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Hitchcock agrees to one-year contract with Blues

by Louie Korac / NHL.com

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues will turn back to a familiar face and voice.

The way general manager Doug Armstrong spoke Tuesday to announce that the Blues signed Ken Hitchcock to a one-year contract, there never seemed to be a doubt whether the 63-year-old would return to coach St. Louis for a fifth season.

Hitchcock's contract was set to expire June 30. He and Armstrong took time after the season to reflect on certain issues, but each is comfortable with the other and seems fine with a one-year extension.

"I just had to make sure that the passion level that's going to be necessary in November, December, January, February ... the dog days of the season, that Ken still had that passion," Armstrong said. "I didn't want him to come back and feel that he was coming back out of anger and disappointment. I wanted him to come back out of excitement and energy. When we talked, I felt that. I felt that talking to him and I felt that talking to members of his staff that there's a real excitement in getting back to work here."

Aside from the shortened 2012-13 season, the Blues finished with 100-plus points in each of Hitchcock's four seasons, including 109 this season. Hitchcock is 175-79-27 in the regular season with the Blues and fourth on the NHL's all-time wins list with 708, but he's 10-17 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with St. Louis, including three straight first-round exits with home-ice advantage. The Blues have lost four consecutive playoff series since 2012, when they defeated the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Quarterfinal.

St. Louis' entire coaching staff will also return.

"This was a long process for me," Hitchcock said. "... It was very disappointing in losing, especially the lead-up to it when we were on top of our game, and having the ability to process that and go through it here in the last three weeks, it's given me some time to detox. Today was the first day we started preparing for next season. It was an exciting day for me. I'm really proud to be able to coach this hockey club again. I'm really proud the staff is back together.

"This is unfinished business for me. I don't want to coach to coach. I want to coach to win."

Hitchcock's status has been in limbo since the Blues were eliminated from the Western Conference First Round in six games by the Minnesota Wild. The Blues have lost in the first round in six games in each of the past three seasons.

The Blues were granted permission by the Detroit Red Wings to talk to Mike Babcock, whose contract was set to expire June 30, but Babcock signed an eight-year contract worth a reported $50 million on May 20 to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Hitchcock and Babcock are close friends.

"You can't help but not do that," Hitchcock said when asked about following the reports on Babcock. To which Armstrong joked, "I was sending them to him."

"I don't care," Hitchcock said. "The reason I don't care is that we have a relationship where we can tell each other pretty much anything, and there's no consequences. I know one thing: [Armstrong] keeps me informed on everything. Some of it I don't want to hear sometimes, but it's information that's necessary."

After the season, Hitchcock said he needed time to reflect and decide whether he would return. He is comfortable going on a year-by-year basis.

"From a friendship standpoint and a coaching standpoint, from a relationship with players, this has been a great place for me," Hitchcock said. "I just don't want to cheat them. I don't want to be signing on for a bunch of years that I know I can't answer the bell for. So for me, this is a perfect scenario. I want to take this group to the next level and Doug gets to decide the stewardship moving forward."

Hitchcock was named Blues coach on Nov. 7, 2011, replacing Davis Payne, who is currently an assistant on Darryl Sutter's staff with the Los Angeles Kings. Hitchcock coached the Dallas Stars to a Stanley Cup championship in 1999 and returned to the Cup Final in 2000. He also coached the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets for four seasons each.

"Doug and I have been together for a very long period of time," Hitchcock said. "We've got great communication and the ability to get this team back to the playoffs and back into that hunt again is first and foremost in both of our minds."

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