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Ken Hitchcock fired as coach of Blues

Associate coach Mike Yeo promoted, was expected to take over next season

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ken Hitchcock was fired as coach of the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday and replaced by associate coach Mike Yeo.

"Obviously it's a difficult day for myself," general manager Doug Armstrong said. "I made a ... hard decision to change coaches. Mike will take over. I'm excited about that. It's a great day for Mike, a rebirth now for this group of players. ... We're excited."

Goaltending coach Jim Corsi also was fired. Assistant general manager Martin Brodeur and goalie development coach Ty Conklin would fill that role for the remainder of the season.

Yeo's first game will be against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scottrade Center on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; FS-MW, TSN4, NHL.TV).

Hitchcock was 248-124-41 in six seasons with the Blues, and 20-27 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blues finished first or second in the Central Division in each of Hitchcock's four full seasons. They lost 5-3 to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday and are fourth in the division with 53 points (24-21-5) this season.

After coaching the Blues to the Western Conference Final last season, Hitchcock signed a one-year contract on May 31 and announced this season would be his last. Yeo was hired as associate coach on June 13 and was scheduled to replace Hitchcock for the 2017-18 season.

Hitchcock, 65, is 781-473-111 with 88 ties in 20 seasons with the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Blues. He's fourth in NHL coaching victories, behind Scotty Bowman (1,244), Joel Quenneville (831) and Al Arbour (782). His 1,453 games coached are fifth.

Hitchcock won the Stanley Cup as coach of the Stars in 1999 and made the Cup Final in 2000, losing to the New Jersey Devils in six games. His teams have made the playoffs 13 times in 14 full seasons.

"He's a Hall of Fame coach, he's one of my best friends," Armstrong said. "But things change in sports.

"I talked to him last night after the game. It's really hard. Ken's probably my best friend. Ken and I talked a lot during the Christmas break and I just felt that ... you want to extend every last breath into making it work. We just haven't played well enough. At the end of the day, we were winning games and we'd look like a really good team, but part of what we've done now is ... I'm not sure if I'm going to make a lot of sense right now, but we don't lose with pride. It just felt like we were hit and miss, night in and night out. I think we need to demand more of ourselves. Our record is not indicative of what we thought [we'd have]."

Video: Dan Rosen on Blues firing Hitchcock, promoting Yeo

Armstrong took much of the blame for the Blues' struggles.

"It's my responsibility why we're off track, and it's my responsibility to get them back on track," he said. "We have to become a team again. We have to take pride in doing things for each other for the betterment of the team."

Yeo, 43, spent the past five seasons as coach of the Minnesota Wild before being fired on Feb. 13. Yeo went 173-132-44 with the Wild, including 46-28-8 in 2014-15, the second-best record in Wild history. In four full seasons he coached the Wild to the playoffs three times, twice to the second round. He also helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009 as an assistant on Dan Bylsma's staff.

Yeo becomes the 25th coach in Blues history.

"I am definitely up here with some mixed emotions as well, and absolutely the first thing I have to do is thank [Ken]," Yeo said. "He was nothing but amazing to me, day in and day out, so I learned a great deal from him. I'm very appreciative, so I feel very bad that I'm sitting up here today.

"That said, I know that I have a job to do, an important job to do, and one that I don't take lightly. When I look at the people that have coached the St. Louis Blues and [Ken] being one of them, those are some awful big shoes to fill. I look forward to that challenge. I look forward to working with this group. It's a group I believe in and I know there's lots of work to be done. But I'm excited to work with them and I'm ready for that process to begin."

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