This is it. Ken Hitchcock is going to call it quits after one more year of gumption, passenger filled, and reckless tactician savory hockey. General Manager Doug Armstrong made the move after confronting a buddha and snake charmer outside Scottrade Center as the Blues cleared out their lockers after a invigorating if bittersweet playoff run. No, this was locked in once Hitchcock's Blues triumphed over the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs.
How do I feel about Hitch coming back? Well, how do you feel about going to Ponderosa Buffet for dinner? Sure, the buffer is appetizing and fills you up but does it ever really excite you? No. I like what Hitchcock did in the playoffs but let's be honest and admit the man's job was saved by the out of this world play of Brian Elliott in January. Without that, Kirk Muller may be the coach of this team now instead of working his way through the Montreal Canadiens organization.
Here's the biggest question I have for Hitch supporters and critics. What does he do differently this year to make it back to the playoffs? More specifically, to the Stanley Cup Finals. What changes does he make in his philosophy, line construction, and general handling of players to improve? With the expected subtraction of certain players and certain injury, Hitch can't just go back to his same old dump/chase offensive method and weak as shit game management.
The same issues that halted him from being able to overcome the San Jose Sharks will haunt him this year. Can he finally get over the STL line fascination and pair up Vladimir Tarasenko with Robby Fabbri? Can he resist the urge to make Vladimir Sobotka a first or second line player? Can he make the right moves between two great goaltenders for another season? I don't want the same old Hitch. I want better more adjustable Hitch. Don't tell me it's impossible because we both know that's 100 % speculative.
This Blues team is going to transition into something different while retaining the ability to compete. The West isn't getting weaker and the Central Division is going to remain a war zone. Part of Hitch's effectiveness will rely on Armstrong and Tom Stillman's ability to retain or acquire certain players.
If David Backes doesn't return, who replaces his two way talents and offensive ability on any given line? Who gets the captain patch? Who gets promoted? If Troy Brouwer comes back, does he become your new Backes?(The answer is no).
What about Kevin Shattenkirk? He has one year left and probably won't be retained. Can Armie trade him for a good center for #91 or will he play disgruntled until February?
If you are going to blame Hitch for shortcomings, you need to include Armie in your criticism. It connects to Armie's ability to provide Hitch with options. Armie made zero deadline moves this past season and it was reflected in the San Jose collapse. When Tarasenko was shut down, the Blues offense was essentially shut down along with him. That can't happen in 2016-17.
While I am not particularly enamored with the return of Hitch, I knew it was a certainty when the Blues climbed deeper into the playoffs than they had in 15 years. It's like seeing that partner at the broker firm hit a certain number and keep his job even though he's a prick and only does enough to keep his job. With that reward comes responsibilities. What does Hitch do differently to achieve a different result? Can he adjust or will he remain stubborn and just ride it out on this farewell tour?
The Blues will be a playoff contender in 2016-17 for sure. How much of one remains a question? If Armie gives Hitch the right players, it could be a repeat performance with something more. If Hitch makes the adjustments and gets the most out of his roster, the promised land may be reached. Until then, we are like kids waiting for Halloween to happen again.
*Alex Steen's shoulder surgery was successful. Meaning he survived it. Whenever I see successful surgery reported, I have a laugh. Were they supposed to not survive. It's a hospital. Steen's rehab is four to six months so he may miss a few games of the regular season. That is the last year of Steen's contract. He makes a lot of dough.
*I am pleased by the return of Sobe as long as he replaces Magnus Paajarvi and not Jori Lehtera.
*I personally couldn't give two shits what Tarasenko did or didn't say to the media. He's a kid learning to deal with the rigors of the NHL. One year at a time. Get over it. This is like needing to find out what Hitchcock didn't eat at Tim Horton's Bakery.
*Jeff Gordon's final season grades were SHIT. No, I am not talking about the retired Nascar driver.
*I really want Backes back but where is the salary line drawn in the sand here? How much to do you pay him and what number do you not approach?
*Hopefully Hitch treats Jay Bouwmeester to a few more days of rest in the season to save his best nights for April, May, and June.
*Can hockey come back? Extra games. Something. I am not ready to depart yet.
If there is solace in the end Blues fans it is that Mike Milbury's voice can be dismissed for another season.