Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Blues bring Hitchcock back for one season

Coach will return for 2015-16 season

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will turn back to a familiar face and voice.

There never seemed like a doubt whether Ken Hitchcock would return to the Blues for a fifth season to be their head coach.

The team announced on Tuesday that they have agreed to a one-year contract extension with Hitchcock.

Hitchcock's current contract was set to run through June 30.
Ken Hitchcock

Hitchcock and general manager Doug Armstrong took time after the season to reflect on certain issues, but in conclusion, both are comfortable with one another and both seem fine with a one-year extension.

"There wasn't a checklist of things," Armstrong said. "When you have a relationship with someone for 20 years, I don't want to say it's like a marriage but it's like a marriage (Hitchcock chimed in, saying "it's a bad one."). We just sat down and we talked. We talked about the season, we talked about the playoffs, we talked about personnel. 

"I just had to make sure that the passion level that's going to be necessary in November, December, January, February ... the dog days of the season that Ken still had that passion. I didn't want him to come back and feel that he was coming back out of anger and disappointment. I wanted him to come back out of excitement and energy. When we talked, I felt that. I felt that talking to him and I felt that talking to members of his staff that there's a real excitement in getting back to work here." 

Hitchcock, 63, has coached the Blues the past four seasons and aside from the lockout season of 2012-13, the Blues have finished with 100-plus points in each season, including 109 this past season.

Hitchcock, who is 175-79-27 in the regular season with the Blues and fourth on the all-time ins list with 708, is just 10-17 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in St. Louis, including three straight first round exits with home ice advantage. The Blues have lost four consecutive playoff series going back to 2012 when they defeated the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round.

"This was a long process for me," Hitchcock said. "... It was very disappointing in losing, especially the leadup to it when we were on top of our game and having the ability to process that and go through it here in the last three weeks, it's given me some time to detox. Today was the first day we started preparing for next season. It was an exciting day for me. I'm really proud to be able to coach this hockey club again; I'm really proud the staff is back together. 

"This is unfinished business for me. I don't want to coach to coach; I want to coach to win. I couldn't find a better spot than to show up here and coach this hockey club. This is a really good team trying to become a great team. I think I have the tools and the expertise to help them along the way. I agree with Doug 100 percent that this is going to be one big challenge because the four teams that were in it a year ago that were out, they're not going to be taking it very lightly; they're going to be pushing. It's going to be the hardest job we've ever had to get into the playoffs. I think both of us recognize that."

Hitchcock's status has been in limbo since the Blues were eliminated by the Minnesota Wild in six games. The Blues have lost in the first round in six games in each of the past three seasons.

The Blues were granted permission by the Detroit Red Wings to talk to Mike Babcock, whose contract was set to expire June 30; however, Babcock signed an eight-year contract worth a reported $50 million on May 20 to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Hitchcock and Babcock are close friends.

"You can't help but not do that," Hitchcock said when asked about following the outside reports, when Armstrong joked, "I was sending them to him."

"I don't care," Hitchcock said. "The reason I don't care if that we have a relationship where we can tell each other pretty much anything and there's no consequences. I know one thing, [Armstrong] keeps me informed on everything. Some of it I don't want to hear sometimes, but it's information that's necessary."

After the season, Hitchcock said he needed time to reflect on the past season and reflect on whether he would return or not. 

Hitchcock was named Blues coach on Nov. 7, 2011, replacing Davis Payne, who is currently an assistant on Darryl Sutter's staff with the Los Angeles Kings.

"I couldn't find a better place to coach; I couldn't find a better operation," Hitchcock said. "Doug and I have been together for a very long period of time. We've got great communication and the ability to get this team back to the playoffs and back into that hunt again is first and foremost in both of our minds." 

Hitchcock coached the Dallas Stars to a Stanley Cup championship in 1999 and returned to the Cup Final in 2000. He has also coached the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets for four seasons each.

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