Whenever things go wrong with a sports team, the head coach is the first person to fall. It’s an unwritten rule that has gathered strength over the decades. Like it or not, it’s true. The belief that a system isn’t working, and the players inside of it are innocent until proven individually useless. The Blues fired Ken Hitchcock today after a tough loss at Scottrade Center to the Winnipeg Jets, but this move has been in the making for months.
The very instant newly promoted head coach Mike Yeo stepped behind the bench for the Blues, the heat was turned up on Hitchcock. Jamie Mannigel wrote it well here, but the seasoned(with white doughnut powder, not oregano) coach was given a team to fail with. David Backes and Troy Brouwer weren’t retained, and Brian Elliott was traded for scraps. General Manager Doug Armstrong brought in a player that didn’t mix with Hitch’s system-David Perron-and put the reigns of the goaltending on Jake Allen. After a deep playoff run, Hitch was given a car with a suspect engine, oil leak, and faulty transmission. Set. Up. To. Fail.
Could Hitchcock have said no, and walked away? Sure, but why didn’t Armstrong just give the bench to Yeo in the first place? Leave respect, and take the future. Why create this situation? Armstrong made moves with the roster that resembled a team being handed off to a younger coach. Youth over age. Speed over size. Tarasenko dependent instead of a versatile attack. For the 1,600th time, I’ll say it. If Hitchcock is fired, Armstrong should go next. It’s his team. The roster was put together by him, and not the fired coach with 781 career wins. I wrote this last year, and still believe in it.
Hitchcock was fired in Dallas during the 2001-02 season after 50 games and 23 wins in fourth place. He was fired in Columbus in the 2009-10 season after 58 games and 22 wins in fifth place. He is fired by the Blues after 50 games and 24 wins while sitting in fourth place. A Ken Hitchcock coached team hasn’t won a Conference championship since 2000. I assume the Las Vegas Golden Knights will provide a few poker chips for Hitch to finish his career with. He will get full team control and a roster to play with and the expectations will be low.
The timing of the firing shouldn’t be surprising. If the Blues had gotten their ass kicked in Pittsburgh and Minnesota last week, Hitch would have never made it through the All Star Break. The record over the past few weeks never reached above shit sea level, so the writing was on the wall in solid ink. Hitchcock won 248 games with the Blues, and won a total of three playoff series with the Note in five plus seasons. That’s it.
Never mind him, though, because there’s a new head coach.
The million dollar question now centers around Yeo’s ability to make something of this season and what he can get out of the roster that Hitch could not. If the towel is squeezed, what more can a new set of hands do with it?
In five years with the Minnesota Wild, Yeo was 173-132-44, and made the playoffs three times. He inherits a team that is the epitome of soft, yet carries possibilities and hopes. The team isn’t tough, gets beat in the corners, allows far too many clean looks at the net, and can’t clear the crease. Forget the 11th least amount of shots allowed, and look at the quality of chances and rebounds given every single night. It’s despicable. On paper, I don’t think Yeo can improve shit.
However, a team will get a new energy with a new coach. Yeo is going to be here for a few years, so the players will want to make their mark. Line assortments and strategies are on the table, and certain players will have to show some teeth if they want to keep their spot. Or let’s hope it’s that way.
Mike Yeo’s mission, if he chooses to accept it, is simple:
*Cancel the Scholarship. Jori Lehtera has played nearly 200 games with Vladimir Tarasenko, and produced like a third liner, so please put him on the third line.
*Play Ivan Barbashev more. Give him a bigger opportunity. What is there to lose with handing a key to a 21 year old with wicked skills? Energy comes from the young.
*Ride Jake Allen. It sounds arbitrary, and has been recited more than a Skip Bayless lullaby about Lebron James, but it’s true. Trading for Ben Bishop would only make the Blues pay more for possibly the same results. Bishop has been lit up twice in a row and isn’t worth the risk. Allen isn’t going anywhere. The Knights won’t take on that contract, even if it looks dreamy. Ride Allen until he cries.
*Be bold Yeo. Be bald too, because that’s cool and you have one neck. Be bold. Try different things. Mix things up. What can possibly happen to make this season worse?
Do I think change will do the Blues good this year? No. I don’t see the Blues making the playoffs. I don’t think the roster can be fixed this month. Does change help the Blues start the process for 2017-18 success? Yes. Getting Yeo in there to feel out the roster, and see what needs to be done was the right move. Head coaching changes are never easy, but the trigger has been pulled, so let’s get on with it.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins await. The test will come soon. Bobby Plager gets his #5 retired tomorrow night, so it would be a fine night to stop messing around and show some grit and win a game. A hip check or two wouldn’t hurt. A pulse would be better.
A head coach affects a lot of aspects of the game. Preparation, leadership, focus, and a game plan to stretch out a season over weeks and months. He can’t help on the ice, because once that puck drops, it’s the player’s game. There will be a different head coach behind the Blues on Thursday night, but the same players. I don’t think Yeo can save the 2016-17 Blues, but he now has the time to figure out what the hell needs to be done to get them back to the promised land.
Be patient, Blues fans. This will be a process, but one worth taking.
Still, Tom Stillman should fire Doug Armstrong regardless. He’s fucked this team six ways from Sunday.
Thanks for reading.