The St. Louis Blues have hired Mike Yeo as the successor-in-waiting for head coach Ken Hitchcock, who has declared that next season will be his last behind the bench before retiring.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong announced Monday that Yeo will be an associate coach for one year under Hitchcock and take over the team for the 2017-18 season. The 64-year-old Hitchcock, who led the Blues to the Western Conference finals this season, will enter his sixth year with St. Louis and his 20th as an NHL head coach.
”I feel really confident that the team and the franchise is going to be in great shape with Mike at the helm,” Hitchcock said.
Yeo was fired Feb. 13 by the Central Division rival Minnesota Wild after compiling a 173-132-44 record over five seasons. Under Yeo, the Wild made three trips to the playoffs, including a first-round victory over the Blues last year.
The Wild, who rallied to return to the postseason under interim coach John Torchetti, were mired in a 3-12-4 slide when the 42-year-old Yeo was let go.
”What excites me is his experience. At his age, he can really relate to today’s players,” Armstrong said.
Rick Wilson, a former Blues defenseman who was on Hitchcock’s staff in Dallas in 1999 when the Stars won the Stanley Cup and on Yeo’s staff in Minnesota, was also hired as an assistant coach. Yeo and Wilson were picked as replacements for assistant coaches Brad Shaw and Kirk Muller, who decided not return to St. Louis.
The Blues had 107 points last season, before eliminating the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks and the Central Division champion Stars in the playoffs. They lost to San Jose in six games in the conference finals, a step slow to the potent Sharks.
Under Hitchcock, St. Louis has finished first or second in the division each year.
”I feel pretty humbled and honored to be part of his final season. I want to help make it a special one for him,” Yeo said.
Before being hired by Minnesota, Yeo spent one year as the head coach of the AHL’s Houston Aeros. He also spent 10 seasons in Pittsburgh’s organization, including four years as an assistant coach while taking part in the 2009 Stanley Cup title run.
”I’m not looking to be a decent coach. I’m looking to be a great coach,” Yeo said. ”This was a perfect fit.”
Hitchcock ought to be a worthy mentor. He’s fourth in NHL history with 757 regular-season wins.
”I’m incredibly excited to get the chance to work with such great people and a team as strong as this one,” Yeo said.