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Blues' Hitchcock to coach one final season

Signs one-year contract to return for 2016-17

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock is making next season his last one as a coach after signing a one-year contract to return for a sixth season with the St. Louis Blues.

"I just feel like I've got this really good year in me," Hitchcock said Tuesday. "This season has invigorated me like no season before."

The Blues reached the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001 but lost to the San Jose Sharks in six games. It was the first time the Blues won a Stanley Cup Playoff series since reaching the second round in 2012, Hitchcock's first season.

Hitchcock said he knew two days after the completion of the Blues season that this next one would be his last.

"We have a 12-month clock as coaches," Hitchcock said. "A fanatical clock that we run on and the 12-month clock is the clock in the offseason. And the clock in the offseason is the stuff that I start doing in July, and I'm gunned up and ready to do the stuff I need to do in July and August this year to get ready for next season. 

"You have to sign up a year in advance, and the stuff I do to get better to stay current, which quite frankly really helped us this year in some areas, those things have been on my desk for two months and I'm not willing to sign them. If you're not willing to sign them, it means you're ready to flat-line and you're going to go backwards. I thought the playoffs, getting through it, I'd take a look at it again and I'm not willing to do it, so I'm done. So to me, I'm ready to go for next year, I'm excited. This is an unbelievable group of guys with a lot of potential and I'm ready to do it, but if I'm not going to get better myself during the offseason, then I'm doing a disservice to the hockey club and I'm not going to do it."

Video: Reaction to Ken Hitchcock's contract with the Blues

St. Louis is 20-27 in the playoffs under Hitchcock, including 10-10 this postseason.

Hitchcock, who turns 65 on Dec. 17, is 224-103-36 in 363 regular-season games with the Blues, second behind Joel Quenneville (307), and his .667 winning percentage is the best in Blues history.

"Ken did a fabulous job, in my opinion, throughout the regular season and throughout the playoffs," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "... Since the day he's walked through this door, we've won two out of every three games we've played. Just digest that for a second. We win two out of every three games we play. That's an incredible winning percentage. 

"We've stubbed our toe more than we want to admit to in the playoffs. This year, we didn't stub our toe. This year, we knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champions (Chicago Blackhawks) and we knocked off the best team in the Western Conference (Dallas Stars). ... We didn't get to our ultimate goal, but that showed me there's enough left in the tank for Ken if he had enough left in the tank."

In 19 seasons with the Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Blues, Hitchcock is 757-453-106, with 88 ties, in 1,404 games. He needs 26 wins to pass Al Arbour for third place on the NHL all-time list behind Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Quenneville (801). Hitchcock coached the Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999 and to the Cup Final in 2000, and won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in 2012. He won an Olympic gold medal as an assistant coach with Canada in 2002, 2010 and 2014.

Armstrong offered one-year contracts to the entire coaching staff, but associate coach Brad Shaw will not return with Armstrong saying Shaw will explore other options. That leaves Kirk Muller, who played for Hitchcock in Dallas and was coach of the Carolina Hurricanes from 2011-14, as a strong candidate from the group of assistants who should be come back to take over after Hitchcock retires.

"I would say Kirk Muller stands out as someone that has been a head coach, I know [Muller] really well," Armstrong said. "He's been good for our group here. Brad Shaw is not coming back. That one's easy and I think [assistant coach] Ray Bennett and I have had a good conversation. I think Ray's in a great spot in the support that he can give in a head coach now. 

"I would say Muller is a name I want to talk to. There's a lot of things he and I would have to hash through before he and I would get to that point. If for whatever reason Muller would like to explore other things, that opens up my avenue to a whole host of things that I can explore."

Hitchcock wouldn't address what he would do following his coaching career, other than to joke, "I don't know if I'm going to retire. I might move over to the media." To which Armstrong replied, "Oh, God, no."

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