The St. Louis Blues’ season has not gone off without a hitch, and now it will continue without Hitch.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock has been relieved of his duties, and will be replaced by assistant coach Mike Yeo. In addition, Lou Korac of NHL.com believes that goaltending coach Jim Corsi has also been let go. Hitchcock was in his seventh season as coach of the Blues. The team made the playoffs in each year of his tenure, but only made it to the Western Finals once, in 2015-16. Nick Cotsonika, also of NHL.com, writes that the Blues have the third-highest point-percentage (0.644) since Hitchcock took over in 2011-12.
Yeo was hired last summer as an assistant coach with the expectation that he would be named head coach following the 2016-17 season, when Hitchcock’s contract was up. Yeo’s work will now begin a few months earlier than expected. Yeo was hired after five seasons coaching the Minnesota Wild. The Wild made the playoffs three times under Yeo, but were never able to get past the Chicago Blackhawks. Funnily enough, Yeo was fired last year as the Wild tried to spark their team; they rallied and made the playoffs. Now Yeo is being promoted to spark a team to rally and make the playoffs.
It’s been a tough season for the Blues; in the summer, they lost captain and leader David Backes, Troy Brouwer, and goaltender Brian Elliott for a total of a second round pick. Elliott was part of a successful tandem with Jake Allen, but without Elliott as his platoon partner, Allen has fallen off a cliff. His save percentage has dropped from a 0.920 last season to a 0.897 this season. The most important task for Yeo is getting Allen back on track; the struggling netminder is set to begin a four-year extension worth $4.35MM per season. No coach, no matter how good, can out-coach an 0.897 SV%. However, it’s not as though the Blues would be saved had they not traded Elliott, as he has just nine wins in 24 appearances and a 0.892 SV% in his first season in Calgary.
The Blues are currently in the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference. However, there’s no margin for error, as the six teams competing for the two wildcard spots are within two points of each other. The Blues lost to one of those teams, the Winnipeg Jets, on Tuesday night.
Yeo will go for his first win as head coach of the Blues on Thursday night when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit St. Louis.