At age 60, Ken Hitchcock knows at some point he's going to have to hang up his coaching whistle.
But the St. Louis Blues coach feels he has at least a few more years left before that happens, which is why he signed a one-year contract extension with the team Wednesday that keeps him with the team through the 2013-14 season.
Hitchcock replaced Davis Payne on Nov. 6, 2011, when the team was 6-7-0 and 14th in the Western Conference. The Blues went 43-15-11 under Hitchcock to finish atop the Central Division for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
The Blues finished the season second in the West with 109 points, their highest total since 1999-2000, and they won a playoff series for the first time since 2002.
Hitchcock capped his season by winning the Jack Adams Award for the first time.
"Ken came in and immediately steadied our group and was able to get each one of our players to elevate their game," Blues GM Doug Armstrong said. "He still has the passion and drive to be a head coach in this League and is committed to taking this team to the next level."
The deal also includes a mutual option for the 2014-15 season, something Hitchcock said was important just so he can judge if he still has what it takes to do the job properly.
"I just felt that if I don't have the energy at the end of the this current term, I don't want to do the job," Hitchcock said. "I know the energy and discipline it takes to do the work, and I don't think it's fair to anybody for me to do it further if I don't have the necessary energy top do it. I'm happy with the way it works and I'm sure we'll find a way to make it work providing all of us feel I have the necessary energy. … I know the necessary demands that this position has and I don't have want to do it if I don't have that energy."
Armstrong said he has no doubts that Hitchcock will have more than enough gas left in the tank to finish both years on his new deal.
"I don't see it dwindling over the next 24 months," he said. "Ultimately it's going to dwindle [but] he'll know it well before it shows to you or myself or anyone else in the organization. That's the comfort level we have as an organization working with Ken. He'll let us know. He's honest to a fault in some of those areas. He'll let us know when it might be best to transfer it to someone else."
Even if Hitchcock isn't coaching, Armstrong said he plans on Hitchcock becoming a long-term member of the organization.
"I view Ken as someone who will be part of the St. Louis Blues organization through this contract," Armstrong said. "And then if the energy's not there to coach, I've talked to him about staying on board to do other things. One thing he'll never lose is his passion for hockey. He's going to be a really big part of this organization for the next two years and I see beyond that, because he has so much knowledge he can give not only to the players, but to myself, senior management, minor-league coaches. His knowledge will never wane. So we'll keep him here as long as he can."
The Blues are Hitchcock's fourth stop in 15 years as an NHL coach, and if the veteran bench boss has it his way, it'll be his last stop.
"Regardless of what happens in a few years, I want to stick around [the Blues] for a long time," he 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 it, even if I'm not coaching."
In his time with the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Blues, Hitchcock has a career record of 576-365-81, with 88 ties. He's 11th all-time in wins, and 13th in games coached (1,110).
He's been to playoffs in 10 of his 15 seasons, topped by guiding the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup and a spot in the 2000 Cup Final.
Hitchcock said what he likes best about his current home isn't so much the new contract as it is the people who gave it to him -- among them Armstrong and team president John Davidson. Armstrong was the assistant GM in Dallas the year Hitchcock helped the Stars win the Cup, and Hitchcock said the current atmosphere is reminiscent of those championship days in Dallas.
"I have to feel comfortable with the people I'm working with," Hitchcock said. "I want this franchise to be successful because the people I'm working with I admire and I like a lot and I want to stick around those people. We're going to have ups and downs, we're going to have good times and bad times. To me, I really trust the people in management and scouting and everything here. There's a great working relationship with the coaching staff, which for me is unique in sports. It just feels like it did way back in the Dallas days and that's why I want to stick around."
Hitchcock said he didn't plan on talking much with Armstrong about the club's offseason plans, saying he finds this time of the year, a coach is "better off getting lost and letting management do their thing."
He is excited about one move, however -- the addition of assistant coach Gary Agnew, who replaces Scott Mellanby. Agnew was an assistant on Hitchcock's staff in Columbus.
"Gary's great in the people part of the business, just like [Mellanby] was," Hitchcock said. "Gary is titled toward the offensive part of the game. I think he's brilliant in the power-play stuff, I think he's really good in the skill part of the game and those type of concepts. We're a good balance for each other. I think he's very good at keeping me in line, which is a full-time job in itself. … He's a glass-is-half-full kind of guy and he brings real positive energy to the team every day, and to the coaching staff."
Hitchcock said despite a rough end to the season -- the Blues were swept by the Los Angeles Kings in the conference semifinals -- he's excited by what he sees as a very bright future in St. Louis.
"I think what's really exciting for us is we don't need to make a lot of changes and there aren't a lot of gaping holes in our hockey club," Hitchcock said. "We have a great nucleus here and a lot of young guys who are going to get better just because they're a year older. We're in a different boat than a lot of other teams are. That's what has everybody on the coaching staff excited. We're able to formulate line combinations and [defense] pairings knowing what we had last year and that we didn't lose a lot of guys. That's what we're most excited by. We're in a great position. Ninety-five percent of our team is coming back and we had 109 points. That's a really good place for any team to be in right now."