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Hitchcock to reflect before deciding future with Blues

by Louie Korac /

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ken Hitchcock was non-committal about his future as coach of the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, two days after their latest early exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Hitchcock does not have a contract beyond the 2014-15 season, his fourth with the Blues. At the end of the three previous seasons, he expressed optimism about returning and making a bigger impact moving forward.

On Tuesday, he did not.

"I need time. I need time to reflect right now," Hitchcock, 63, said. "I need some time to evaluate right now what I've done, what I've accomplished and what's happened to us both positive -- a lot of it -- and the negative, which goes along with the territory. I feel like I've let people down right now and I need to think about that and what needs to improve. I want time and space to evaluate it. I'll sit down with (general manager) Doug (Armstrong), and Doug's right, we've been together a long period of time. I know how good a coach I am. I know what I can do, but I want some time.

"This is a really emotional time for me because I feel a real connection to the community. I need to just step back and evaluate where this thing's at."

Hitchcock is 175-79-27 (.671 winning percentage) and has won two Central Division titles with the Blues in the regular season, but St. Louis has one playoff series victory in his four seasons, against the San Jose Sharks in the 2012 Western Conference First Round. The Blues are 10-17 (.370 winning percentage) under him in the postseason.

St. Louis, which earned 100 or more points in each of the past three full seasons, has been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs three straight years, this spring by the Minnesota Wild in six games.

Hitchcock, who is 708-429-88-97 in 19 seasons with the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Blues, expressed his desire to return a few weeks ago, saying he had always maintained his level of coaching and eagerness to teach. He was asked if those areas will go into his reflection.

"No. I need some time, period," said Hitchcock, who is fourth all-time in NHL coaching victories behind Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour and Joel Quenneville. "This is two days; haven't even looked at Game 1. I need some time. That's what it is. I need some time to do some personal evaluation. My role, the coaches' role, the way the team played, I need to get together with Doug when he gets back and we'll talk it through. We're two people that know how to work together. We'll do what's best for the organization. I just need some time."

There is no timetable for when Hitchcock's decision will come, but with the Blues heading into an uncertain offseason, a quick resolution is not out of question.

"I don't want to diminish the work Ken and the players do in the regular season," said Armstrong, who has worked with Hitchcock since their days together with the Stars. "It does bring the people into the building every night. They're excited; they go home happy. It's a great group to be around, but we're not getting it done at that time of year.

"I think when you look at the day he took over, where the ship was headed to where we are now, there's been a quantum leap. There was hope not to be embarrassed to expectations to win a Cup. Those goal posts are very wide. I give him the utmost credit for doing that, for getting on that task, for completing that task of respectability to then expectations.

"What we're going to evaluate now is what are we going to have to do together to move this forward. I'm not going to put a timeline on it. It's not going to be, 'You come back in 18 days and I'll have an answer.' It's going to be when as an organization we're ready to decide on all of us; myself included. I'm not above or immune to this situation, but Ken and I, we've been friends for a number of years. He needs time to reflect; I need to give him that time to reflect. The one thing that we have with each other has been honesty. Honesty when we weren't working together for the better part of a decade. We're big boys. He gets it; I get it. I've got to do my job, he has to do his job, and we're going to continue to talk and move this forward."

A number of players offered their support for Hitchcock in their development as players, including all-stars Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko, two of the younger players in the organization.

"We're not in this position without Hitch," Shattenkirk said. "He raised us to a top-contending team when he first came in here and he's kind of put in place a lot of the core values you need in a winning team. Now we have to figure out what the next step is and how to take that next jump. That's something he has to think about, I think for our team, and we have to think about as players. He's done great things for this team, there's no doubt about it."

Tarasenko, who led the Blues in goals (37) and points (73), credits Hitchcock for helping him become a top player in the NHL.

"He's a great coach," Tarasenko said. "He's fourth in history. He helps everybody a lot."

The Blues had high expectations of winning the Stanley Cup this season, but Hitchcock is taking a third straight first-round elimination hard.

"It's painful to the point where I want to evaluate a lot of stuff," Hitchcock said. "I want to evaluate a lot of stuff reaction-wise and things like that."

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