It’s a one and done contract signing for Ken Hitchcock. The St. Louis Blues held an extended press conference on May 31, announcing that they have signed “Hitch” to a one-year contract for the 2016-17 season. With a 224-103-36 regular season record in 363 games behind the Blues’ bench, it’s easy to see why extending the Hitchcock era is a great move for the organization.
With the team coming off a long playoff run, as well as some potentially big lineup changes, staying pat with the head coach may be just what the doctor ordered.
Hitchcock is Their Guy
When general manager Doug Armstrong announced the team would be bringing back their coach for another season, some fans took a deep breath, others sighed. It’s obvious that through the ups and downs of the past five seasons, Hitchcock has earned the management’s and player’s trust. Hitch hasn’t had a losing season since taking over as the bench boss in November of 2011; he’s also now one of the longest-tenured coaches in the current NHL.
Hitch errs on the quiet side of things when it comes to his coaching style. He’s been in the game for over 20 years, won the Stanley Cup (with the Dallas Stars), and knows how to trust his players as they trust him.
For me that creates an attitude where your team’s not afraid to win, and that’s what’s here right now… It’s a year where there’s alot of growth and potential… When you break through this ceiling the potential is unlimited.
In the almost one-hour press conference with Armstrong and Hitchcock (above), he expresses his interest in continuing with a team that is not only talented but also runs like a family. Having that sort of dynamic in the dressing room doesn’t come easy; it takes a special group of players and coaches to make that happen.
The Transition Game
In typical Hitch fashion, when asked why another one-year deal was signed with the Blues, the coach said:
I’m telling you right now this is my last one-year deal. I’m not coaching after this year, I’m done… I’m ready to go for next year, I’m excited. This is an unbelieveable group of guys and I’m ready to do it. But if I’m not going to get better myself during the offseason then I’m doing a diservice to the hockey club and I’m not going to do it.
St. Louis has a few big unanswered questions and unsigned players to deal with this offseason. Big names like captain David Backes, Troy Brouwer, and restricted free agent Jaden Schwartz are all up for a payday this year.
Whether all or none of these players re-sign, the success of the past season is a stepping stone to what management believes is a solid, young, tough and fast team. Losing a leadership presence like Backes could be tough, but Hitch will be a mainstay for his sixth season behind the bench.
With some young emerging players like Colton Parayko, Robby Fabbri and Joel Edmundson in the lineup, having a consistent coaching staff could help ease any possible roster changes.
The X’s and O’s
Though defense coach Brad Shaw will not be returning for next season, Hitchcock will still have his blue-collar approach to coaching in place. The synergy between the management moves (bringing in players like Scottie Upshall and Steve Ott), playing style and coaches bodes well for the team. The relationship Hitch speaks about is clear, as the roster mixed with a wide range of talent plays together for another season.
We may see a few different faces on the ice for St. Louis in 2016-17, but what will remain the same is the belief in the team. Just like the players and coaches said after being eliminated in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, this team has grown closer together. Sure, veteran leadership lends a helping hand, but the right balance of sternness and understanding by the coaching staff is just as much of a factor.
Hitchcock understands his team more than ever and he’s excited to take one more kick at the can for the Blues organization and the city of St. Louis.
Hitchcock: “I just feel like I’ve got this really good year in me… This season has invigorated me like no season before.” #stlblues
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) May 31, 2016