ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Blues have relieved Ken Hitchcock of coaching duties, Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues President of Hockey Operations and General Manager, announced Wednesday.
Associate Coach Mike Yeo will begin his tenure as head coach on Thursday. Yeo was supposed to succeed Hitchcock after this season, the veteran coach's final season in St. Louis.
Along with Hitchcock, goalie coach Jim Corsi was fired and replaced for the remainder of the season by assistant general manager Martin Brodeur and goalie development coach Ty Conklin for the remainder of the season.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong made the emotional announcement at a press conference at the team practice facility inside St. Louis Mills Ice Zone.
"Obviously it's a difficult day for myself," Armstrong said. "I made a ... hard decision to change coaches. Mike will take over; I'm excited about that. It's a great day for Mike, a rebirth now for this group of players. ... Also Jim Corsi has been relieved of his duties, too. It's a rebirth. We're excited. I'm going to let Mike talk about his vision and what he has in store for us the rest of the year moving forward."
Hitchcock was 248-123-41 in six seasons with St. Louis. He was 20-27 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blues finished first or second in the Central Division in each of Hitchcock's five full seasons, but they lost 5-3 to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday and are fourth in the division with 53 points (24-21-5).
Photos: Ken Hitchcock through the years
After coaching the Blues to the Western Conference Final last season, he signed a one-year contract on May 31, 2016, and announced the 2016-17 season would be his last. Yeo was hired as associate coach June 13, 2016, and was scheduled to take over as coach next season.
Hitchcock, 64, is 781-473-111 with 88 ties in 20 seasons with the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Blues. He's fourth all-time in the NHL in coaching victories, behind Scotty Bowman (1,244), Joel Quenneville (831) and Al Arbour (782). His 1,453 games coached are fifth.
He won the Stanley Cup as coach of the Stars in 1999 and made the Cup Final in 2000, losing to the New Jersey Devils in six games. His teams made the playoffs 13 times in 14 full seasons.
"He's a Hall of Fame coach, he's one of my best friends," Armstrong said. "But things change in sports.
"I talked to him last night after the game (a 5-3 loss to the WInnipeg Jets)," Armstrong said. "It's really hard. Ken's probably my best friend. Ken and I talked a lot during the Christmas break and I just felt that ... you want to extend every last breath into making it work. We just haven't played well enough. At the end of the day, we were winning games and we'd look like a really good team, but part of what we've done now is ... I'm not sure if I'm going to make a lot of sense right now, but we don't lose with pride. It just felt like we were hit and miss night-in and night-out. I think we need to demand more of ourselves. Our record is not indicative of what we thought (we'd have)."
Armstrong took much of the blame for the Blues' struggles.
"It's my responsibility why we're off track, and it's my responsibility to get them back on track," he said. "We have to become a team again. We have to take pride in doing things for each other for the betterment of the team."
Yeo, 43, is in his first season with the Blues after spending most of the past five seasons as coach of the Minnesota Wild. He was fired by Minnesota on Feb. 13, 2016. Yeo went 173-132-44 with the Wild, including 46-28-8 in 2014-15 that was the second-best in franchise history. He guided the Wild to three appearances in the playoffs, and they advanced to the second round in 2014 and 2015. He was also an assistant on the Pittsburgh Penguins when they won the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Yeo becomes the 25th head coach in franchise history.
"First thing is that I am definitely up here with some mixed emotions as well and absolutely the first thing I have to do is thank Hitch," Yeo said. "He was nothing but amazing to me day-in and day-out, so I learned a great deal from him. I'm very appreciative, so I feel very bad that I'm sitting up here today. That said, I know that I have a job to do, an important job to do and one that I don't take lightly. When I look at the people that have coached the St. Louis Blues and Hitch being one of them, those are some awful big shoes to fill and I look forward to that challenge. I look forward to working with this group; it's a group I believe in and I know there's lots of work to be done, but like I said, I'm excited to work with them and I'm ready for that process to begin."
The Blues host the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scottrade Center on Thursday (8 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) and will retire Bobby Plager's No. 5 jersey.