There are surprises in sports and then there is Steve Ott being hired by the Blues as an assistant coach Thursday.
Just 33 days ago, Ott suited up in a playoff game for the Montreal Canadiens. His retirement may not yet be official, and if so, it hasn’t been announced.
But to hear the 34-year-old say why he jumped at an offer from Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, the move shouldn’t have been a surprise.
“Your heart tells you that you’re a hockey player for the rest of your life,” Ott said. “But I think the last few years I’ve kind of been mentoring to that side of things, later on in my career being a role player, working with guys individually. ‘Army’ approached me to see where I was at in my career and it’s a step that I believe I’m ready for.”
The Blues and Ott agreed on a three-year contract, thus ending a 14-year career which included three seasons in St. Louis (2013-16). He left as a free agent last summer, signing with Detroit before a trade sent him to Montreal, where he finished the year. He had an offer to play the 2017-18 season with the Canadiens, but wanted to begin his next phase and the familiarity with the Blues made it even more attractive.
“There was a lot of factors going into this, but the organization I know first-hand from wearing the jersey, the classiness of the St. Louis organization, the respect I have for Army and also the team on the ice,” Ott said. “I believe in these players and to possibly have the chance to win a Stanley Cup as a coach would mean just as much as a player because I really do believe in this group.”
Ott played with 20 of the 23 players currently on the Blues roster, excluding David Perron, Nail Yakupov and Carter Hutton. That could be a negative — Ott being buddies with players he’ll now be coaching — but the Blues don’t see it that way.
“I think such an important part of coaching is developing relationships with the players and he’s already done that at the highest level,” Yeo said. “They’ve gone to war together, they’ve seen what he’s willing to do for his teammates. His credibility, the respect factor, is going to be there right from the start. Obviously he’s going to have to put in the work, but I have zero doubt in my mind that after talking with him and after meeting with him.
“No. 1 you can see the leadership qualities that he has and you can just feel the fact that he knows the game. It was just real easy to pick up that he’s got a passion for it, he wants to be a coach, he wants to make a career of it. He passed up a lot of money and another opportunity to play because he saw this as a great opportunity and I believe there’s a lot of potential with him to grow into a heck of a coach.”
Both sides believe that Ott's versatility as a player will help in his new endeavor.
"I was a player that got to play in every situation, and that's penalty kill and power play," Ott said. "It's being in different situations, all that stuff. I have 15 years of sitting on a bench as well, so it's not the norm when you go from player to coach, but it's something that I've been well-prepared for."
Added Yeo: "There's not going to be a situation that a player can't go to him and talk about that Steve hasn't faced — whether it's playing on the fourth line, getting scratched, playing on the first line, playing on the power play, playing on the penalty kill ... he's dealt with all those situations. That's going to be huge, for him to be able to help them through whatever they're going to face."
Yeo and Ott didn’t know each other before meeting recently — well, unless you count the 2015 first-round playoff series the Blues lost to Yeo’s Minnesota Wild in which Ott was an all-star aggravator.
“It’s tough to chirp when the Minnesota team knocked us out that year,” Ott said.
“I didn’t like him much when we were playing against him and I’ll say that that’s a huge positive,” Yeo said. “If there’s a player that you like, or you don’t think much about, that’s not saying a lot about the player. Whether it’s the success that they have against you, or the way that they get under your skin, if you hate that player for those reasons then generally you end up having a high respect level for them, and that’s the way I feel about Steve. He found a way to impact games, he found a way to leave his fingerprints all over the game and so I’ve got a lot of respect for him because of that.”
The Blues have two more coaching hires to make: a top assistant and a goaltending coach.
Craig Berube is the No. 1 target for the bench assistant, but appears to be in the running for the head coaching vacancy in Buffalo and possibly Florida. Michel Therrien is also a candidate for the Blues, who don’t seem interested in Dan Bylsma.
“I’m extremely happy with the way it’s taking shape right now,” Yeo said. “I’m not going to say that we’re done, but as far as identifying the people that we were looking for, the type of person to match the type of role that we’re looking for, I think that we’re ecstatic right now.”