Veteran coach locked up through 2013-14, has mutual option for 2014-15
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The marriage between the Blues and Ken Hitchcock got off to such a rousing start, both parties figured to keep the honeymoon rolling.
And as long as the 60-year-old still has the energy and passion to continue to coach a generation Hitchcock said "where less is more," the job is his as long as he wants to keep it.
The Blues rewarded their veteran coach, who took over early last season, with a one-year extension through the 2013-14 season that includes a mutual option between the two sides through at least the 2014-15 season but will certainly extend beyond that.
Ken Hitchcock (top) signed a contract extension on Wednesday that will
keep him behind the Blues bench through at least the 2013-14 season.
Hitchcock, who last week won the Jack Adams Award for NHL Coach of the Year, took over the Blues when they were 6-7 and general manager Doug Armstrong relieved Davis Payne from the position. Hitchcock promptly led the Blues to the second-best record in the NHL (with 109 points at 49-22-11 behind Vancouver), their first division title since 2000 and their first playoff series win since 2002.
The Blues were 43-15-11 under Hitchcock, who originally signed a two-year contract upon his arrival in St. Louis from Columbus, where he was an advisor for the team after being fired as the head coach in 2010. He indicated that this would be his final destination as a head coach in the NHL and wants to make the best of the situation.
"I'm really grateful to Doug and (team president) John (Davidson) and (owner) Tom (Stillman) for offering this extension to me," Hitchcock said. "I'm really happy here in St. Louis. I'm really happy with the relationship we as the coaches have with the players. I think all of us are excited by the opportunity that's in front of us over the next coming season.
"For me, this is a great opportunity to continue to grow with the players. We've got some exciting young guys in here and some more guys coming into the fold. It's that window that we're watching unfold here in St. Louis that really has me excited."
Armstrong, who worked with Hitchcock in Dallas when he was the assistant GM under Bob Gainey and will likely get a contract extension himself at any time from the Blues, feels the stability Hitchcock brings was a necessary component to keep for multiple seasons.
"I think it's important to have a good coach under contract for the next couple years and we've been able to accomplish that," Armstrong said. "... I knew as an organization, John and myself felt (Hitchcock) was an important person moving forward. To get him here for the next two years is paramount for us. Ken put it best: we'll go year to year after that to make sure he still has the same energy level, the same fire and drive to do it. I hope that he does for a number of years past that.
"Ken did a fabulous job when he came in here. Obviously he was recognized as coach of the year and we're really excited to move forward with him."
Hitchcock has mellowed out with the times and has adapted to the new style of the game and its players from his old-school mentality, transitioning himself well with the younger Blues players and immediately clicked with getting a simple message across.
One of those players is rising star Alex Pietrangelo, who finished fourth in voting for the Norris Trophy this year and had his best season as a pro with 51 points. He was tied for 16th in the NHL in average time on ice at 24:43.
"He's allowed me to go out there and play my game, let me do what I do best," Pietrangelo said of Hitchcock. "He's going to make me accountable for my play. He's going to make sure that I'm playing at my best at all times. That's what you need. Hitch is a good person to talk to away from the rink and off the ice. He's a guy that you can just chat about normal, everyday things. It's another thing I really respect about him.
"It's a relief for not only us, but for Hitch to know that he's going to be there for a couple years and he can kind of build this team moving forward. We certainly think that we have a good enough team to contend for a Cup, but it's a process and now Hitch can work at it for a couple years. It's a calming thing for us to know that we're going to have the same guy back there leading the charge for us for a couple years or maybe more. ... He's obviously deserving. The amount that he's accomplished in his coaching career and winning the award this year, it's an example of why it's such a good thing to have a guy like that around. His experience and what he's been through is obviously something that's helped along the way and we as players definitely have that respect for him."
The contract for Hitchcock is rewarded well for someone that's 13th all-time in games coached (1,110) and 11th in wins (576) with four franchises (Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus and now St. Louis). In playoff history, Hitchcock ranks 8th all-time in games (130) and 11th in wins (70).
"For me, I'm grateful that there's an extension and after the extension is over, I just felt that if I don't have the energy at the end of the current term ... I don't want to do the job," Hitchcock said. "I know the energy and the discipline that it takes to do the work. I don't think it's fair to anybody for me to do it any further if I don't have the necessary energy to do it. I'm happy with the way it works and I'm sure we'll find a way to make it work providing that all of us think that I have that necessary energy. I don't feel, from my standpoint, that it's as important as the working relationship I have with everybody. I know the necessary demands that this position has. I don't want to do it if I don't have that energy."
And Hitchcock wanted to make it clear that he's not only in this just to see the Blues through the final goal: winning the Stanley Cup. There's more to it than the ultimate goal. It's about the big picture and long-term future of the franchise.
"Regardless of what happens in a few years, I want to stick around for a long time," Hitchcock said. "This is it for me, this is my last stop. I want this to be a successful franchise for the next 10-15 years and I want to be part of it, even if I'm not coaching. I want this franchise to be successful because of the people I'm working with I admire and I like a lot. I want to stick around those people.
"We're going to have ups and downs; we're going to have good times and bad times, but to me, I really trust the people in management, the scouting and everything here. There's a great working relationship with the coaching staff, which for me is very unique in sports. It just feels like it did way back in Dallas and that's why I want to stick around."
That's why Blues management is confident moving forward with the setup it has with Hitchcock. Management realizes the veteran coach will let it know when he's had enough.
"I don't see it dwindling over the next 24 months, but ultimately it's going to dwindle," Armstrong said. "You saw it with Scotty Bowman. ... Ken will know it. He'll know well before it shows to you or myself and the organization. He'll let us know. He's honest to a fault in some of those areas. He'll let us know when he feels it might be best to transfer it to somebody else.
"One thing he'll never do is lose his passion for hockey. He's going to be a really big part of this organization for the next two years and I see beyond that because he has so much knowledge he can give, not only to the players but to myself, to senior management, minor league coaches. His knowledge will never wane. We're going to keep him here as long as we can."
Ken Hitchcock guided the Blues to a 43-15-11
record after taking over for Davis Payne early
last season. They finished with 109 points
For the time being, Hitchcock will continue to work a group that will be 95 percent in tact from a season ago and looks forward to dealing with that group on a regular basis.
"This is a generation where less is more in a big way," Hitchcock said. "Getting the players' attention has to come, for me, from lightening the load. The players have so much individual pressure on themselves nowadays and there's so much stress from other avenues other than coaching that I think with the amount of information that we supply to them, we can put them in overload position very quickly. For me, this is a generation where if you can keep it light, if you can keep the information simple and short, I think there's a much better response because they're getting it from everywhere and anywhere before they even get into your office.
"Years ago, you were the first and only form of information, but now it's coming everywhere. We end up being kind of the group that dissects the information for them more than provides it. It's hard to keep it simple nowadays. It's hard to keep it short, but it has a much more positive impact if you do that."
And while Hitchcock admits that coaches, "at this time of year, we're better off getting lost and letting management do their thing," he doesn't feel the Blues need to change much ... if at all.
"I think what's really exciting for us right now is we don't need to make a lot of changes," Hitchcock said. "There aren't a lot of gaping holes in our hockey club. We've got a great nucleus here and a lot of younger guys that are going to get better just because they're a year older. We're in a different boat than a lot of other teams are in. That's what's got everybody on the coaching staff so excited. ... Ninety-five percent of our team is coming back and we had 109 points. I think that's a real good thing for any team to be in right now."