While he indicated Thursday he has been having discussions with current St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock since the season ended, General Manager Doug Armstrong refused to shed any light on the team’s coaching situation.
Hitchcock’s contract expires in June and the Blues reportedly explored the possibility of bringing in former Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. Media reports suggested that Babcock had talks with the Blues, Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres before deciding to sign a record-breaking eight-year, $50 million contract to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs.
During a conference call with reporters Thursday to discuss the hiring of new assistant general manager Martin Brodeur, Armstrong was asked specifically if he knew whether the 63-year-old Hitchcock would be brought back as head coach of the Blues next season.
“You’re trying to put words in my mouth,” Armstrong said. “When I have something to communicate, I will.”
Armstrong was asked several times in different ways about Hitchcock and his status, but refused to be pinned down.
“I certainly can say we’re a lot closer to the finish line than we were two or three weeks ago, but we’re not there yet,” said Armstrong, who has been communicating with Hitchcock since the end of the season, including when Armstrong was in Europe watching the World Championships.
Are the Blues any closer to having their coaching situation resolved?
“It’s something that we’re working on every day,” Armstrong said. “We’re trying to do it behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny. I’m aware that people want answers, but fortunately for us we have a strong ownership group that understands the process. We’re going to make use of our time and when the final decision is made we’ll announce it.”
The Blues are coming off a first-round playoff loss to the Minnesota Wild, their third straight season of failing to advance beyond the opening round.
Hitchcock has shown remarkable regular-season success since his arrival in November, 2011, with a record of 175-79-27 (.671 winning percentage). However, neither he or his teams have been able to parlay that into success in the playoffs.
They have won only one of five playoff series since Hitchcock’s arrival.
“When I was in Europe we talked quite a bit and we’re talking now,” Armstrong said. “We’re both discussing what we need to do to get better.”
Armstrong said he felt it was important that Brodeur move to St. Louis and establish roots to help him transition from being a player to that of assistant GM. Brodeur was signed to a three-year deal.
“We haven’t had an assistant GM living in St. Louis since I’ve been here and I think it’s important for this organization moving forward,” said Armstrong, who expects Brodeur to be involved in the pro and amateur side of the franchise while also learning the nuances involving contracts, scouting and virtually anything else that comes into play.
After he retired as a player last season, Brodeur remained with the club as an adviser to Armstrong.
“It’s really going to be an open canvas for him to explore and get stronger,” Armstrong said of Brodeur, a future Hall of Fame goaltender and NHL’s all-time leader in victories (691), shutouts (125) and games played (1,266).
“I think one day his goal is probably to be a (general) manager and I really appreciate the way he wants to go about doing this,” Armstrong said. “He’s putting the time in to make sure he’s building a foundation for himself so as he matures in his off-ice capabilities, whenever he’s ready he’ll be able to jump in and be ready for whatever challenges are ahead of him.”
Brodeur, 43, is ready to learn all he can about the business end of the hockey world.
“I had a good learning curve last season, jumping in after my career ended and going in as a senior adviser to Doug. That led me to the decision to staying long-term here in St. Louis.”
While traveling with the team and being around every day through the end of the playoffs, Brodeur watched, listened and learned from the Blues’ front-office braintrust that includes Armstrong, Al MacInnis, Dave Taylor and longtime NHL coach and GM Bob Gainey.
“I took my time and opened my ears a lot, listened to what everybody had to say,” Brodeur said. “I think I just enjoyed being part of the organization. I love the city of St. Louis, everything about it from the coaching staff to the management part. For me, that just kind of clicked.”
After 21 seasons with the New Jersey Devils before playing here briefly, Brodeur considered a return to the Devils in a front-office role. But once longtime New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello stepped down and Fred Shero was hired, Brodeur decided to remain with the Blues.
“I never really had any conversation with any other organization,” said Brodeur, who was happy to get a three-year deal with the Blues. “If I was going to make move, it was going to be for more than one year so I’m excited that we were able to make a deal where I’ll stay at least through the next three seasons.
“I was just glad I got the opportunity and that great experience (here). My goal was to come back to St. Louis. There will be some learning curves for me going forward, but I’m excited about this new chapter in my life and my career. I’ll do my best to (make) as much of an impact as possible.”