May 21st, 2024

St. Louis Blues remove interim tag and name Drew Bannister full-time coach


By Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press on May 7, 2024.

Drew Bannister is returning as coach of the St. Louis Blues after getting the interim tag removed from his title and being named Tuesday to the full-time role.

He signed a two-year contract that gives him the chance to oversee a bit of organizational retooling but also show he can get the most out of a roster stocked with veteran talent. The expectation is still for the Blues to contend for a playoff spot in the Western Conference with Bannister in charge.

Bannister, 50, replaced Craig Berube when the 2019 Stanley Cup-winning coach was fired in December. The Blues went 30-19-5 after Bannister took over and finished six points out of a playoff spot.

Three weeks after the regular season ended, and after discussing just two other potential candidates with his inner circle, president of hockey operations and general manager Doug Armstrong opted against making another change and decided to keep Bannister in the job.

“You’re just looking, like: ‘Is there any better out there? Is there something different that we’re missing?” Armstrong said on a video call with reporters. “We just came back to our group that Drew had done what we’d asked him to do. We see progression. We see someone that’s earned the right to take the reins and we move forward.”

This is Bannister’s first head-coaching gig in the NHL. He previously coached the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League, St. Louis’ top affiliate, for two-plus seasons.

“(This is) something I’ve been working towards and something that I wanted for myself, my family moving forward,” said Bannister, who played 178 NHL games in the 1990s and early 2000s and was at peace with his status in recent weeks. “It can be a stressful time, but I felt by the end of the year that I’d done a lot of positive things with the players, with the team. Certainly was disappointing the way it ended up for us, but overall I was happy with the strides we made.”

Keeping Bannister fills one of the many potential vacancies this offseason, another of which closed when Ottawa announced the hiring of former New Jersey interim coach Travis Green 90 minutes after the Blues’ news. There have been 16 coaching changes (half the league) over the past year, not counting the need for Winnipeg to find a successor for Rick Bowness, who announced his retirement Monday.

Others could be coming after Toronto lost in the first round for the fourth time in five seasons under Sheldon Keefe. Had his Maple Leafs come back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat Boston in Game 7 on Saturday night, it could have put in jeopardy the job security of Bruins coach Jim Montgomery, who spent two seasons as a Blues assistant on Berube’s staff after his 2019 dismissal in Dallas.

Armstrong said all assistants would return under Bannister, who will be tasked with building lasting relationships with the leadership group of captain Brayden Schenn, All-Star Robert Thomas and defensemen Colton Parayko and Justin Faulk, among others. He likes what he has seen so far in that and other departments enough to trust Bannister with the direction of the franchise.

“He did a very good job in a difficult situation last year,” Armstrong said. “Now having a full training camp and two-year term to put his stamp on this team, we’re looking forward to that.”

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

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