Hitchcock has "unfinished business"

ST. LOUIS — Ken Hitchcock needed time to process the Blues’ disappointing first-round playoff loss to the Minnesota Wild. Then he realized how much he wanted to coach the Blues in the 2015-16 season.

“I wanted to be back here badly,” Hitchcock said Tuesday. “Because of the emotion when the series was first over was get me away from here. Then, as it started to move on, I really wanted to come back and finish the job here. It was really unfinished business for me. There was a time when you’re not really sure, as the process is moving along, but then it got overridden by the passion to coach and teach.”

The Blues announced on Tuesday morning that Hitchcock will return on a one-year contract, effectively ending weeks of speculation that the coach may move on or the team may choose to go in a different direction.

But the 63-year-old Hitchcock and the Blues will be reunited for one more go-around following last season’s Central Division championship that was followed by another playoff exit.

“It's been a long process for Ken and I to go through over the last few weeks,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. “Probably a majority of it was spent on detoxing from a disappointing ending to our season and putting that in perspective with the work that’s been done here the last four years under Ken’s guidance and leadership and we’re excited to be back together with the entire coaching staff coming back to move forward and to get ready for September.”

Hitchcock also described these last few weeks as a “long process.”

When Hitchcock and Armstrong met with the media for their season-ending press conference at the St. Louis Mills a month ago, neither seemed certain about what would come next. Both were disappointed and searching for answers. Hitchcock was also seeking time to reflect.

The veteran coach seemed reinvigorated on Tuesday afternoon, in the bowels of the Scottrade Center, after making his return official and being able to get back to work toward a better end to next season.

“This is unfinished business for me,” Hitchcock said. “I don't want to coach to coach, I want to coach to win. And I couldn't find a better spot than to show up right here and coach this hockey club. This is a really good team trying to become a great team. I think I have the tools and the expertise to help them along the way.”

The Blues have won a lot since Hitchcock was hired on Nov. 7, 2011.

They’ve recorded the NHL’s best regular-season record (175-79-27) over that span, made four straight playoff appearances, had three of the team’s top four regular-season records in franchise history and celebrated two Central Division championships.

Hitchcock, who led the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999, also surpassed the 700-win mark, becoming just the fourth coach in NHL history to accomplish that feat.

The goal going forward for St. Louis is to get back to the playoffs and go from there. Both Armstrong and Hitchcock know that won’t be easy.

“We have to come ready to play, we have to prepare,” Armstrong said. “You look at four teams that made playoffs a year ago missed this year in the Western Conference. The Stanley Cup champions missed. So there’s turnover and we have to be prepared for that, we have to be excited about that challenge.”

Hitchcock said he agreed with Armstrong 100 percent that making the playoffs next season is going to be a big challenge.

“Because the four teams that were in a year ago that were out, they are not going to be taking it very lightly. They are going to be pushing,” Hitchcock said. “It’s going to be the hardest job we’ve ever had to get into the playoffs. I think both of us recognize that. Putting everything forward and all of our focus and energy into that is going to be really important, but for me, I couldn't find a better place to coach, I couldn't find a better operation. Doug and I have been together for a very long period of time, we’ve got great communication, and the ability to get this team back into the playoffs and back into that hunt again is first and foremost in both of our minds.”

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You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com

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