Blues GM Doug Armstrong appears to be grooming former Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo to take Hitchcock's place behind the St.Louis bench after next season. Yeo certainly understands the type of suffocating defensive structure it takes to win in the thunderdome division, but is Mike Yeo a good long-term option for the Blues? It's tough to say, and it's even tougher to ignore how poorly the Wild performed before he was fired.
Hitchcock should have been fired after the soul crushing series loss against Minnesota in the first round, but Oshie was chosen as the sacrificial lamb while Armstrong found himself in the middle of a male-mid-life-crisis version of Twilight, trying to choose between Mike Babcock and Ken Hitchcock.
How much does a coach really matter? Can great teams win with poor coaching? Can bad teams win with superhuman coaching? Toronto's record doesn't look much different post-Babcock, but the market says he's the most valuable coach on the planet. Same thing could be said of Edmonton adding long time Sharks coach Todd McClellan. He's a great coach with a solid track record of success now trying to move the needle with an unsuccessful group of players. Are we all over-reacting with our Hitchcock hate? Would the Blues be fine with any idiot (besides Keenan) behind the bench?
In fact, the most frequent criticism of coaches in this day and age is how gleefully they embrace the sultry gods of Corsi and Fenwick. Former Ducks Head Coach Randy Carlyle has been widely panned for not emphatically utilizing advanced statistics while in Toronto, and Patrick Roy got into a fistfight with advanced statistics in the parking lot of a strip club on his day off.
Coaches may not need to coach so much anymore, as strange as it may sound, and suddenly the vague intangibles of a being 'good bench boss' who 'runs a tight ship' and 'keeps guys accountable ' might not be as important as 'will you listen to these nerds I hired?'The two consecutive playoff shutout losses to San Jose were gut-wrenching and only stoked suspicions of Hitchcock's tactical inflexibility. The Blues chipped and chased for several lifetimes and to everyone's surprise, this cunning strategy didn't work very well. They weren't being dominated by a red-hot goaltender, they just didn't generate shots or high danger chances.
Hitch needed to do more than just juggle the lines to fix that, and by Game Six, he had no new tricks left up his sleeve. Much was made about Tarasenko's failure to find the back of the net when it mattered, but what really killed St.Louis was the lack of secondary scoring. Blues manage to win even one of those shutout games, and maybe the series breaks the other way.
As much as I rag on Armstrong and his trade allergies, he's not a terrible GM. He's built a team in St.Louis that wins, and many fanbases would love to be in our shoes. That being said, how does he miss a guy like Brandon Pirri or Jamie McGinn? (Seriously though, I asked.)The asking price for both was dirt cheap and they both were in the middle of decent seasons. Pirri makes under $1 million, had 14 goals and 15 assists over 61 games, what could it have hurt to stick him on the third or fourth line?
Maybe I'm wrong and they both would have turned into the same kind of lukewarm NHLers that we've got enough of in Paajarvi, Upshall, and Jaskin, but when your club is 15th in scoring and heavily dependent on defensemen for goals why not give it a shot?
Don't get me wrong - I loved this season, and considering it's been fifteen years since the Blues got to a conference final, I'm happy I got to see it in my lifetime. The mantra all year was 'just wait until we're all healthy', and this roster was plenty healthy during the Conference Final, and just didn't produce enough offense. That problem was obvious before the season ended and it should have been addressed in February.
After the deadline, Armstrong told the press that he 'didn't see a player that would fit into our forward group' when they're healthy, then turns around after the San Jose series and claims that Tarasenko wasn't the problem, but 'his supporting cast' was the issue and that the 'same group' won't be back next year. Before series: nobody on the trade block would make the lineup here. After series: Tarasenko needs some help out there, eh? It's enough to make anyone want to rage-scream for ten minutes straight.
The Blues may have just simply run out of gas after sinking two solid opponents in Chicago and Dallas, sure. Maybe San Jose was really that good and maybe they would have downed anyone else in the Western Conference with their deadly combination of speed, special teams, and ISIL beards. We'll never know, but with the Sharks now down two games to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Final, and looking like their own tank might be a little empty, it's difficult to believe the Blues didn't end up squandering another huge opportunity by missing some clear warning signs earlier in the season.
While Ken Hitchcock has maintained that this season won't be a 'goddamned farewell tour', you have to wonder if Armstrong really has the stone cold heart required for shit-canning a coach headed for the hall of fame during his retirement season, but in spite of all this, there are a ton of bright spots. Stillman's ownership group got a hefty dose of desperately needed playoff revenue, local ratings for Blues games were some of the highest in the country, and the young'uns got invaluable postseason experience. Tarasenko played extremely well over the first two rounds. Goaltending, aside from a few hiccups here and there, actually brought the Blues critical postseason wins, and Fabbri's 15 points during this run is jaw-dropping and shouldn't be overlooked.
The phrase 'championship window' gets thrown around quite a bit, and it's an easy way to talk about how long a team can hang around the upper echelon before the weight of contracts and aging players crushes them back down into the basement. St.Louis has jammed that window open, and while pulling within six wins of the big prize still leaves a bitter taste in our mouths, things are much better now than they have been in years.