Ken Hitchcock’s final season in St. Louis ends earlier than expected

Veteran head coach Ken Hitchcock was supposed to say goodbye to the St. Louis Blues and their fans by remaining behind the bench for the 2016/17 season, but those plans recently came to an abrupt end. Hitchcock signed a new one-year deal last year, but the Blues fired him on January 31st after the team lost for the fifth time in six games. He was then replaced by assistant coach Mike Yeo, the former head coach of the Minnesota Wild. The Blues promptly downed the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-1 at home in Yeo’s first game in charge on February 3rd.

Hitchcock, the 65-year-old former coach, was midway through his sixth campaign with St. Louis and compiled a record of 248-124-41. His teams also made the postseason in each of his five years in charge and reached the Western Conference Final in 2015/16, but lost to San Jose. In fact, the Blues didn’t win a playoff series for three straight seasons until last year. The club was 24-21-5 and sitting in eighth spot in the conference when Hitchcock was let go with a 5-8 record for the month of January. He shouldered the blame for the team’s poor performance this season, but general manager Doug Armstrong should probably take some of the heat too.

Armstrong traded regular starting goaltender Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames during the offseason and the move has hurt the Blues. The team has used Jake Allen, Pheonix Copley and Carter Hutton between the pipes this season and the three of them had a combined save percentage of a league-worst 88.7 when Hitchcock was sacked. The move trade hasn’t worked out for Elliot either as he’s been struggling in Calgary and often sits glued to the bench while Chad Johnson plays. Armstrong told the media that Hitchcock is his best friend and belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but something had to be done to turn the team around.

Yeo, who was supposed to take over the Blues starting next season, said he felt bad about taking over for Hitchcock halfway through campaign, but is ready to accept the challenge. Armstrong added that Hitchcock wasn’t happy with the move and stated that Jim Corsi, the club’s goaltending coach, was fired along with him. Assistant manager Martin Brodeur will reportedly share Corsi’s duties along with the squad’s goalie development coach Ty Conklin. Looking back at Hitchcock’s career, he should have no problem being voted into the Hall of Fame. He’s coached 20 seasons in the NHL with St. Louis, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, and Dallas Stars.

Hitchcock is fourth on the all-time coaching wins list with 781 victories to his name in regular-season action and he led Dallas to a Stanley Cup triumph in 1998/99. If Hitchcock is hired by another team, such as the Las Vegas Golden Knights, he’ll tie Hall of Famer Al Arbour in third place for wins with his next victory. Hitchcock became the third head coach to be let go this season as the Florida Panthers fired Gerard Gallant in November while the New York Islanders dropped Jack Capuano earlier in January. The move could possibly pay off for St. Louis though as three of the last eight teams to win the Stanley Cup replaced their head coach during the season.