Ex-Wild coach Mike Yeo will be a solid successor to Ken Hitchcock with the Blues in transition.
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Mike Yeo will be the next coach of the St. Louis Blues ... just not quite yet.
Yeo, who was fired this past February after five seasons with the Minnesota Wild, signed a four-year deal with the Blues on Monday. He'll spend the 2016-17 season as an associate to current coach Ken Hitchcock, then will take over as head man in 2017-18.
Hitchcock, who signed a one-year extension earlier this month, had announced that this season will be his last in the NHL.
This is a bold move by Yeo, who was under consideration to assume the head coaching job in Calgary, but also a savvy one. The Flames have a bright future ahead, and there's something to be said for building an organization from the ground up. But the Blues are competitive now. And being part of a winner after some rocky years with the Wild has to be much more appealing.
And that's not the only opportunity the Blues job provides. Already a solid tactician, Yeo will have a chance to study under one of the best in Hitchcock. He'll also have a full season to acclimate himself to the culture in St. Louis and to lay the groundwork for his own tenure. Hard to argue with his decision.
Smart call by the Blues as well. Yeo isn't a Hitchcock clone. He's regarded as a defensive-minded coach, but one whose teams are more aggressive on the forecheck and are more inclined to play at a faster pace. He won't tinker with the team's identity too much, but he will nudge the Blues in a direction that could lead to greater success on the ice.
And while Hitchcock gets a bad rap for his handling of younger players, the 42-year-old Yeo is viewed as being more comfortable leaning on them. For a team that's likely to get younger over the next two years, that's a key advantage.
“What excites me is his experience,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "He’s won a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh [as an assistant to Dan Bylsma in 2009], he’s taken an American League team to the finals and you saw the good job he did in Minnesota in taking that team to the second round. What excites me is his experience, but with his age (42), he can really relate to today’s players. It’s an exciting day for our team."
Monday's hiring also helps Armstrong out of a bind ahead of free agency. The impending departure of Hitchcock prefaced an instability that might have scared some players off from signing long-term. Now that a successor is in place, FAs will have a better idea of what the Blues will be and whether or not that's the right fit for them moving forward.
Yeo will also bring one of his former assistants, along with him. Rick Wilson won't have any trouble fitting in—he worked under Hitchcock when the Dallas Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999.
Wilson is regarded as one of the brightest, if quietest, men in hockey, and has a knack for orchestrating a defense. His hiring shouldn't be overlooked—he's a major asset for this team moving forward.