It’s rare in the history of the St. Louis Blues that May 16th is a date of consequence, and yet today major events unfolded that had nothing to do with Steve Yzerman.
Assistant coaches Ray Bennett, Steve Thomas, and Rick Wilson, along with goalie coordinator Ty Conklin, were let go by the organization. In addition, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights announced an affiliation with the AHL Chicago Wolves that effectively ends the same agreement with the Blues.
The move means that Vegas will have control over the operations and, notably, the coaching staff of the Wolves. While describing Chicago coaches Craig Berube, Darryl Sydor, and Daniel Tkaczuk as on the “short list,” Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong denied the two events were related.
“They’re unrelated because the contract lengths were different,” Armstrong said. “If that was the case, we would just be naming those guys right now.”
Armstrong and Head Coach Mike Yeo joined the media on a conference call to describe the process of searching for new assistants. Armstrong said the team hoped to have a staff in place by the start of the NHL Draft on June 23.
Berube in particular is a name of interest, as he has experience as the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers. He was hired two games into the 2013-14 season by the Flyers and let go at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season.
“When we hired Craig to work with our organization, he had assistant coach options [in the NHL],” said Armstrong. “He felt running the bench in the AHL was something he wanted to do.”
The affiliate change occurs as Vegas prepares to begin play in the NHL next season. Under an agreement with the Golden Knights, the Blues will loan some players to help fill out their AHL roster. Citing the lack of current organizational depth for Vegas, Armstrong said he believes sharing AHL veterans will provide a “competitive advantage.”
No clarity was offered as to the intended destination for the full range of Blues prospects, except to say the team has had discussions with other organizations about potential player assignments. This would suggest that the Blues will have contracted players loaned to multiple AHL destinations throughout the 2017-18 season.
Armstrong expressed optimism that this arrangement would be temporary, citing several “irons in the fire” for future affiliations. “We’re full throttle to make sure we have something for 18-19,” he said.
Reports earlier in the season claimed that the Blues would have an AHL affiliate in Kansas City, but those appeared to be debunked in January. When asked about Kansas City specifically, Armstrong declined to comment, citing respect for potential partners.
Chicago Wolves Chairman Don Levin spoke with Crain’s Chicago Business earlier on Tuesday, expressing frustration with the team’s relationship with the Blues. "St. Louis would like to see their guys win, but wouldn't put any effort into doing it," Levin said. “"They didn't do what we expected them to do, and it was difficult."
Armstrong declined to respond to those comments as well, saying only, “we appreciated our time with the Wolves and we wish him the best."