St. Louis Blues Coaching Changes Both Puzzling And Hopeful

Apr 8, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; St. Louis Blues head coach Mike Yeo looks on from the players bench against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Blues defeated the Hurricanes 5-4 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; St. Louis Blues head coach Mike Yeo looks on from the players bench against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Blues defeated the Hurricanes 5-4 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Blues are going to have a different look behind the bench in 2017-18. They cleaned house by eliminating all of their assistant coaches.

When I first heard the St. Louis Blues had cleared out their assistant coaching roster, I was reminded of a film quote. “I have just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.”

Yes, I am reminded of film quotes way to often but it seems appropriate here. Governor Tarkin’s words from Star Wars regarding the Imperial Senate don’t reflect any kind of power the Blues assistants had, but more a reflection of a sweeping away of the old guard once and for all.

Gone are Rick Wilson, Steve Thomas, Ray Bennett and Ty Conklin. There are varying degrees of loss with each name, but the Blues clearly wanted a fresh start.

“We felt having Mike (Yeo) start his first full season with a new staff would rejuvenate the organization,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. “Mike handpicking his coworkers right from the start, the situation now, we felt the timing was right for continuing to build the foundation. I think for Mike to have the best chance for success, I want him to have full control over who he works with.”

That’s all well and good, but it still seems a bit strange. Yeo worked with Wilson in Minnesota. It was widely assumed that Wilson was brought onto Ken Hitchcock’s staff as a courtesy to Yeo so they would both get acclimated to the team.

Now Wilson is gone. The positive to that is Wilson was in charge of the Blues defenders.

While there were improvements once Hitchcock was ousted, the Blues defenders had a bad year overall. The entire team improved once Yeo was fully in charge, but the defense was just as much to blame for the issues that fell on the goaltenders in the winter.

Last season, Doug Armstrong was raving about what Wilson could do for the team’s young defensemen. “What excites me about working with Rick Wilson again is that I saw what he did with a young defense in Dallas,” said Armstrong. “I (also) saw what he was doing with a young defense in Minnesota. I think (Colton) Parayko and (Petteri) Lindbohm and (Joel) Edmundson are really going to enjoy Rick and what he can provide them.”

Now, Wilson is out. So are the rest.

I feel a bit bad for Ray Bennett and Steve Thomas. Bennett had survived four coaches and been on the team for over a decade.

Thomas seemed part of the team’s revival. He was part of the Blues since June of 2016, but was not on the bench staff until Yeo took over as head coach. The team seemed to benefit from his experience and leadership, even if he was known for being a Blackhawk as a player.

Conklin, no offense, is no big loss. From what has been reported, he was only around the team a couple days here or there and Martin Broduer was doing the coaching duties.

I had figured that Wilson and Thompson would stay on and Yeo would fill out the secondary pieces from there. Given the team’s lackluster special teams, perhaps a change is fine.

According to Blues beat writer Jeremy Rutherford, Armstrong said the team is looking for assistants that will help Yeo in areas he is lacking. The powerplay is clearly one of those.

Who will be the next assistants though? With the Blues all but dissolving their relationship with the Chicago Wolves, eyes are immediately turning to their entire staff.

Many are assuming the Las Vegas Golden Knights will want their own staff coaching the AHL team. That leaves Craig Berube, a previous NHL coach in his own right, Darryl Sydor and potentially even Daniel Tkaczuk as guys possibly looking for new employment.

Berube is widely touted for helping groom the next crop of Blues prospects into NHL-ready players. He revitalized Magnus Paajarvi. He also took the Wolves from playoff outlyer to division champion and a 101 point season.

Sydor was part of Yeo’s Minnesota staff for five years as well. As a guy that put up offense from the blue line before it was en vogue, he might be able to help a team unwilling to let fly from the point.

Armstrong did point out that it was premature to assume things would just be handed over to those guys, noting differences in contracts between the former NHL staff and the guys from the AHL. “They’re unrelated because the contract lengths were different,” Armstrong said. “If that was the case, we would just be naming those guys right now.”

Other interesting names pointed out in the STLToday article are former NHL bosses. Michel Therrien is a proven winner. He’s won a Calder Cup at the AHL, won a couple division titles in Montreal and led the Pittsburgh Penguins to the finals.

Dan Bylsma helped the Penguins win the Cup Final after taking over for Therrien. He won the title once and went to the finals another time in parts of six seasons. His time in Buffalo didn’t go well, but time in Buffalo goes well for nobody these days. Oh, by the way, he worked with Yeo on that Penguins staff as a fellow assistant briefly and then Yeo’s boss.

Both coaches have been in charge of high-octane offenses. It would be interesting to see what they could do with the Blues.

Of course, bringing in ex-head coaches makes you wonder how long you’ll go until you are looking for new assistants. At this stage of the game, you can’t worry about that though.

Next: Blues Lack Of Cap Space Keeping Them Out Of Running For Big Names

The Blues need some minds that can bring performances out of stubborn no-shows like Jori Lehtera or Dmitrij Jaskin. They need someone that can reinvigorate the team’s awful powerplay. They also need a new goaltending coach, but Broduer is heading up that search.

Ultimately, the coaching change makes sense. Yeo made a lot of positive changes, but if he feels he needs more than he was getting from his assistants then you make the switch.

It is just a bit shocking since it had been assumed Yeo’s staff was, at least partially, in place. Times change and we must change with them. Hopefully these new changes will be for the betterment of the team.