ST. LOUIS - Apparently we don't know Ken Hitchcock as well as we thought.
All this time, 16 seasons of rebuilds, playoff series and Stanley Cup finals from Dallas to Philadelphia to Columbus and now St. Louis, he's been miscast and misunderstood.
Turns out he's not a relentless taskmaster. He's doesn't believe the secret to success is found in the video room.
He's not even a defensive specialist.
Just ask him.
"Knowledge about Xs and Os is really over-rated," said the 60-year-old career coach, who got his start with a AAA midget team in Edmonton. "You can use assistant coaches for that all you want. There are guys who are really committed to Xs and Os, they understand that part of the game, but I think the people who get hired and stay a long time are those who are committed to the people part of the business. Everybody who is a long-term, good coach right now has great people skills."
Hitchcock, one of three nominees for the Jack Adams Trophy this season (with the Rangers' John Tortorella and Ottawa's Paul MacLean), is one of those coaches. He's lasted a long time, he wins (575 times in the regular season alone) and he cares more about the players who make up the team than the team itself.
"Sometimes we, and I'm including me, lose sight of that," he said, adding he's mellowed over the years. "Sometimes we're so committed to winning because we feel that obligation from everybody in the organization, we forget to look at the people part of the business.
"But when that becomes more important than the W or the L, I think those are the guys who make it long term and have success."
Hitchcock joined the Blues 13 games into the season, when they were 6-7-0. That's hardly a flaming mess, but they needed something, and he was that something. The Blues rose from mediocrity to a battle for the President's Trophy, advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.
"The buy-in was almost instantaneous," said Blues defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk. "The first three or four games it was more of an adrenaline thing for us, just playing hard and once we started to listen to what he was preaching it was great stuff, it was smart. Everything had a purpose to it and it was something we caught on to early."
And then the people skills kicked in
"He's been detailed and thorough, but more importantly, he came in and knew how to coach this team," said Shattenkirk. "He knew what we had here, knew the type of guys and the team we had, and what we needed to put out on the ice, what he needed to do as a coach and how needed to get us to reach that next gear."
Andy McDonald, injured at the time of the coaching change, could see the difference immediately.
"I think the guys ... they didn't relax, but they might have stopped putting so much pressure on themselves," he said. "That's indicative of what he brought in. He knows what it takes and probably felt the group was a little tight. He turned it around really quick. He was the right move at the right time."
Just don't tell him the turnaround came because of a turtle-shell defence.
"The part that bothers me is the (reputation as a) defensive coach," said Hitchcock. "Everybody thinks I'm a defensive coach. I had to learn to be a defensive coach through necessity because I didn't have a clue. If you saw the records in junior and in the (IHL), they were all goal-scoring records. But it's a reputation I carried with me because of damn Ed Belfour, because he stopped everything. So I got this reputation as a defensive coach and I've had to live with it."