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Mike Yeo will succeed Ken Hitchcock as Blues coach in 2017

When Ken Hitchcock decided to return to the St. Louis Blues next season, he declared it would be his last as an NHL coach. This raised some eyebrows, as the “lame duck head coach” isn’t exactly commonplace in the League.

But what the Blues actually had in mind was a line of succession: Hitchcock would be the bench boss, and his replacement would be serving with him next season.

To that end: Ken Hitchcock will be the Tommy Lee Jones to Mike Yeo’s Will Smith.

GM Doug Armstrong announced on Monday that Yeo would be joining the Blues as an associate coach and then will become head coach in the 2017-18 season. He's signed for two additional seasons after that.

Yeo was fired by the Minnesota Wild this season after posting a record of 173-132-44 over five seasons. The Wild made the playoffs in three of those seasons. Prior to that, he was the head coach of the AHL Houston Aeros, guiding them to the 2011 Calder Cup Final; and was an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization for 10 seasons.

“For being 42 years old, he’s got a lot of experience. He’s won a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh, 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 a couple of times,” said Armstrong. “What excites me is his experience, but with his age, he can really relate to today’s players.”

Hitchcock used the word “stewardship” to describe this coaching arrangement. “I feel really confident that the team and the franchise is going to be in great shape with Mike at the helm," he said.

Both of Hitchcock’s assistants from last season, Brad Shaw and Kirk Muller, left the team after he announced he was coming back. In addition to Yeo, the team added former Blues defenseman and Hitchcock’s assistant coach in Dallas, Rick Wilson.

“What excites me about working with Rick Wilson again is that I saw what he did with a young defense in Dallas,” said Armstrong of Wilson, who last coached in the NHL back in 2008 with the Stars. Wilson will join a staff that includes Ray Bennett (assistant coach), Jim Corsi (goalie coach) and Sean Ferrell (video coach).

For Yeo, it’s a plum coaching gig after being unceremoniously dismissed this season.

His time in Minnesota came to an end as the players tuned him out, and as issues in the power dynamic of he locker room overwhelmed them. Then there was the hard-charging style of Yeo, which had an expiration date with that group.

“I’m an aggressive, attacking, in-your-face, hardworking team,” he told the Star Tribune back in February. “If we lose a little bit of that playing an aggressive game, the worst thing you can do is be in between. And it felt like sometimes we were a little in between.”

In other words, Yeo’s philosophy on work ethic should fit right in with that of Hitchcock.

Part of Yeo’s task with the Wild was changing the culture with that team: Having them believe they were Stanley Cup contenders each season, and making that the standard.

If the Blues aren’t believers yet, Yeo plans on instilling that in them, too. "I want to win Stanley Cups. I believe we've got a group that should go into every season with that mentality,” he said, via the Blues.

It’s a smart hire for the Blues. First, because it formally eliminates the “lame duck” issue with Hitchcock, and does so with a head coach that has substantial NHL experience. But also because Yeo has steadily become a better coach through the years. In some ways, his system and his ideals seemed derived from Hitchcock’s. Now, the apprentice can learn from the master. 

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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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