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Central Division notebook

Associate coach Mike Yeo settling in with Blues; Brian Campbell never really left Chicago

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- St. Louis Blues associate coach Mike Yeo is trying to make an untraditional situation look and seem as normal as possible even though he knows it's not.

Yeo is the second in command on the Blues' coaching staff to Ken Hitchcock, but he will be No. 1 starting next season. The Blues hired Yeo, who spent the past five seasons as coach of the Minnesota Wild, to be their associate now and coach in waiting on June 13. 

Yeo knows his situation is unique (he said he had never heard of anything like it before), but he doesn't feel it's strange, especially since he's been an assistant coach before, with the Pittsburgh Penguins for four seasons (2006-10).

"Obviously when you're the head coach you're used to making the decisions and kind of having the final say, but having the experience of being the assistant coach before I knew what to expect," Yeo said. "I just really embraced the idea of sitting back this year and learning as much as I can. One thing I know is you learn a lot more by listening than talking. I know that will help me down the road."

Hitchcock has embraced the idea of having his successor on his staff and he's doing what he can to give Yeo the tools necessary to take over the Blues starting next season.

For example, Yeo is running some of the practices and morning skates. Hitchcock allows Yeo to run the power play meetings without feeling he has to be present. He gives Yeo the freedom to talk to players one-on-one without looking over his shoulder.

The hope is that by giving Yeo those and more responsibilities now, it will make his transition to being coach seamless.

Video: STL@CGY: Fabbri sets up Perron on a power play

"This is not a league that you want to put a coach in a feeling-out stage because by the time he feels everything out the season is over," Hitchcock said. "It's been great for me. If you ask Mike, it's been great for Mike. I've given more and more responsibility to him, but he's earned it."

Yeo's one concern when he took the job was he didn't want to be the main assistant coach the players turn to when they have a problem or an idea that they don't feel needs to be addressed with Hitchcock. Players tend to lean on the assistants more than the coach.

"You don't want to be the ear that they have all the time and then next year it's not there," Yeo said.

That hasn't been an issue because the Blues were keen in hiring former NHL player Steve Thomas as an assistant coach as well.

Thomas, who previously was an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning, has been the go-to for the players, according to both Yeo and captain Alex Pietrangelo.

However, knowing Yeo is next in line to be their coach has been "a bit of a breath of fresh air," Pietrangelo said, because it assures the players there will be consistency within the coaching staff even after the season.

"When all of us have had Hitch as long as we have there is a sense of comfort within the room that he and [general manager Doug Armstrong] have done their homework and they know who the next guy is and that he's ready," Pietrangelo said. "It gives us a sense of calm that they don't have to go do that in the summer. 

Meanwhile, Yeo is getting a rare opportunity for coaches in the NHL. He is learning on the job with his new team and taking notes along the way that he thinks will help the Blues both now and when he's running things.

"I'm learning from a Hall of Fame coach how he prepares, the way he treats certain situations, but I'm learning about our group too," Yeo said. "Who is effective with who? How does a guy play his best hockey? What does his best game look like? Or on the personal side, what motivates them and what takes away from their strongest games. These are things I'm taking notes on every day and will be really useful."

"I've filled up a notebook already."

 

Campbell never really left Chicago

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell was away from the Windy City for five seasons playing for the Florida Panthers, but he never stopped calling Chicago home. The only difference now that he's back in Chicago on a one-year, $1.1 million contract is that Campbell can say he's home for good.

Despite having to relocate his life to Florida, Campbell and his wife, Lauren, kept their downtown Chicago apartment until 2014, when they sold it to buy a house in Western Springs, Illinois, a suburban town 20 miles outside of the city.

Part of the reason they kept calling Chicago home is Lauren is from the area and her family is still there. The other part is they wanted to put down their own roots in Chicago for themselves and their kids, 3-year-old Harper and 1-year-old Everley.

"We love the Midwest, love the people," Campbell said prior to a 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center last Friday. "Midwestern people are really kind and friendly. It's only a six-hour drive to my hometown [London, Ontario]. There are so many positives. The city is unbelievable. It's a great sports town. It's great for kids and school. We're really happy." 

Campbell said he's noticed his kids enjoying their life in the suburbs too.

"We're really lucky and blessed where we live, there are a lot of kids running around," he said. "I don't think we had that feel that much in Florida. We find we're giving them the best culture to grow up in and that's special for my wife and I.

"We're in our house that we'll probably be in for the next 20-someodd years."

The only unique thing about their life now is that Campbell is still a professional hockey player. He hopes to stay that in Chicago until he retires, whenever that may be.

He's on a one-year contract now and seems amenable to work with Chicago general manager Stan Bowman on similar contracts going forward if the Blackhawks still want him.

"I hope I can stay here for the rest of my career and finish my career here," Campbell said. "We obviously made a big effort to be here this year, so I don't see us really wanting to go anywhere. They're aware of that as well. There are no secrets. That's the best thing about Stan, he's up front, honest and you can trust him."

Video: CGY@CHI: Campbell's pass goes in off defenseman

 

Stat pack

The Blackhawks penalty kill has gone 9-for-10 in the past three games, all wins, after going 12-for-26 in the first seven games, when they went 3-3-1. … The Minnesota Wild haven't allowed a power-play goal in six consecutive games (13-for-13) and are 26-for-27 on the penalty kill this season. They are first in the NHL on the PK at 96.3 percent. … The Wild are also fifth in the League in goals per game (3.30) despite being 29th in shots on goal per game (26.1). … The Blues have scored three goals and are 1-2-1 in their past four games. … The Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars each play 16 games in 29 days in November.

 

Games to watch

Winnipeg Jets at Washington Capitals (Nov. 3, 7 p.m. ET; CSN-DC, TSN3, NHL.TV) -- Rematch of the Capitals' 3-2 win in Winnipeg on Tuesday, when the Jets tied the game 2-2 with two goals in the third period before Washington forward Jay Beagle won it with 30 seconds remaining.

St. Louis Blues at Dallas Stars (Nov. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET; FS-SW, FS-MW, NHL.TV) -- Two struggling teams (St. Louis is 1-2-1 in its past four games and Dallas is 3-4-2 to start the season) try to see if they get can righted in a divisional matchup.

Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues (Nov. 9, 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV) -- Second game between the rivals and competitors in the upcoming 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which is at Busch Stadium on Jan. 2. St. Louis defeated Chicago 5-2 on Oct. 12. 

Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators (Nov. 12, 8 p.m. ET; FS-TN, FS-W, NHL.TV) -- First game between the teams since the Predators defeated the Ducks 2-1 in Game 7 of the Western Conference First Round last season. 

Montreal Canadiens at Chicago Blackhawks (Nov. 13, 7 p.m. ET; SN, WGN, RDS, NHL.TV) -- Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw returns to Chicago to face his former team for the first time since he was traded for two second-round draft picks on June 24. Shaw won the Stanley Cup twice with the Blackhawks (2013 and 2015).

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