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Central Intelligence: Yeo Takes Over Blues Bench

Former Wild coach replaces Hitchcock earlier than expected

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

With the club sliding further down the Central Division and Western Conference standings, the St. Louis Blues made a bold move on Wednesday in firing coach Ken Hitchcock and promoting associate coach Mike Yeo to the position.

The fact that Yeo was named coach is not a surprise. After being relieved of his duties in Minnesota almost a year ago, Yeo was in the mix for a couple of head coaching positions around the NHL during the summer before settling in St. Louis as "head coach in waiting" after Hitchcock said he would remain behind the bench for one more season.

The Blues decided they couldn't wait any longer. 

Once battling for the top spot in the Central Division, the Blues' fortunes have turned over the past six weeks as St. Louis trailed the first-place Wild by 18 points in the standings when the move was made (Minnesota also had a game in hand). After starting the season 15-7-4, the Blues went 9-14-1 over Hitchcock's final 24 games with St. Louis.

Regardless of how it ended, it caps a successful six-year run for the Blues, who went 248-124-41 with Hitchcock since he was hired on Nov. 8, 2011. That .644 winning percentage is the third-best in the NHL over that span.

"It just felt like we were hit and miss night in and night out," said Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. "We need to demand more of ourselves, and our record is not indicative of what we thought [it would be]."

Hitchcock could likely land another coaching job in the NHL if he wants to, but had announced he was retiring at the conclusion of the 2016-17 campaign.

In 20 seasons as an NHL head coach with Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus and St. Louis, Hitchcock stands fourth all-time with 781 victories. He won one Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999. 

Yeo, certainly a familiar name to hockey fans in Minnesota, went 173-122-44 in five seasons with the Wild, leading the club to three-straight playoff berths. Before that, he coached the AHL's Houston Aeros for one season, leading them to the Calder Cup finals and was an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins for four seasons, winning a Stanley Cup in 2009.

"I think what's important is we give the players a chance to go out there and show us what they can do," Yeo said. "We can determine a little more of the chemistry once we get our game going in the right direction. Our game, for whatever reason, is not where it needs to be right now."

Predators show off depth

The Nashville Predators have been one of the NHL's most inconsistent teams, going through several peaks and valleys over the first half of the season.

There's a reason.

As The Tennessean pointed out Thursday, no team in the NHL has used more players during the 2016-17 season than the Predators, who have had 37 different players suit up.

That includes a League-leading 23 forwards, along with 11 defensemen and three goaltenders. 

"Once you get playing [well] as a unit, as a group, it builds confidence," Predators captain Mike Fisher told the paper. "Regardless of who's in and out, we know we can win if we're playing that kind of hockey. It never helps when you lose your top guys, there's no question. But we've had guys that've filled in and played really, really well for us."

Nashville had racked up 156 man games missed by the All-Star break, far more than it had in the same span last season, when it had 84. 

Some of the key losses this season have been on the back end, where defenseman P.K. Subban missed a long stretch of games last month and has been out 16 in all. Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis have each missed time as well.

"We've been confident in that depth right from the start of the season," Subban said. "Obviously, you wouldn't want to test it too much. We want to see guys healthy and in the lineup, but sometimes that's the way it is. I think we've done a really good job."

Blackhawks may try new deadline approach

As the NHL's Trade Deadline nears, now less than a month away, Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman signaled this week that he could take a different approach to improving his team for the stretch run.

After dealing first and second round picks and a pair of prospects in separate deals for Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann at the deadline last year, Chicago was eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With salary cap space lacking and a number of young players improving since the beginning of the season, Bowman said Chicago may only dip its toe into the trade market -- if at all. 

''I've said this from the beginning of the year, and I mean it: We have a different dynamic this year because we have a lot more young players that have been with our team this year from the beginning,'' Bowman said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. ''Established players, they don't typically get better as the year goes on. They're at their level, and they maintain it. If anything, they drop off due to injury or fatigue or what not. But we've got a different dynamic at play. We've already seen it with a few of them. They're better now than they were in October.''

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