So when the Blues signed Brenden Morrow to a one-year contract Monday, it was up to Hitchcock and general manager Doug Armstrong to convince Morrow, who has played in a prominent role throughout his 13-year career with the Dallas Stars and then the Pittsburgh Penguins down the stretch last season, that the Blues will utilize the 34-year-old in areas he can thrive in. It just won't be the 20 minutes per night Morrow was accustomed to throughout the majority of his career, but more as a third- or fourth-line forward.
Morrow, who played for Hitchcock when Morrow arrived in Dallas as a rookie in 1999, was sold on the idea.
"I've had a lot of experience dealing with players like Brenden, where they're elite players and finding a little bit of a different role for them," Hitchcock said Monday. "I told Brenden that I look at his role the same way as we did with Kirk Muller when he was in Dallas and Kirk was a great player for us in Dallas, played really well. Johnny MacLean came and played really well.
"It's understanding the balance between the work and rest. When you've played as many minutes as he's played and the style that he's played, you have to put your focus on the hockey games themselves rather than everything around it. We're going to manage his game really well, we're going to put him in positions where he can have success during the games and I think we got ourselves a good player."
Morrow, who said he had interest from multiple suitors, said the familiarity with Hitchcock and also Armstrong from his days in Dallas, as well as Brett Hull, the Blues' executive vice president and a former teammate, made this opportunity a good fit.
Morrow met with Hitchcock, Armstrong and members of the Blues' leadership group, including captain David Backes, last week.
"There were a few factors," said Morrow, who has 249 goals and 542 points in 850 career games. "I wanted to be on a contender for sure and family, I wanted them to be comfortable and myself comfortable knowing Army was there and Hitch and having success with those guys. They knew what to expect from me and I knew what to expect from them. I think the Blues have been a team that's been knocking on the door the last few years and I think they can be a team that can push through it. I wanted to be a part of that.
"I don't think I'm the 20-minute guy I was five, six years ago, but I still feel I can contribute, play some hard minutes, be a net-front guy and add some value to the locker room. I'm still going to compete every night and play those hard battles, and put the puck in the net at times when the opportunity arises. The last few years I've had some injury issues. Those are all past and the body feels good, and I've got something to prove. I'm a motivated player right now."
Morrow also worked out with Barret Jackman over the summer, and the Blues' defenseman helped make his pitch.
"Ever since July 5, I've talked to him," Jackman said of Morrow. "Obviously we had a lot to sort out with our team before Brenden was part of the mix. I always talked up St. Louis. There were no bones about whether he'd be a good fit with our team. It finally came to be. A lot of guys are really excited about it.
"We had great conversations all summer about it, but there's 29 other teams. He's definitely a guy that brings a lot to the table and there's a lot of teams that were after him. It's our good fortune that he was still around at this point. He's willing to sacrifice some money to come to a team that he knows he can contribute to and he sees us as a real contender."
When Morrow went to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline last season, he had 14 points in 15 games playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. The Penguins, known more for their open-ice style of play, got a gritty player that could do the plumber's work in the "dirty areas."
But Morrow could not find any suitors as free agency opened July 5, due in part to a kneecap injury sustained in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins.
Armstrong initiated talks with Morrow in July, and while the interest was mutual from both sides, Morrow wanted to see the Blues' financial situation play out with prominent restricted free agents, including Alex Pietrangelo and Chris Stewart. The sides reconnected again when the Blues were in Dallas for a preseason game, and Armstrong and Morrow talked again over a cup of coffee.
"He was understanding that our main focus at that point was to get Alex signed and I felt that if he signed [elsewhere] before us getting Alex signed, I understood," Armstrong said. "When we got Alex finished, then I knew exactly where our roster was and where our finances are at. We engaged again.
"... He had a chance to sit with Ken and I, he had a chance to sit with a couple guys on our leadership group. He watched a couple practices with us, got a feel for the team, and it just picked up steam."
"We didn't know what to expect, but as the weeks went on from July 5, we knew we would probably have to ride it out a little bit," Morrow said. "In speaking with Doug prior, we knew that Petro [Pietrangelo] and Stewy [Stewart] were big parts of the equation, so we had to let those deals ride out and then we were able to speak more and know more of the situation in St. Louis."
The fact that Morrow is coming in with a chip on his shoulder from not receiving more serious suitors early in free agency gave Armstrong and the Blues another opportunity to make their pitch.
"This was a difficult summer for Brenden," Armstrong said. "I think we're going to be the benefactors of that. The most dangerous animals are wounded animals, and he's a little bit wounded right now in the sense that he felt that he would demand a longer contract at a higher dollar value. I just think he was a product of the system this year with the cap coming down and money already being spent by teams. We have a very motivated person and a great competitor.
"I think he just makes us a better team."
And as much as Morrow enjoyed his brief time in Pittsburgh playing with the high-flying Penguins and Sidney Crosby, playing in Hitchcock's defensive, shut-down system is more suited for his style.
"I enjoyed sitting there watching those guys do their thing [in Pittsburgh], but I started in the League with Hitch and our system in Dallas was kind of tailored to a lot of the success the Stars had in the late '90s and early 2000s," said Morrow, whose father-in-law, Guy Carbonneau, played with the Blues in 1994-95. "Hitch was running the ship and that's what I've grown up with. That's what I knew as a player.
"I think I was brought to the Penguins for a reason, to keep playing that same way, and I wasn't going to try to do something I wasn't and play a certain way I'm not used to. It was enjoyable to watch them compete and play the way they played, but this is more, I guess, tailored to the way I play."