Like any relationship, the St. Louis Blues and their coach have had good times and bad ones. In the end, winning cures everything and losing pours salt in gaping wounds.
On the sixth day of Bluesmas, the blue note gave to us, six years of Hitchcock. The next line of the song would talk about the golden rings, but those are currently absent from Ken Hitchcock’s resume as far as the Blues are concerned.
Hitchcock won one way back in the day, in the ancient times of 1998-99 (for those of you too young to remember). Since then, his playoff success has not been quite as spot on.
He made a couple good runs with the Philadelphia Flyers right after parting ways with the Dallas Stars. Columbus never did much, but the Blues made it all the way to the conference finals last year. Whether this team takes the next step is up in the air, but it is currently unlikely given their goals allowed stat at the moment.
All of that said, Hitchcock has been wildly successful here in St. Louis. Many fans don’t care for him, but that doesn’t mean he has not done a good job as an NHL coach in our city.
Yes, he has his usual fall-back lines that he says to the media. Before Hitch, I’m not sure any of us ever heard the phrase “buy-in” so much in our lives.
Sure, he is hard to read sometimes. Unless you know the man personally or study the minutia of his facial expressions, it is hard to get a read on when he is joking or dead serious at times.
He’s let players get into his doghouse for almost unguessable offenses at times. Though you can argue the team has been better without them, he is also one of the main reasons TJ Oshie and Jaroslav Halak are no longer on the team.
The man wins games though. Hitch is currently second in Blues history in wins. The only reason he won’t catch Joel Quenneville is because he is leaving for either retirement or other opportunities.
He also has the highest winning percentage of any coach in Blues history. Coming into this season, he had won almost 67% of his games behind the Blues’ bench.
His detractors will point to the lack of playoff success. Fair enough, but nobody has playoff success with the Blues.
Red Berenson was a great coach and could only muster a .357 winning percentage with the Blues. Everyone loves Brian Sutter, but his winning percentage was under .500 as well.
Only three coaches in team history have led their teams as far or further. Hitchcock and those other three have another thing in common. They won championships in other cities.
It’s true that playoff success measures teams, but we’ve never seen this run of success in the regular season. If not for the lockout, the Blues would have five 100 point seasons in a row. In theory they do, if you average out their likely end record in the work stoppage season.
The Blues have also made the playoffs five years in a row. Perhaps fans got spoiled with the 25 years in a row, but the team missed the playoffs five of the six seasons before Hitchcock arrived. They missed quite badly too.
In the end, there is nothing a coach can do, short of winning every game and ending the season with the Stanley Cup to please some fans. There will always be detractors.
Everyone has them. People forget how willing Blues fans were to drop Quenneville. He got us to the conference finals too, but since there was not an immediate step forward the next season, Coach Q was not as warmly received each progressing year.
The same has been true of Hitchcock. There were not many complaints when he took a team with 87 points the year prior and improved them to a 109 point team and made the playoffs. However, even last year’s run to the conference finals, there were rumblings that his time was done.
Fans should be careful what they wish for. There are no guarantees in sports.
Hitchcock juggles lines, plays favorites, implements mind games too often and tinkers too much even when things seem to be working. The Blues don’t have much luck seeing those types of coaches go though.
Jacques Demers left, the team lost in the first round. Scotty Bowman’s exit saw the same thing happen. Quenneville was relieved of duties and the team did not even make the playoffs the next year.
The grass is not always greener. Whether you like him or not, Hitchcock is a Hall of Fame coach. Those don’t grow on trees.
Mike Yeo may turn out to be the mixture the Blues need. History has proven that not all teams take that next step, even when they seemed on the cusp.
I, for one, am glad we have had six years of Hitchcock. There has been plenty of bitter disappointment, but at least we had teams so capable of winning that we should be disappointed instead of saying “at least they got that far.”