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Can Ken Hitchcock get more magic from Blues in final season?

Ken Hitchcock has decided that the rest of his coaching life will be spent signing one-year contracts, like the one he’s agreed on with the St. Louis Blues for the 2016-17 season. 

And it turns out that his coaching life has one more year left in it: Hitchcock announced on Tuesday that this will be his last season coaching in the NHL.

"I just feel like I've got this really good year in me. This season has invigorated me like no season before,” he said. "This group of players, their dynamic has changed, and it's really exciting right now."

What we know about Hitchcock is that he’s going to get you regular season success. He’s guided the Blues to the playoffs for five straight seasons, and the last three have been over 100 points each. What we weren’t sure about was whether he could get them over the hump in the postseason; and after three straight opening-round defeats, the Blues finally broke through to the Western Conference Final, where they lost to the San Jose Sharks in six games.

The only question about Hitchcock – and it’s a legitimate one – is about his message, and when it’s worn out.

We assumed it was after the 2014-15 season, but then he comes back and the Blues get to within two wins of the Stanley Cup Final. To hear the players talk about it after the season, it appears that they’ve come to terms with their coach’s approach. From STLToday.com:

(Said David Backes): “There’s certainly times when he gets under your skin and he’s not your best friend. But I don’t know if you want a coach that’s your best friend. You want someone that’s pushing you and always wanting to make you better and make the team better. He fits all those qualities in a coach. Five years together now, I think he’s done one heck of a job.”

Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo added: “You aren’t always going to love your boss, right? ‘Hitch’ is a competitor, he knows how to push the right buttons. It’s not easy to accept it in the moment. But when you look back and look at the overall picture now of what he was able to do, obviously he’s doing it for a reason. He’s had success in this league for so long for a reason. Sometimes you don’t always agree with it, but it works.”

 So it sounds like they’re still down for his particular brand of tough love.

What’s interesting is that the responsibility for the Blues’ success next season has shifted completely away from Hitchcock onto Doug Armstrong, the general manager.

What does he do with Backes? What does he do with Troy Brouwer? What does he do with Kevin Shattenkirk, who is one year away from a huge next contract? And, in consideration of these decisions, what does he do about their overall team speed that was one decent goaltending performance away from losing to the Dallas Stars and that was overmatched by the San Jose Sharks?

Then, when that’s figured out, Armstrong and Hitchcock can move onto the other big issue with the Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko.

If you read this blog, you know we’re not in the “blame the Russian” business. But there’s plenty of reason to scrutinize his borderline-apathetic performance against the Sharks, including more than a few concerns coming out of St. Louis about his stamina in the postseason. It deserves some attention, this situation. 

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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