With the retirement of head coach Ken Hitchcock expected after the 2016-2017 season, the St. Louis Blues added former Wild boss Mike Yeo as an associate coach and head coach in waiting. According to the team’s official release, Rick Wilson will also be brought aboard as an assistant coach and the expectation is that Yeo will take over as the head coach upon Hitchcock’s retirement. The deal is over three years.
The news is an interesting wrinkle as Yeo was tasked with guiding a winner in Minnesota, which never materialized despite consecutive playoff appearances. Yeo failed to move the team past the second round of the playoffs, losing both times to the Chicago Blackhawks in both the 2013-2014, and 2014-2015 seasons. Yeo’s Wild also lost to the Blackhawks in the 2013 playoffs, but that time in the first round. Upon his firing this past February, General Manager Chuck Fletcher said that the team’s struggles led to Yeo’s departure.
Yeo is now tasked to work alongside Hitchcock with a team that exorcised some playoff demons by finally advancing to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001. The pressure remains on as the Stanley Cup Final drought extends another year.
Hitchcock’s future has been murky at times, but this year’s success earned him a final year on the bench and the ability to retire on his own terms. Though the Blues roster is more complete in terms of talent, especially in the net, Yeo is hardly walking into an ideal situation.
The Blues first have to determine who to re-sign with captain David Backes, and winger Troy Brouwer among others scheduled to hit the market. Jaden Schwartz is a restricted free agent, and will command a much higher salary than the $2.35MM he was making before. General Manager Doug Armstrong has his work cut out for him in deciding who to keep, and possibly, who to shuttle to maintain the depth and prowess that powered the Blues out of past playoff failures.
Inevitably, Yeo will be measured against the more recent success and his ability to take the Blues to not only a Stanley Cup Final, but to finally bring the trophy home for the franchise. His failures with the Wild serve as a cautionary tale, but that was a team heavily dependent upon stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. With more balance throughout the lineup and a much more stable presence in the net, Yeo and the Blues might be what each other need to finally reach the promised land once Hitchcock steps away.