We're all waiting to see what comes of the seemingly ever-changing roster on the other side of Blues training camp as the regular season creeps around the corner, the Blues have gone through some significant changes off the ice as well. With the addition of Brayden Schenn and the development of young prospects, the team is now riddled with injuries. Aside from the new faces trying to break the lineup, there are several new faces behind the bench and at the front office.
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The Blues parted ways with three assistant coaches: Ray Bennett, Steve Thomas, and Rick Wilson.
The goalie development coach, Ty Conklin, is also not returning. This is a significant loss, as the Blues all but cleaned house since the end of the 2016-2017, leaving only Mike Yeo and Sean Ferrell (video coach) on staff. According to Doug Armstrong, these moves were made to give Mike Yeo a fresh slate to begin his first full season as Head Coach.
Ray Bennett has been with the Blues since 2006. Thomas and Wilson have only been with the Blues for one season, though Wilson was previously on the team roster as a player from 1974-1976. Conklin has been the goalie development coach for the past 3 years.
Replacing these three are associate coach Craig Berube, and assistant coaches Darryl Sydor, Steve Ott, and Daniel Tkaczuk. David Alexander will take over the role as goaltending coach. Alexander and Allen have ties to the same area; they share New Brunswick, CA, as home.
Steve Ott, the infamous Minnesota Wild fighting, pest-made-villain has returned to the Blues organization in a new role. What does Ott bring to the table?
Ott was never known to be a playmaker or point-producer. He was always very good at getting down into the muck. Ott’s value to the team will be in his ability to spark the players, his leadership qualities that were always present as a player. Having already established a bit of rapport with many of the players in the locker room, Ott knows how to spark a fire when times get tough. He knows how to motivate this group of guys, and he has a very good relationship with the team captain, Alex Pietrangelo, and the various veterans on the team as well. He will bring an energetic, fired-up attitude to the bench and the locker room, and has already established respect among the players.
In an interview with NHL Network, Ott is quoted as saying “to be honest with you, it wasn’t as tough as probably most [players],” speaking of his decision to retire and move back behind the bench. “I’m real proud of my career and I know it’s time. I feel like at this situation in my career I’ve kind of been prepping for the last few years, to say the least, and kind of mentoring players. When you do so, and you work with some of the coaches I’ve had before, it’s a role for me that’s been building.”
The other three new coaches all come from the Chicago Wolves AHL team, where the three had taken the franchise to significantly higher levels from previous years, in terms of overall points. The most significant development, however, has been the addition of Hall of Famer Larry Robinson as senior consultant, announced on Thursday Sept. 14th. While his specific role and duties remain somewhat unclear, what is clear is that he is an incredible asset to have walking around. A nine-time Stanley Cup Champion and Hall of Fame defensemen, the addition of Robinson in any capacity will be as significant as adding Martin Brodeur in the aftermath of his retirement as a player.
What is clear is that Robinson has been called upon to help and improve not the players, but GM Doug Armstrong, Mike Yeo, and his young and new coaching staff.
In an interview with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Mike Yeo said “I need to grow as a coach just like our players need to grow… if we want to win a Stanley Cup we have to get better. Each individual. I’m asking our players to do that and buy into that. It wouldn’t be serving them properly if I weren’t committed to doing the same thing. I got a lot of things that I really believe in, but I’m committed to trying to learn some other ideas and have some other voices around that are going to continue to push our group going forward. So I think it’s going to be a great thing.”
Considering the stubbornness Yeo is known for around the league, this is quite the departure. And a very welcome one, at that. One of the important parts of being a Head Coach in the NHL is knowing your limits; Mike Yeo appears to be recognizing and appreciating that, and looking for ways to improve. Beyond helping Armstrong, Yeo, and the coaching staff grow and develop themselves, Robinson’s counsel as a veteran of the league is incredibly valuable. His NHL playing career spanned 20 years, the first 17 of which were with with the Canadiens through six Cup wins. As a coach, he worked with Martin Brodeur as both assistant and head coach, winning two cups with the New Jersey Devils. He will quickly and naturally ease into his new role.
There is no way to tell exactly what will happen this season. The Blues, as mentioned, are going through a number of injury problems. But given the wholesale new approach this coaching staff will bring, and a number of new, young faces on the lineup to pitch in and replace some of the production of older veterans, this new coaching staff puts the Blues in perfect position to begin anew with a young core of players. The Blues are quickly moving away from the hard-nosed hockey they were known for for some time under Hitchcock.