Goalies couldn’t save Hitchcock
The St. Louis Blues announced Wednesday that Ken Hitchcock, the fourth-winningest coach in NHL history, had been fired.
Hitchcock was in his sixth season behind the bench for the Blues and guided them to the playoffs in each of his previous five seasons, including an appearance in the Western Conference finals last year. But uneven play, cited by Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong, led to a 5-8 record in January, putting the team in jeopardy of being out of a playoff spot by year’s end and prompting Armstrong to cut ties with his coach.
You could argue Hitchcock is the scapegoat for the Blues’ underwhelming season, which has had a lot to do with the team’s struggles between the pipes. After all, when Hitchcock won the Jack Adams Trophy, awarded to the NHL coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success,” in 2011-12 with St. Louis, his Blues team was similar to this one. The difference is that goaltenders Jake Allen, Carter Hutton and Pheonix Copley have combined for a .906 even-strength save percentage compared with the team’s .939 save percentage just a few years ago.
Allen’s struggles might have been the most detrimental to Hitchcock. The 26-year-old netminder had stopped 599 of the 661 shots he had faced at even strength, a career low as a starter, after ranking 13th (.928) in those same conditions during the 2015-16 season. And this is despite the team playing better defense this season under Hitchcock than it did when he was named coach of the year.
St. Louis allowed 26.8 shots per 60 minutes at even strength in 2011-12 after adjusting for score, zone and venue, compared with 27.9 per 60 this season. This year’s squad, however, is allowing fewer even-strength scoring chances (6.9) than it did in 2011-12 (7.3). The team’s save percentage during the penalty kill also took a hit (.899 in 2011-12 compared with .868 at the time of Hitchcock’s dismissal) despite allowing fewer scoring chances in 2016-17.
Now this becomes Mike Yeo’s problem. Yeo was hired as the coach-in-waiting last summer when Hitchcock announced this season would be his last, but unless Yeo has magic beans that can help Allen and the other netminders suddenly regain their form, the Blues will continue to underachieve.
“Ken is paying the price for all our failures, starting with mine,” Armstrong said Wednesday when he announced the move. “I’m the manager. I’m the president of hockey operations. It’s my team.”
And they’re Armstrong’s goalies. And they were a big reason Armstrong’s coach just lost his job.
Ken Hitchcock, above, planned to coach the St. Louis Blues through the end of this season, but subpar goaltending contributed to his firing Wednesday.