Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Blues, Hitchcock exercise mutual optional for 2014-15

Team's coach will at the very least return next 
season; assistants Agnew, Hirsch will not return

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- To nobody's surprise, the Blues announced on Wednesday that they have extended the contract of coach Ken Hitchcock through the 2014-15 season.

The Blues and the 62-year-old Hitchcock had a mutual optional contract for next season and on his exit media session, Hitchcock expressed his desire to continue coaching.

"You mean am I too old? I love living here, I love working here, I love working with Doug," Hitchcock said last week, referring to general manager Doug Armstrong. "... We've made a home here. We've made significant progress here. I know it doesn't feel like progress to people right now, but it is. 
Ken Hitchcock

"I've only been here three years. I see the progress, I know the debris of years of getting close and being frustrated and then building it. I see the level of improvement here. It's incredible. ... There's a real high level of commitment here by the fans and by the players. We've just got to help it along and enhance it, improve it."

Hitchcock was named the 24th coach in franchise history on Nov. 7, 2011, when he replaced the fired Davis Payne. 

Hitchcock has led the Blues to three straight postseason appearances, including a franchise-best 52-win campaign this past season. He has a 124-55-20 regular season record, making him the club’s all-time leader in points percentage (.673), while in 2011-12, he became the fourth coach in team history to win Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach.

Overall, Hitchcock has a 657-405-178 record in 17 seasons (.602) and won the Stanley Cup in 1999 with the Dallas Stars, as well as the gold medal with Team Canada at the 2002, 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics.  Hitchcock ranks 7th on the NHL's all-time wins list, including second among active coaches behind former Blues coach and current Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.

Hitchcock's 124 wins trail only Brian Sutter (153) and Quenneville (307) for most in Blues history.

But after the Blues were eliminated from the playoffs in the second round for the second straight season, the biggest sense of frustration set in from all sides.

"It's really tough, it's really tough to go through what you're going through right now, but you just from an evaluation standpoint, you get just a true evaluation of ... there's no gray area," Hitchcock said. "It is what it is. It's tough to go through, but there's just no gray area on evaluation now. I know exactly what's needed from a play standpoint. We've just got to find a way to move it forward."

The same could not be said for the team's coaching staff. Associate coach Brad Shaw and assistant coach Ray Bennett will return next season but assistant coaches Gary Agnew and Corey Hirsch will not be back.

Hirsch had been the team's goalie coach for the past four seasons, while Agnew, who was with Hitchcock during the team's coaching days with Columbus, has been in St. Louis the past two seasons. His primary duty was working with the team's power play that came under scrutiny after converting on only 2 of 29 opportunities against the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs.

"I would like to thank Gary and Corey for their diligence and dedication as members of our organization, and wish them nothing but success in their future endeavors," Armstrong said in a statement. 

No further comment will be made by the team until replacements are named.

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