The coaching change with the Blues has put the spotlight on the players to perform better if they hope to make the playoffs. (File)

By Nicholas Hand

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong miscalculated his players this off-season.

Following an impressive postseason run, he thought they were a matured team who could play through the situation of Ken Hitchcock’s final season as head coach in St. Louis while having the coach-in-waiting, Mike Yeo, beside him on the bench.

The Blues play to this point of the season signaled that it wasn’t. Armstrong’s decision to relieve Hitchcock of his coaching duties after Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets confirmed it.

The result is an indictment of the players. The Blues’ locker room got their wish. Now it is on them to save a season they have had a hand in sabotaging with their play.

During the press conference introducing Yeo as the new head coach, Armstrong termed his players as “independent contractors” who needed to get back to being a team.

Armstrong referenced that it didn’t take a sharp hockey mind to see that many of the Blues were playing as individuals at the expense of team defense.

Hitchcock is a grinding head coach who demands everything from his players from the moment each season starts. While his loud bench demeanor subsided with age (and was rarely seen in his Blues tenure), his expectations of his players did not fade.

Armstrong called Hitchcock “a modern-day Scotty Bowman” on Wednesday morning. Hockey Hall of Famer Steve Shutt once described his player-coach relationship with Bowman as, “You hated him 364 days a year, and on the 365th day you collected a Stanley Cup ring.”

The same can be said about Hitchcock. While he didn’t coach the Blues to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, they reached the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001. The 2001 run came with Joel Quenneville, who is now the second winningest coach in NHL history behind only Bowman, and has coached the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups..

With the trade deadline four weeks away, the players have a month audition to give Armstrong an indication of their commitment moving forward. And not just towards securing a playoff spot for this season, but for their future in St. Louis.

After referring to the players as independent contractors, Armstrong added, “One thing I’ve learned in St. Louis is the Cardinals…they don’t have independent contractors. They have a team. The Cardinals don’t deal with independent contractors, they get rid of them.”

And with this move, it’s clear that the Blues aren’t throwing in the towel on the season. Blues management could have allowed the below-average effort and execution from the players to continue without Armstrong putting the spotlight on the franchise.

Instead, he has put himself on the hot seat by taking the ultimate responsibility.

“I’m the manager. I’m the President of Hockey Operations. It’s my team,” said Armstrong.

His team’s effort forced his hand to make the coaching change. The onus is now on the players to respond. Armstrong will give his response with his actions leading to the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 28.

And after Wednesday, each player’s future in St. Louis this season and Armstrong’s future in St. Louis after this season depend on it.