Winning NHL Coach of the Year honors last week was not a prerequisite for the contract extension St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock received Wednesday, but it definitely enhanced the relationship.
The Blues were 6-7 when Hitchcock was hired, then pounded out a 53-15-11 mark the rest of the way to win their first Central Division title since 1999-2000.
Hitchcock, 60, received a one-year extension through 2013-14 with a mutual option available for 2014-15. Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong also spoke of wanting to keep Hitchcock on staff after his coaching career ends.
"Regardless of what happens in a few years, I want to stick around for a long time," Hitchcock said. "This is it for me, this is my last stop. I want this to be a successful franchise for the next 10 or 15 years and I want to be part of that even if I'm not coaching."
Hitchcock enjoys the challenge of trying to push the Blues closer toward that elusive Stanley Cup championship.
"I really trust the people in management, scouting and everything here," he said. "There's a great working relationship with the coaching staff, which to me is very unique in sports. It feels like it did way back in Dallas and that's why I want to stick around."
Asked to single out Hitchcock's greatest attribute this season, Armstrong said "how quickly he got the team to focus on the here and now. One of Ken's strengths is not to look at the finish line, but to look at the process to get to the finish line.
"Every day was a new challenge and I thought our team and our organization lived in the moment. It's amazing how when you live in the moment the success just starts to build."
With the coaching staff and front office in place -- Armstrong has one year remaining on his three-year deal --plus a young, talented nucleus, it could make St. Louis an attractive destination roster additions.
"We don't need to make a lot of changes," Hitchcock said. "There aren't a lot of gaping holes in our hockey club. We've got a great nucleus and lot of younger guys that are going to get better because they're a year older.
"We're in a great position; 95 percent of our team's coming back and we had 109 points. I think that's a really good place for any team to be in right now."
Hitchcock was hired Nov. 6, 2011 and helped the Blues register 109 points for the second-best record in the NHL. He led the Blues to their first playoff series win in 10 years, a first-round victory over the San Jose Sharks.
"We never really got too wrapped up in having success, it became an expectation to play hard and to play well," Armstrong said.
The Blues lost to eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles in the second round, but made solid overall progress.
"This is a great opportunity to continue to grow with the players," Hitchcock said. "We've got some exciting guys in here and some more exciting young guys coming into the fold."
Counting previous coaching stops with the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets, Hitchcock ranks 11th in NHL history in wins (576) and 13th in games coached (1,110).
His teams have missed the playoffs only five times in his 15 seasons as coach. Dallas won the Stanley Cup in 1999.
Hitchcock spoke Wednesday about not wanting to stay around too long as head coach if he didn't feel the energy was there any more.
"If the energy's not there to coach, I've talked to him about potentially staying on board and doing some other things," Armstrong said. "One thing he'll never lose is his passion for his hockey.
"He has so much knowledge he can give, not only to the players but to myself, to senior management, our minor league coaches. ... His knowledge will never wane so we're going to keep him here as long as we can."
Hitchcock's only coaching staff change was replacing Scott Mellanby, who left to fill a front-office job in Montreal, with Gary Agnew.
Agnew coached with Hitchcock in Columbus and Philadelphia.
"Gary's great in the people part of the business just like Mell was," Hitchcock said. "He's tilted toward the offensive part of the game; I think he's brilliant on the power play stuff and he's really good in the skills part of the game and those types of concepts.
"We're a good balance for each other and he's very good at keeping me in line, which is a full time job in itself."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.