After a disappointing finish in the Western Conference Finals in which the Blues never at any point looked to have any momentum, I know what many of you are thinking.
It is time to fire Ken Hitchcock.
Unfortunately, for that section of the Blues fan base, that time came and went just like the Blues chances at a Stanley Cup.
The business of firing a coach is a difficult one. You have to think about players, fan base, media, etc. It is even more difficult to justify firing a coach with over 750 career regular season wins that has won at least 43 games every year with the Blues outside of the shortened season in 2012-13.
There have been numerous coaching blunders or things that leave people scratching their heads. The most recent, benching Brian Elliott in game five. I don’t know how many times this has to happen for people to realize changing netminders in the playoffs rarely works.
Elliott, arguably, was the main reason the Blues reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2001 and posted a .921 save percentage this postseason despite his team collapsing in front of him for much of the series. The offense failed to score in two straight games, and to say the six-goal explosion in game six was due to a goalie switch is stretching things to say the least.
Then there’s the numerous statements after games that leave you wondering if Hitchcock actually was awake during the game.
Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock says Pavelski’s tying goal late 2nd was a blow: “That third goal was a killer.
A personal favorite of mine. Water is wet and the sky is blue. Thanks.
Then remember that time Hitchcock said he was really looking for his team to focus on physicality? Oh wait that was this past week.
Hitch said there will be changes. Didn’t say who but both Paajarvi and Jaskin could wind up in the lineup. #stlblues
So what does he do? Inserts Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin to bring physicality while leaving Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves in the press box.
However, Hitchcock’s style, all in all, is working.
In the past two seasons, the Blues have averaged allowing 2.4 goals per game. The two season’s before Hitchcock’s arrival? The Blues posted a 2.72 gave up over 30 shots per game. The offensive numbers have not dipped either posting 2.91 goals per game as opposed to just under 2.7 the year before Hitchcock began coaching in St. Louis.
The prime time to have fired Hitchcock was last year when the team fell apart after winning the Central Division and losing to the Minnesota Wild in just six games. That loss was the third straight year the Blues were bounced in the first round of the playoffs, yet management elected to keep Hitchcock around for the last year of his contract.
And what did he do?
He went on to exorcise the team’s demons with a first-round win against the Chicago Blackhawks and then a game-seven victory in the Conference Semifinals. He more than doubled his Blues postseason wins than he had in the previous four years.
Even thought the Blues once again fell short of ending the longest streak in hockey without a Stanley Cup in franchise history, the success over Hitchcock’s reign is still evident. The Blues have made the playoffs every single year, and that is more than most teams can say. In fact, only four other teams have done so (Detroit, New York Rangers, Washington and Chicago).
There have also been rumors that Hitchcock has lost the locker room. In my best CarFax impression, show me the (Car)facts.
All dad jokes aside, really, where are the facts? Other than small rumblings, there have been few points of evidence that support this claim. Now, there very well may be issues, but this is nothing more than gossip as of now.
There is no question Peter DeBoer out-coached Hitchcock in the Western Conference Finals, but another question that must be raised if the Blues were to fire Ken Hitchcock is, who is available to take his place?
Looking at what is out there, the pickings are thin.
Every team in the NHL has made their decision, fired, hired or promoted a coach. Therefore, there won’t be any of the top-tier options that have head coaching experience unless the Blues elected to hire an assistant or coach in the AHL that is unproven in the NHL.
With question marks surrounding upcoming free agents like David Backes, Jaden Schwartz, Troy Brouwer, Scottie Upshall, Steve Ott and Kyle Brodziak as well is questions about what to do with Jake Allen and Brian Elliott, the timing to throw a coaching change into the mix is poor. Step back and picture a team that likely will look to trade a cornerstone defenseman in Kevin Shattenkirk again this offseason, potentially lose their captain, trade a goalie and lose other role players in the process. There is not much there that will be solid for next year, but having a coach that has a proven winning record behind the bench would go along way in solidifying a group that likely will have some new faces in the 2016-17 season.
There was plenty of blame to go around in the Sharks series. Some of it falls on Hitchcock. Some of it falls on Vladamir Tarasenko, who decided only to suit up for the third period of game six it seemed. Some of it falls on the blue line that left Elliott out to dry much of the series. Should Hitchcock have juggled the lines more to get Tarasenko and Steen going? Probably. But, when your top players aren’t performing not much can be done as a coach.
For those out there that would prefer to see Hitchcock behind an unemployment line as opposed to the Blues bench, I hear you. But the time has come and gone.