Mike Yeo is set to become the next bench boss of the St. Louis Blues. The only catch is he’ll have to spend a season learning under current Blues coach Ken Hitchcock before taking over.
The Blues announced Monday that Yeo, the former Wild coach, has joined the team as an associate and Rick Wilson, who was Yeo’s assistant in Minnesota, will be the new assistant coaches in St. Louis. The Blues were in need of two new assistants after Brad Shaw and Kirk Muller both turned down one-year deals to remain in St. Louis to pursue other opportunities, and the hiring of Yeo and Wilson brings two members of the division-rival Wild’s former staff over to St. Louis.
Most interesting about the hire, though, is that the Blues wasted no time making clear that Yeo will in fact be the next-in-line for the coaching gig in St. Louis.
Instead of taking a wait and see approach, the Blues flat out announced Yeo will be taking over Hitchcock’s job at the culmination of the 2016-17 campaign, which the St. Louis coach said will be his final season coaching in the league before he retires. It’s not as if Yeo is getting a one-year tryout, either. Blues GM Doug Armstrong announced Yeo has signed a four-year deal, signing on to stick with St. Louis until the 2019-20 season.
“For being 42 years old, he’s got a lot of experience,” Armstrong said of Yeo. “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. What excites me is his experience, but with his age, he can really relate to today’s players and it’s an exciting day for our team.”
It’s a unique situation for the Blues, but it’s also one that could bear outstanding results. Though Hitchcock has had his share of tough seasons, he’s regarded as one of the game’s best coaches and has the fourth-most wins of any coach in league history. For Yeo, he’ll be able to learn from Hitchcock firsthand and understand how the coach operates, and Hitchcock said he’s optimistic about the succession plan.
“It’s all about stewardship moving forward,” Hitchcock said. “With Mike Yeo coming on board as an associate coach, we’ve talked a lot recently and I feel really confident that the team and the franchise is going to be in great shape with Mike at the helm…For the future and for the present, we’re in terrific shape. We’ve got people that are teachers first and coaches second. I think it’s going to allow the players to grow more.”
Bringing Yeo aboard and having him learn under Hitchcock might be the best way for the team to maintain momentum going forward. St. Louis is coming off of its most successful season under Hitchcock with an appearance in the Western Conference final, and the Blues have a number of their key pieces locked up for at least another season with a bevy of young talent coming in, including Ivan Barbashev, Ty Rattie, Jordan Schmaltz and Jake Walman.
As Rutherford mentioned, Yeo has experience working with young players, he’s worked with some skilled veterans in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the past and he’s coming into a team that’s readymade and built to succeed. And as much as anyone, Yeo sees the potential in this team and the day after the Stanley Cup was awarded, the new Blues associate — and future St. Louis bench boss — has his sights set on one thing.
"I want to win Stanley Cups,” Yeo said. “I believe we've got a group that should go into every season with that mentality."