Hitchcock: ‘I need time to reflect’ on returning to Blues

Ken Hitchcock says the feeling now is that the Blues let the team's fans 'down in a big way.'

Jerome Miron/Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS — There was no answer Tuesday as to whether Ken Hitchcock would be back next season as head coach of the St. Louis Blues.

"He needs time to reflect. I need to give him that time to reflect," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said, sitting alongside Hitchcock during the Blues’ end-of-season media conference.

His head coach, meanwhile, seemed tired.

"This is a sensitive, emotional time for us as coaches," Hitchcock said. "We’ve been at this every day since the 21st of August, and we need time to evaluate and process and think about what just happened."

He expressed pride in his group for winning the Central Division title — arguably the toughest division in the NHL — but admitted it was a different feeling exiting the postseason early this year compared to last season. Both eliminations happened in Game 6 of the first round.

"Last year was an awesome performance by a banged-up hockey club, and it was incredible to see," he said. "This year, there was really wild swings in play, and there was some wild swings during the regular season too, and we found ways to get points, wins, because of it, and during it, but this had a lot of the regular season in it, and there was either feast or famine in our game."

When asked if he wanted to come back next year, Hitchcock responded: "I need time. I need time to reflect right now."  

At the moment, he’s grappling with the disappointment of failing a community.

 "There’s a huge investment between the coaches, the players and the fans, not only the fans that come to the games, but the television and radio audience," Hitchcock said. "There’s (a) huge connection in this community, and they live and die with us, and it’s an awesome feeling. I can’t go anywhere in this city without people wishing us luck. I can’t go anywhere without people supporting us, and it’s a great feeling.  And the feeling right now, quite frankly, is we let them down in a big way."

Hitchcock has led the Blues to the playoffs four consecutive years, yet taken them past the first round only once. But there’s no question he has elevated the Blues since joining the franchise in November 2011.

"When you look at the day he took over, where the ship was headed, to where we are now, there’s been a quantum leap," Armstrong said. "There was hope not to be embarrassed to expectations to win a Cup. Those goal posts are very wide. So I give him the utmost credit for doing that."

Any decision made regarding the coach’s return will happen in the context of familiarity — he and Armstrong have been friends for a long time as well as co-workers with the Dallas Stars before their reunion in St. Louis.

Meanwhile, it will be a long offseason for the general manager, tasked with evaluating why a talented roster and coaching staff that thrives during the regular season can’t seem to make it beyond six first-round games.

"(I’m) keenly aware that 10 days to two weeks can evaporate six months of good work," Armstrong said. "That’s disappointing. It’s a burden that I carry. It’s a burden that I’m going to try to address."

You can follow Elisabeth Meinecke on Twitter at @lismeinecke or email her at ecmeinecke@gmail.com