 would be his last in the National Hockey League. Yeo was brought in as an associate coach in June and scheduled to take over the reigns for the 2017-2018 season.
In 20 seasons behind an NHL bench, Hitchcock has put up a 781-473-111 record, with 88 ties, between the Blues, Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets. Only Scotty Bowman (1,244), Joel Quenneville (831) and Al Arbour (782) have more victories. With 1,453 games coached, he sits in fifth place.
A Stanley Cup winner in 1999 with the Stars, he led them back in 2000 before falling to the New Jersey Devils in six games.
Armstrong added, “He is a Hall of Fame coach, he is one of my best friends. But things change in sports. I talked to him last night after the game. It is really hard. Ken is probably my best friend. Ken and I talked a lot during the Christmas break and I just felt that you want to extend every last breath into making it work. We just have not played well enough. At the end of the day, we were winning games and we would look like a really good team, but part of what we have done now is, I am not sure if I am going to make any sense, but we do not lose with pride.”
He continued, “It just felt like we were hit and miss, night in and night out. I think we need to demand more of ourselves. Our record is not indicative of what we thought we would have.”
Armstrong did take much of the blame for the Blues struggles this season saying, “It is my responsibility why we are off track, and it my responsibility to get them back on track. We need to become a team again. We have to take pride in doing things for each other for the betterment of the team.”
The Yeo era, will begin Thursday at the Scottrade Center as the Blues take on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Yeo, 43, spent much of the past five seasons with the Minnesota Wild before being fired on February 13 last season. He led the Wild to a 173-132-44 record during his time behind the bench. Yeo led the Wild to the postseason in three of his four full seasons, twice to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
During the 2014-2015 season, he led the Wild to their best season in franchise history, with a 46-28-8 record. He was also part of Dan Bylsma’s staff, that led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup Championship in 2009.
Yeo becomes the 25th head coach in the history of the Blues franchise.
He said, “I am definitely up here with some mixed emotions as well, and absolutely the first thing I have to do is thank Hitchcock. He was nothing but amazing to me, day in and day out, so I learned a great deal from him. I am very appreciative, so I feel very bad that I am sitting up here today. That said, I know I have a job to do, an important job to do, and one that I do not take lightly.”
Yeo continued, “When I look at the people that have coached the St. Louis Blues and Hitchcock being one of them, those are some awful big shoes to fill. I look forward to that challenge. I look forward to working with this group. It is a group I believe in and I know there is lots of work to be done. But I am excited to work with them and I am ready for that process to begin.”