Next winter will serve as a curtain call for the head coach of the St. Louis Blues.
Ken Hitchcock has agreed to another one-year contract with the National Hockey League team and he says it will be his final year as a coach.
“I want one-year deals because it allows me to do the things I need to do,” Hitchcock told reporters gathered Tuesday at Scottrade Center for the Blues' end-of-season news conference.
“But I'm telling you right now, this is my last one-year deal. I'm not coaching after this year. This is it.”
If the Blues did not complete a deep playoff run this past season, Hitchcock might not be coming back for one more shot at the Stanley Cup.
He says the atmosphere around the team has renewed his desire to stay behind the bench, although he is less excited about the off-season work involved in being a professional coach.
“This is an unbelievable group of guys with a lot of potential and I'm ready to do it. But if I'm not going to get better myself during the off-season, then I'm doing a disservice to the hockey club and I'm not going to do it,” Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock brought a winning pedigree to the Blues when he joined the team in 2011.
He won league titles in the Canadian junior ranks in the mid-to-late 1980s. He led the NHL’s Dallas Stars the Stanley Cup Final twice, winning the trophy in 1999.
Despite some stumbles in the playoffs with the Blues, his winning ways have continued in St. Louis.
“Since the day he walked through this door, we win two out of three games we play,” Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong told reporters.
“We went from a franchise that hoped to win to one that expects to win.”
Hitchcock guided the team to the NHL’s Western Conference Final this past season, bowing out only two wins from the final round of the playoffs.
With the coach only around for one more year, speculation is already underway on a potential replacement.
One person who would have likely been considered is exploring other options. Assistant Brad Shaw has decided to leave the organization.
But attention is shifting to another assistant.
“Kirk Muller stands out as someone that has been a head coach,” Armstrong stated during the news conference.
“He’s been good for our group here.”
Muller also has a Stanley Cup on his resume. He won it as a player with the Montreal Canadiens. Muller has NHL head coaching experience with the Carolina Hurricanes.
He has been an assistant with the Blues since 2014 and played for Hitchcock in Dallas for roughly three seasons in the early 2000s.