(HOCKEYStL) -The Blues’ end of the year evaluations will take place in a couple of weeks, giving the coaches time to cool off from the disappointing season and look at things in perspective.
Management and coaching staff was not entirely upset with the Blues’ season. Their team finished with the sixth highest point total in the National Hockey League, but the disappointing, and early elimination from the postseason stung. Head coach Ken Hitchcock met with his players on Sunday and told them that the coaches needed time to reflect, and that they will be in touch with each player in a couple of weeks.
“I told the players (on Sunday) that I would like some time,” said Hitchcock. “It’s really raw for us coaches now. The disappointment is real. We are asking for two or three weeks and then we will contact the players individually rather than have these meeting with the same words. We’d like to have an action plan ready for each player.”
That particular action plan will be focused on getting each player to give at least 10 percent more than they gave this last season. Hitchcock hopes his players are receptive, as he says it will not be easy for the players this off-season to get to the next level.
Whatever plan Hitchcock gives to each player, it will likely be centered on execution. The Blues want more from their “home-grown guys”, because they simply didn’t produce enough this past season. In the playoffs, there was little execution. The Blues outplayed the Los Angeles Kings, but L.A. was better at converting scoring chances.
“From an execution, playing standpoint, we have to be better,” said Hitchcock. “We missed the net a lot under confrontation. We made a few mistakes that are correctable mistakes in the off-season in execution. Most of the stuff I want to see us improve on is execution, which can take place in the off-season.”
There were seven players with no goals in the postseason, even though the team had a lot of scoring chances. Hitchcock says the easy thing to do is to say Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick stole the series, but he doesn’t want to hear that. He says teams in the postseason cannot get outworked by goaltenders. He expects much more from his players at critical times.
“From some guys I would (have expected more scoring),” Hitchcock admitted. “Playoffs are a different animal. In the regular season we are what we are. The playoffs are a fight for space, not look for space game. I think we have some players that need to learn to fight for space more. When you go into the playoffs looking for space it isn’t there. It is a harder and truer evaluation when you draw in L.A. There is no space on the ice where we played.”
“Those are the scoring areas that collectively we need to address with people to get better at. Execution under fire in close quarters (is what we have to address). I think we can address that in the off-season and challenge the players to do better.”
These next two or three weeks are critical for the Blues as they determine how to move forward. It’s very likely the team will not stay as-is for next season, so some tough decisions will be discussed. But for the players, they have to commit to improving in the off-season, or anything Hitchcock tries to implement will be ineffective.
“Moving forward, the area we need to address is ‘what can I do to make myself a better player in the off-season?’ not a better athlete,” said Hitchcock. “This is in the area of ‘what little things can I do to make myself a better player?’ Those are the things I don’t want to address right now. I’d like to spend some time thinking about it over the next couple of weeks and then talk to the players about it.”
The window of opportunity is still open for the Blues. They have a team that is hungry for the Stanley Cup, but need to tweak a few things. From management to players, the Blues are committed to each other, but that commitment must also be to making themselves improve in the off-season. It’s not change that the Blues feel they need, it’s just a matter of the current players giving more. If Hitchcock can get that from his team, he likes where they are headed.
“We have a really good thing going. We have a lot of buy-in, we have a very strong group of core leadership that really cares and is committed,” said Hitchcock. “We need to teach players that it isn’t just the words we ask but understanding the overall commitment to get that next level going. I think we’ve got a lot of guys who are more than receptive here to figure it out. I saw it come together in the last few months and I liked what I saw.”