By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Andy Murray was relieved of his duties Saturday as coach of the Blues and replaced by Davis Payne, who coached the Blues' AHL team in Peoria. Here are comments from Blues President John Davidson, Payne, players and Murray himself.
Good morning everybody. Obviously you've already heard the news that as an organization, we decided to make a coaching change with Andy Murray being relieved of his duties. As an organization, we'd like to thank Andy for a terrific effort he put forth with the Blues organization. He helped take our team to a new level. When Andy got here, we didn't have a whole lot of people in the building. We didn't have a whole lot to talk about, about our club. And he was a main ingredient for getting us to the next level. We decided that with myself, and with our hockey operations people here in St. Louis with the blessing of ownership -- led by Dave Checketts -- to make this change and to bring in Davis Payne as the interim head coach for the rest of the season here with the Blues. Our goal as of right now, is to get back winning, especially on home ice and to make the playoffs, and to improve as we march along here with all players in our lineup.
Will the next coach be hired sooner or later? Is this a deal that will happen sooner or later?
With this situation, we did quite a bit of research. Davis has nine years of coaching experience with both the East Coast League and Peoria of the American League. We feel that the American League is the second-best in the world. Some people in Russia might disagree with that. Davis has experience. He is 39 years of age -- he may have turned 40 -- but we feel he is our coach and he might be our coach long-term. We're going to evaluate as it goes on. There's some young people in this league that have taken jobs that have had great success coming out of the American League. We can talk about the head coach in Ottawa, the head coach in Pittsburgh, the head coach in Colorado amongst others. Four, five, six different teams have had coaches and primarily young coaches coming out of the American League and they've all had reasonable and sound success. We feel comfortable about the experience level that Davis has going into this position. It'll be an adjustment for him, for sure. And it's a whirlwind for him, but we feel confident about it.
Was there any particular point about the timing, and what about giving him an option?
Getting to the option, he earned it. Andy Murray earned it. he did a great job with us and getting to where he got us. That stretch run last year was something quite special. We felt that is was certainly a reward for Andy to pick up the option for next year. We believe that was the right decision, but at the same time, we feel that a new voice is something that needs to be with our club right now. Davis will provide that. Our winning record on home ice is something that's hurt us. We all know that. That's just what it is. We feel that we're a .500 hockey club right now on paper, but we think we should be better. I think everybody realizes that and that's our goal -- to be better than that. We have to have goals, and we have to pursue those. Other than that, that's pretty much it in a nutshell.
How did Andy take the news?
Andy came up to the office at about 10 after seven this morning with Larry and I. We had, not a long conversation, but it was something quite special because Andy's a class guy. He handled it very well. My intuition tells me he knew something was coming because of our home record primarily. Andy couldn't have been more professional. Andy talked about the future. He's going to see his kids play hockey. He has two sons that play, he has a daughter that plays. He's going to spend a lot of time going and seeing his family and his kids play. He thanked us for his time here in St. Louis. I think he thoroughly enjoyed his time in St. Louis, and he's a big part of why we have a full house here. He's a big part of why times have changed with the Blues for the most part on the positive side of the ledger sheet. One thing that he felt, which was good, was that Davis coming in -- and he has a lot of respect for Davis; they've obviously been in contact with each other a lot over the last number of years with Peoria -- he feels good about that. He feels like he left Davis with a pretty good base for a club to play better than it has.
Who makes the decision here?
I make the call. It's a process where our group gets together, and we did a lot of it ... we do it all the time anyway. Your job is to assess your organization as almost daily or weekly as you go through different stretches of the games. We talked a lot about every aspect of it. Recently, we decided we had to catch fire on home ice somewhere and seeing our team being an emotional team lately, having good parts of games, bad parts of games, our group got together and said you know what, timing is everything. Nobody wants to do this. But you have to at times change to continue evolution of your organization. Hockey operations with Larry Pleau, Doug Armstrong and Al MacInnis and myself, we had a lot of talks. Yesterday, we spent a lot time here discussing this situation. Once we made our determination, I called ownership and they allow us to do what we want to do. We're the ones in charge and they blessed us and we went forward with it. Some people might say, 'Why didn't you do it yesterday?' The point is yesterday was a holiday, yesterday was the Winter Classic, yesterday was the announcement for the US hockey club, which a couple of our players are a part of it and we didn't feel it was right. So we decided to do it this morning and move forward.
Is there a message that even the guys in that locker room need to pick up from this?
Yeah, I think that ... boy, I certainly hope so. Sports, as an ex-player and as an ex-broadcaster and as a person in management now, you hope you do the right thing and you try to time it so it is right. I think for our players, players have to play. layers have to fight through things. Andy got to know a lot of the players quite well. It's the history of sports. So it's their job to go out and play hard against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight. I think for our players, there's been a lot of good stuff happen but not enough good stuff, and we need more. They have to understand that. Now we're into the next phase of our evolution as a franchise.
What are some of the other adjustments, or will there be any?
Brad Shaw stays, Ray Bennett stays. Rick Wamsley will be the head coach in Peoria. Rick has done a wonderful job here, in a lot of ways with our goaltenders. His dream is to become a head coach. We talked about that in the past. We felt when we tried to analyze this whole situation, let's do what's best for everybody in every area of our coaching situations. We felt that this would be a good time for Rick to go to Peoria, become the head coach and live his dream out to see if he can be a head coach. Maybe good things will happen there with him. We wish him all the best. We thank him. Our goaltenders, for the most part, have been pretty good. He had a good working relationship with them.
Was Andy's work with some of the young players, did it leave something to be desired? Was that a factor?
I think that's always been a big question mark here in St. Louis. It started with David Perron, of course. David's a better hockey player today than when he first got here. He's grown into being a real good pro. I think there's tough love that gets involved when you try to evolve young people, young players to become true pros. To give Andy some slack there, we fast-tracked here. Our organization, when we started, we had to find a way to make deals to get draft picks, especially in the first round. We did a lot of that. And then we had to draft the players. Jarmo and his group did a heck of a job because a lot of these players have turned out to be NHL players. But we did not have the wonderful opportunity to put them in the minor leagues for two or three years, let them develop and become pros before they hit the NHL street. There was some fast-tracking, and Andy had to deal with that. There's pluses and minuses that happen. We feel going forward, that we really need to get our young people to be better players. The base of this organization, and one thing that we've promised to fans is 'Come grow with us.' Davis has done a nice job this year with the young kids in Peoria. The Junlands and the Strachans and the Ellers, these people are all improving. The Sonnes and the Palushajs and Reeves, all these young kids who aren't household names around here but possible future Blue players are all getting better. We need that here. To be frank, I think Andy did a good job. I think Andy was given a tough situation with a whole bunch of young kids all of the sudden that have to play with us without the benefit of pro experience. And these kids were raw when they got here. Patrik Berglund had one year of tier-2 hockey in Sweden. David Perron came out of junior. Erik Johnson's missed 18 months and all of the sudden, he's in the lineup playing a lot of minutes. Going forward, we really look to improve our kids with Davis.
The people that made the decision, was it your sense that some of the veterans had either tuned him out or waiting for this to happen, kind of hanging over the organization?
The only thing I can say is, I try to put past experience into the equation, and as an ex-player, sometimes you just sense it as a player. When Larry met with the team, that was the next step in trying to get our team to be better in a lot of different ways and they did respond in a lot of different ways. We went on the road, won some games, came home and haven't won. But at the same time ... the facts are we didn't win at home, even though we had some good moments in some of those games. You play Buffalo and you out-chance them 18-8 and you lose, you give Vancouver eight chances total the other night and only four through two periods and you lose, it's frustrating. The weight of the cloud with what's going on is something we had to alleviate. You hope that it doesn't happen, but sometimes it's the head coach that has to be part of that equation. I think for us starting today, we just want to look forward. Davis is a young coach with a lot of energy and we want to get going here towards the playoffs starting here tonight.
What do you think his strengths are?
He's a fierce competitor. He has good communication skills with the players. He is very upfront, forthright. His style of play is an aggressive style of play, whether it be with aggressive players or the forecheck type of play on the ice. He's very open with his players. I know he's really grown on the job, especially since he's gotten to Peoria. We brought him in here four years ago and he had been in Alaska where he had won some championships. Not only was he the coach there, he was the general manager, too, as a young individual. That's a hard job when you're in the minor leagues like that when you're trying to bring people in and win and everything else. He got himself through that, went to Peoria and has really grown on the job. We certainly spent a lot of time talking with him and to him about coaching and he's very receptive. I should say that he was offered a position during this past summer to be an assistant coach with a very, very good team in this league. His aspirations were to stay as a head coach in Peoria and to try to just improve on his coaching skills and find a head coaching job in this league. We wanted him to stay because we feel strongly about his future.
Can (Payne) reinforce the simple approach on the road or at home?
I hope so. It seems like it's more of a mental thing than anything else. How that happens, people that have never really played sports probably don't have that understanding. Your mind is something that has to be strong, it has to be dealt with all the time. We have to find a way to get our players to believe in playing better on home ice and believe in themselves at home. When you go and play like we did against Vancouver like we did for two periods and then not get it done and the same with Edmonton when they were here and not get it done ... that's a state of mind. How can you play so well for two periods and just all of the sudden not have that same game? It's, as I've often said, the season has been perplexing. But it's something where it's our job trying to fix. This is what we're trying to do here. A good man leaves, and we keep trying to evolve as an organization to get to the next level.
Any roster moves?
No, no, not at all. Nope.
What was Doug Armstrong's role in this, since he becomes the GM in the summer?
Doug was up in Saskatoon watching the World Junior, and he left last night. He may have wanted to because it was like 45-below zero and flipped down to Chicago, where he's going to meet Rick Wamsley today. Our Peoria team plays there tonight. I felt that would be a good way of transitioning Rick into the position. So Doug's going to meet and talk to him and get him with the club. Our other assistant coach there, Drake Berehowsky, also is going to be there so hopefully it's going to be seamless. Doug is an important part of our process. Our front office works where I make final decisions, but I'm an open person to the people that are in our office. I rely on the experience of Larry Pleau, Doug Armstrong and Al MacInnis. It's very important for us to have discussions, sometimes we disagree with, we agree with, we go on and on and we come back and go over it again. Doug's an important part of that knowing that he comes into the chair July 1. Going north from here, it provides Doug with an opportunity t get to know Davis and see how he coaches and see how that goes. It also gives Doug a chance to explore the rest of the hockey world to see who's out there. generally in our world of coaching, when you do something like this, you hope it works, you hope it's stable and you hope that's it for a long time. You also have to do your due diligence. One aspect of Doug's job going north would be to explore the field out there, who's available, who becomes available as this season winds down. People in our business change jobs, so there will be some people available. It's up to us, and we told that to Davis. And Davis is very excited about the opportunity and he's going to try and take advantage of the opportunity and we hope Davis is our guy ... period.
Will Armstrong have the power to select the next coach?
Absolutely. He'll have the power to bring it to me. Doug will do his due diligence and do his homework. It may be Davis, that's why we put the interim tag on him and we want him here through the year and it may be even longer, a lot longer. An important part of that will be Doug's call. He's the guy going in. He was a very important part of this process, as was Kevin McDonald and everyone else. We work as a team. We feel that a team is the best way to do things. We understand the Larry Pleau-Doug Armstrong change that's coming. Larry's been really a good communicator with our staff. He's going to be a good communicator with our staff going forward. Doug's certainly going to be a part of that process without question. We're all one.
Was there consideration for Brad Shaw?
Yes, we talked about it. There were only two people as of right now -- Brad Shaw and Davis Payne -- but we felt we needed a new voice from the outside. That was communicated to Brad Shaw by Larry. Larry's very forthright with our staff. Brad was very professional. Brad's done a great job here. Just look at our penalty killing and things like that. Brad has aspirations of being a head coach. That's down the road. Right now, he's helping us in the role he's in and he's good for us.
If you guys win the other night, would Andy still be here or hanging by a thread?
That's such a hypothetical question. We didn't win. That's the problem, we didn't win.
Was that the last straw?
I don't know. It's kind of maybe the way we lost, if anything else. It's such a mental game at times. This league is so close. In the old days, there were a lot of 6-1 wins and 6-1 losses. You don't see many of those, and if you do, it's probably because of exhaustion where teams had to travel because teams had to play so many games with the Olympics here. But every night, it's such a fine line. You need to be there with your mindset as much as anything else, and we just haven't been there consistently anyway.
How close were you to this decision? Three weeks ago? When?
We weren't. We weren't close. This happened yesterday with our meetings. ... We felt today was the right day to do it. It made sense.
Was Erik Johnson's struggles recently, along with the struggles at home, the latest among the issues?
I look at it a little bit differently regarding Erik. If you look at the four years of Erik's hockey life, he hadn't played a lot of hockey. If you look at the ACL operation, which caused him to lose 18 months of playing hockey, there's going to be a growing pain involved there and at times, tough. I personally thought Erik did better than I thought he would. I thought he'd hit the wall probably a month earlier because of missing 18 months, because of an ACL which is a very serious knee operation. We were told by doctors that takes a year to get over once you get back playing. When I factor all that in with Erik, I know we want more all the time because that's what we demand on pro sports, but we also have to step back and have a patience level of understanding that these are young people and there are circumstances involved. If you look at Erik, he didn't play a whole lot in college. When he got here, he played the first year a fair amount. The second year, he didn't play and this year, he's thrown in there and we're expecting things out of him and gosh, he started really well. It was unbelievable to watch. We all thought that knowing what he had been through that somewhere, something's going to happen here. I thought he extended himself pretty well and it happened later that I thought it would. But he'll climb out. Being named to the Olympic team is a world-class honor. It'll be a great experience. He's a kid that likes to work, he's in great shape, but it's going to take time. He's a kid. He's like a 21-year-old that in hockey terms is probably 19 because of all the time he missed.
What would the organization like to see in terms of how these young players are brought along, how they're used?
We have a team in here, and we want to have a team concept, but coaches have to understand that each player is different -- even the older players. It's going to be up to Davis to get a read on these kids. I think he knows young players because he's coached young players a lot with the Peoria club in particular. It'll be up to Davis to figure out if a kid is not practicing hard or making redundant mistakes over and over again, then maybe he deserves to sit on his butt. But if the kid's making the mistake out of passion or out of trying and he's worked his butt off in practice, stick him back on the ice and let him play. That's up to him to be able to read that. That's part of growth. Every single player makes mistakes and kids make more than the older players generally and you have to live with that especially if you're going to grow as an organization. Our young players are the base for us going forward. They're going to make mistakes, they all do. But we've got to get them to live through it. We have to get them to relax when they do it if it's done because of what I said, because of the passion of trying to play the game to be better.
Sometimes older coaches and their ideas, you think that was one of the downfalls of Andy?
I don't know. All I can tell you is Andy worked about 20 hours a day. He lived across the street, he wore a Bluenote on his chest, he cared about the team. A lot of times, he went out and coached youth kids, youth leagues. He just did things and nobody even knew about it. He was promoting hockey all the time. The guy loves hockey. We made a change. I just basically want to say Andy did a good job for us. he helped us get to where we are. We're in a much, much better position than we were three or four years ago as an organization. We have a chance to become a whole lot better and this is just part of that evolution. We needed a change, we felt. This is where we're going.
Do you want to see some of the younger kids play a more prominent role, maybe reducing some of the roles of the veterans?
That's the coach's job. I just want to see everybody in this organization improve because we're not going to get to any promised land unless everybody improves.
Talk about the immediate reaction?
It's tough to swallow. We're the problem in this room. I think management decised to make a change to wake up the players. It's up to us now ... Davis comes in here with a good repore with a lot of guys in training camp and he's had good success in Peoria. Right now, it's not about X's and O's, it's about the commitment on the ice and getting guys ready to play and playing a full 60 minutes.
As a group, did you guys get a sense that the ball was going to drop and something was going to happen?
No, I don't think we did. We had a lot of ups and downs, but in this dressing room, we weren't looking at the coaches for the change. We've had a lot of meetings, we've talked a lot amongst ourselves about what we need to do. We haven't done it yet. Hopefully with a coaching change, it's a fresh start and this team starts playing the way everybody expects us to.
Did Andy hit a wall somewhere and his message wasn't being conveyed?
I don't think so. No matter what those walls are, mental, physical, whatever it is, as professional athletes, we have to fight through those. If something's stale at the rink, you need to change your routine. The coaches help a little bit, but for the most part, it's the players that have to start changing their routine or changing things to get themselves to prepare for an entire game.
Who is Davis Payne?
He brings credibility. He's a no-nonsense guy. From what I hear in Peoria, he's very straightforward with the guys. he demands hard work, he trwats everybody equal. It's kind of one of those things where we have to come together as a team with our coaches and everybody and right the ship.
As a veteran, is it important for you guys to be able to get in a good working relationship with him as well? Is that going to be a bit of a transition?
I don't think so. To have success, everybody needs to be on the same page. He comes in, he is a good guy with the young guys and it should be no different than with the older guys. The older guys should be playing with youth and energy and everybody's got to be equal on this team right now. Everybody's got to start climbing their way out of it.
Will a fresh voice be a good thing right now?
It's been successful in the past with different teams, a fresh voice, maybe just a new outlook on the game. It's going to be the initial energy-high and then it's going to be something that we have to sustain throughout the rest of the season.
Anything you already noticed different about the workout this morning?
He's obviously a lot of energy out there, quick tempo, just a lot of flow drills out there. It's hard to come in one morning and change things the day of the game. I think moving forward, he'll bring in his own elements. You can't really reinvent the wheel right now.
In your evaluation, have you guys underachieved?
We've underachieved. The game plan wasn't the problem, it was executing what was out there. That was the problem and finding different ways to lose games. That's the bottom line.
How much of this is you have so many young players in here?
Everybody's got young players. The way the game is, you need to have a balance of everybody to keep your team evolving and keep your team in a state where you're not having to make massive changes. You make alterations every year and guys grow into the program that the team has forth. ... There's certainly no excuses here. There's been plenty of ice time for everybody and plenty of opportunity. That's not going to fly here.
Did Andy's message or his basic coaching philosophy ever get old or tiring at all as far as a grind?
No, no. Andy's program was good. The things Andy put forth were more than fair to ask of us. We didn't play to the level that he expected nor to ourselves especially as of late. We left a lot of games in the balance and it cost him his job.
Did you guys get a sense that a change was coming?
We live in a world where change is constant. The second you step in the league, whether you're a coach, a player or whatever, change is inevitable at some point. You're constantly being evaluated all over, whether it be from your teammates, your coaches, fans, your friends, whatever. It's everywhere. That's what our live is.
Was there a sense of this a little bit in the last week or so? A couple weeks?
Never as players you expect that. You play hard for your coach every game and your teammates. The decision doesn't lie with us to make those kinds of decisions. That's what management's for. We haven't been playing well as a team. We wouldn't be sitting here right now if we were winning some games.
Do you guys in here feel like you needed a shakeup?
I don't know. It's tough to say. All we do is go out and try to play hard every night and win hockey games. It's not really the coach's fault for how we play. Wehave to get ourselves ready. Us not playing well kind of let to this. We have to start playing better -- bottom line.
Do you guys feel like you've underachieved so far?
I think everybody knows we've underachieved. We're a better hockey team than we're showing right now. We're capable of a lot more. Hopefully we can go out and show some people why we did what we did last year and turn this thing around because we really need to do it. We have the guys in here for sure. This shakeup happened and now we move forward.
Do you think this is a fresh start starting tonight? Will there be some excitement?
I think there's an excitement. It's kind of a fresh start. It's the second half of the season. It's a new year, a new coach. You can look at it like that as much as you want, but bottom line, we have to play better. No question about it. If we don't, it'll be just like the first half.
How do you view Andy's approach in some of the younger guys and developing?
He was hard on us. Every coach that's hard on you, wants the best out of you and he certainly wanted the best out of all of us. He gave me a shot to play in the NHL as a rookie. He's a really terrific guy, I think, a really detailed coach, a hard-working coach. Every coach has their different ways, and that's just how it goes.
Can getting Davis in here, a younger guy with a fresh, new approach help you and the younger players?
Yeah, maybe. We have a lot of young guys in here. Andy gave us a chance to play.We'll see how it goes with what Davis wants to do. He's a terrific guy and a great coach. He's going to give us opportunities to succeed.
Will it be awkward? Will there be some excitement?
It's definitely going to be different, especially for us young guys who haven't gone through a coaching change or never been traded to a team, it's going to be different for us. It's part of growing up, part of being a professional. We just have to take this and realize things are happening if we don't win. We have to get the job done.
Was there any sense in here something was on the horizon?
I guess a little bit. We didn't know exactly what was going to happen. Obviously our home record is not where we wanted it to be. Our record from the last couple games isn't where we want it to be. It's a change and we'll roll with it.
What do you think the general response is?
I don't know. I just found out about it this morning when I came to the rink. It hasn't really hit me yet, and watching the other guys, I don't really think they know how to deal with it. This is when we need our veterans to kind of show us what to do. They've gone through this before. I think we're just looking to them to lead the way right now.
What was the first skate with Davis like today?
We had a great skate out there. Guys were having fun. We had a good meeting beforehand. I played with him for a couple games in Traverse City (Mich.) last year before the season. He's a great coach.
Did you feel any tension in skates the past couple weeks?
No, not for something like this. It was more just to get wins. This was unexpected when I got to the rink this morning.
Getting a younger guy in here, does it make it easier for some of you younger guys to relate?
I think it could. I don't really know what to expect. I'm just rolling with it, sitting back, letting the veterans take charge. ... I get along with him well, and I'm excited to see where this goes.
Who is Davis Payne?
He's a young, passionate guy. He's got a lot of knowledge. He works hard at his job. He studies his job really well. He's more of an old-school guy. He relies on the players a lot to hold everybody accountable. He can be a hard-ass, but he really expects the players in the dressing room the look at each other and play for each other. He's not a selfish guy, and he's all about the team. He's a good coach and he's very knowledgeable.
Did you see the younger guys in the organzation develop under him?
He was good. He gave me a lot of leeway down there too, which is good, as long as I showed up and worked for him down there, he made me hold some of those younger guys accountable as well. He's a guy that loves the game of hockey. Just like all of us in here, he wants to be a part of hockey and he studies the game a lot. He watches a lot of video. Twelve-, 13-hour bus rides, just like any coach, he'll be watching video all night long.
What are your feelings on going through this with Andy twice?
Andy was always good to me. I can't say a bad word about Andy. He's very structural, he's passionate like anybody else in coaching. Obviously, these things happen in sports and in life. Andy will be successful and back in the NHL I'm sure. He's a good guy. It's just the way things are. When teams with expectations don't do as well as they should, it's usually the coach that goes. To move forward, they've got a good guy coming in here. This team is a good hockey team.
Does sometimes a coach's message hit a wall?
It's like parenting. When you're a kid, it hits a wall sometimes, and that's why kids rebel. It's nothing against him, nothing against anybody. That's just human nature. You hear someone over and over every single day, it's just the way it is ans that's the way sports is. It's a tough profession. We have to move forward.
Opening comments . . .
"We'll obviously, it's an interesting day for this organization, myself and this hockey club. I'm absolutely thrilled to be standing where I am. It's been a quick turnaround and an interesting start to a new year and a new challenge. Like I talked with the team this morning, we're expecting ourselves to approach this game with the importance that it carries. It's a divisional game, it's the Chicago Blackhawks in town and we expect ourselves to be prepared. I asked these guys to work hard for each other, I asked them to trust each other and I asked them to play with passion. That's our starting point for tonight. There's a lot of ground to cover structurally, there's a lot ground to cover philosophically, but we feel that if we trust each other and work hard and play with passion, we're going to take steps in the right direction. Tonight is obviously that first step."
On finding out about the change and what the last 24 hours have been like . . .
"I haven't gotten to 24 yet. I guess is was about 4 or 4:30 (p.m. on Friday), somewhere in that time frame. I just got done watching the Winter Classic. I was contemplating my next move. I had some video pulled up on the Rivermen game from the other night, New Year's Eve. I was about halfway through the first period and I got the phone call that the situation was happening. The house got stirred up and we packed as fast as we could."
On being ready to coach in the NHL at age 39 . . .
"If you look at the track record of some of the guys coming from the American Hockey League to the NHL and having success, it's happened in Pittsburgh, it's happened in Ottawa, it's happened in Colorado. It's also a situation where I've been coaching for 10 years now, and 8 1/2 of those have been as a head coach. It felt the same when I got on the ice this morning as it did two days ago in Peoria. It's a pregame skate, it's preparation, it's hockey. Obviously the buildings are bigger and lots of star power on the ice . . . but it's the same game. I feel like you communicate and you give the players the message. If you have them towing on a collective rope, great things can happen. I think that's where we expect to go as a team."
On the advantages of having run Blues' camps and knowing some of the players . . .
"I think it's fantastic. I step into the room and immediately you see Roman Polak and T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund and David Perron . . . Derek Armstrong . . . we've been in battles before. Certainly not a regular-season NHL game, but we've been under fire together . . . we've had the communication, we've had the understanding of generally what's expected out of them. The familiarities I think is fantastic. We can have a conversation and ask each other how it's going. It just adds to the comfort level."
On the difference in approach to NHL coaching and AHL coaching . . .
"I think in the American League, you're looking at a situation where you're entrusted with long-term growth of your players. We have the same philosophy in the NHL. The growth of your players in the organization has to continue to move forward. I think that philosophy doesn't change. It's probably on a little faster time-line, with results at the forefront. I think obviously this is a result-oriented business. In order to continue to results, you have to continue to grow. I think perhaps just acceleration of the whole process (changes), but I do believe the process largely stays the same."
On working with veteran NHL players for the first time . . .
"Obviously we're going to have to find common ground first and foremost. They're going to have to understand that my intention is to have them be a part of the group, and the group needs to be better as a whole. They're obviously key parts to the picture. Your veteran guys are the guys who have been there, done that and carried teams through tough times. They know what it takes. They're going to carry a lot of that early message, and part of that message is having them understand the passion that we expect them to show. Them being where they are is for a reason. In order to get them to play better, I think, is like any athlete in a situation where success is bound to happen, and that's a right frame of mind and the right intensity with their body. Success happens for all of those reasons . . . I think these guys will understand my expectation is for them to be better for each other. Along with that will come improved production and individual success."
On being able to relate to the younger players . . .
"I don't have the perspective of the older coach. I only have my perspective of dealing with the young athlete. I suppose back when some of our veteran guys have played, and myself included have played, we played in a day when we were told what to do and we did it. There was no further explanation. I think nowadays, we have to communicate a little bit deeper explanation. There's more teaching involved. It's not just what to do, it's why to do it. How this process will pay out in the long run. I think it's just a level of understanding where they are as people as well. It's communication skills. It's teaching skills. It's all the abilities to establish relationships, so that they know I'm there on their best behalf and that's for them to play an important part of the hockey club. Their birth certificate largely doesn't matter to me. If they're performing well, and doing the right things, and are accountable in the process, that gives the St. Louis Blues success and that's what we're here for."
On preferred style of hockey . . .
"Well, what's your style is always the interesting questions. I believe that there's a certain responsibility and intensity that you have to defend with. I believe that your ultimate invincibility is created by your ability to defend, keep the puck out of your own net. The intensity that we do that with, and the speed that we do that with is going to be based on skating, it's going to be based on angles, it's going to be based on support. But it's also based on pace, and how quickly we want to retrieve pucks and get going back the other way. I believe our style is one that's going to force you to deal with our play. We're going to force you to deal with the pace that we come at you. I don't want to spend a lot of time picking our way through to the offensive zone. It's where we want to play and it's the type of pressure we want to apply to teams. We'd rather apply pressure in that zone, and a mistake in that zone usually means good things. So we're going to get there as quick as possible and force teams to deal with our game in that area. . . . The pace and intensity of defensive play is something that every single guy is going to be held accountable to. We expect to be a physical team. We expect to eliminate people by using the body. The basic premise is that we want to defend hard and play at you."
On the interim label . . .
"The crystal ball is probably the impossible question for me. I look at it, whether it's a day or a decade . . . I held the whistle this morning and I'll be behind the bench tonight. I'm thrilled with that. I'm going to work my tail off to turn that into another day, and the St. Louis Blues are going to work their tale off to turn tonight's game into a win. I'm going to appreciate every moment I'm here, I'm going to enjoy every moment I'm here. Like I said, a day or a decade, I'm thrilled to be here."
On addressing the power-play woes . . .
"It's part of the process we're getting into right now. Quite honestly, I had Peoria's roster set for their game in Chicago tonight. So to be talking about the power play here is premature. I talked with Ray Bennett a little bit about it this morning, talking about a little bit of structural change, where that percentage has kind of climbed in the recent games. Obviously Alex Steen and his ability to put the puck on net has had an influence on that. We're going to run off a basic premise. We're going to run off a structured system that puts people in correct areas once second chances are created. But we have to be of the mindset that we're going to take what's given. We're going to establish some key ice out there and we're going to force you to defend first-chance opportunities, but we're not going to be very picky."
On feedback from players and other coaches today about what is holding this team back . . .
"I think it's early in that process. If I was to come in and say, 'What was wrong, what needs changing?' I wouldn't be giving the due respect to what's gone on here. I think Andy Murray did a fantastic job in building this foundation. He was a mentor to me and taught me a great deal. I think he put this organization in a position to step forward. The class he showed upon exiting and the note he left on the coach's desk in there is something I'll certainly cherish. But we obviously want to make sure that the game we saw for 37 minutes against Vancouver is the game we see for 60. We're going to go through an assessment period, we're going to go through an evaluation period. We're going to take our time, but do it in a hurry, if that makes sense."
On seeing the note from Murray . . .
"There was a hand-written note there, and yeah, I was surprised. The contents . . . it touched me . . . it was a classy move."
On philosophy of playing with the lead late in games . . .
"You're talking about winning habits. A large part of that is puck management, but also a bigger part to that is the steps that you take. You have to take bold steps in this game. You have to have the ability to defend. You have to continue to be physical. You have to continue to direct the play at their net and force them to play 200 feet and force them to play through you. We want to be the type of team that you can't tell what the score is. You can look at the game tape, you can look at the picture on the ice at any given moment and recognize that we're playing our game . . . where playing the style of game that we want to play. Obviously there will be some changes late when you're trying to create something when you're down by a goal or two. But when you're up, obviously your puck decisions and your drive to continue to apply pressure away from your net is (important) to be successful. But there's also discipline in doing that. There's return responsibilities by our forwards, there's gaps, there's lane assignments by (defensemen). But I believe in order to win a game, take bold steps. You have to continue to play that way."
How did you find out and what's your reaction to what happened?
Actually, I was having a cup of coffee this morning reading the newspaper; I got a text and I thought somebody was joking to me to tel you the truth. I just looked at (the text) and I was like, 'Wow!' I kind of figured something was going to happen and something needed to happen. We need to turn this thing around ... it happens in sports, this kind of thing. It was kind of his time. He had a good run here and he did his thing. He taught a lot guys a lot of things, but on the other hand, we needed a change. Guys were kind of off-track with him or just kind of going downhill with him. It was a perfect time to do it with him and now we're going to recharge, we're going to reorganize and we're going to get back at it.
Did you guys as a group get a sense in here that something was going to happen?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. We knew something was going to happen. It was just a matter of time. We didn't know how soon or whatever, but we knew something was going to go down. This was the best thing that happened. What do you do? You either get rid of him, or you start changing up the team. We got a good group of guys in here, everybody believes in us and the next guy to go I guess would be him. That's the way it is. It's hockey. He's going to find a job somewhere and he'll still have a good career.
Did Murray's message hit a wall?
Somehow, everything kind of hit a wall. I don't think he was on the same page with everybody, I think that guys didn't know where they stood with him and that's not a good thing to have, especially the older guys. When you've been in the league for 5-10 years, in that range there and ever more than that, and you don't know where you stand with your coach, then that's not a good thing to have. That's a big deal, and it's a big deal with me because I had no idea where I was with him. I couldn't understand what he was trying to tell me. That's a very bizarre situation, but now I've got to regroup with a new coach and go from there.
What do you know about Davis Payne?
I don't know too much about him, but I know he's a younger guy. He's a giuy that you can talk to, he knows the game, he likes hard work and energy. He keeps it simple, he likes to just go and play hard. If you play hard for a guy like that, I think he'll reward you. I think that's great for the team that we have. I think we needed to just let everybody go and skate around and plkay their game, their type of game that they've gotten here with. I think that this guy, Payner, is gonna be the guy to do that and let us do that. I kind of like it. He's a little bit of a hardass, but I think on the other hand, you can talk to him as well and know where you stand with him.
With it being a younger guy, do you think a younger guy dealing with veteran players ... can that be a tough situation or can that be another Dan Bylsma situation?
No, I think that can be a good situation because I think that he can respond, he can actually talk to some of the vets. That age similarity, he's been there, he's done that, he's played the game. I think that has a lot to do with it. But I think he can sit down and talk to Keith Tkachuk and say, 'Here's the deal. What do you think?' I think that they can react off each other. I think with Andy, I don't think they saw eye to eye. Andy's a tough guy to talk to. You can go into a room with him ... I've done it for 45 minutes and walked out and be more confused than when you went in there. I think with this guy, you can sit and talk to him and know where you stand. I think he can deal with the veterans and older guys and even the older guys.
On hearing the news . . .
"It's tough news to get, but that's the nature of our business. Ultimately, I am the one that's responsible. They gave me every opportunity, they backed me up, and I'm appreciative of the support they gave me . . . so I have no ill will whatsoever. I thanked for them for the opportunity they gave me and I wished them luck."
On what went wrong . . .
"We just lost too many games we were in a position to win. Early in the year, we had difficult scoring. Recently, the defensive play hasn't been as good. Way too many losses at home, too many games we were leading. I really believe in this group of players, really believe they're going to get it done. I'm convinced of that. But we're a .500 team and we haven't played good enough. I'm responsible for the record. Ultimately, that's what I'm judged on."
On whether he knew it was coming . . . (John Davidson said he thought Murray had an "intuition" it was happening)
"I had no intuition that way. I would say I don't disagree with JD often, but I would disagree. You know as a coach you're being evluate every single game. I was surprised by it . . . anybody would be surprised. But I understood it and appreciated where they were coming from."
On developing the young Blues . . .
"I just coached and I have high expectations for people. I think there's a way to conduct yourself on the ice and off the ice. Quite often young players don't realize what it means to be a professional. It's your conduct off the ice. To me, the hockey part of it is only a small part of the equation. My goal was for these young guys to learn to be good pros, so they would be good Blues for long time. I was just happy to see them develop as people, their social skills. Everybody though I was being tough on our young guys. If I let them do whatever they wanted, let them go without working hard, coming late to practice, other habits that aren't professional, then they might have been a flash in the pan for one year. If they were not pros, then they'd never be the ultimate player the Blues need. I took some hits from people because I was trying to mold the assets of the Blues. There isn't a player in that room that can say I didn't communicate with them, pat them on the back when they did well, or challenge them when they didn't do well.
"Would I have liked to have a better record? No question. Was it there for us? It's such a fine line. We could be over 50 points. We could be on a seven-game winning streak right now. All our home games, they were winnable. We make one more save against Vanvouer and you and I aren't talking right now. I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm relieved or the pressure is off. It hurts right now and it will hurt more in the next few days. But by the same token, I respect and understand process."
On leaving a note for his successor, Davis Payne . . .
"I left Davis a note saying that he's working for great ownership. He's going to do well. He's prepared for it. He'll do a good job for them. I like Davis. I feel like I've been a mentor to him a little bit. I met him at a coaching clinic years ago. I tried to call him all the time (in Peoria) and see how things are going. I appreciate him as coach and think he'll do a great job. I can't think of a better guy for the position."
On what he leaves with . . .
"I'll take pride in the fact that the building is full all the time. You look at the development of the young players. Look at some of the guys and the (Olympic) recognition they've gotten recently. I've enjoyed every minute of my job. It's a tough job to lose, but I'm appreciative. I don't blame the players. It's my job to get wins. I didn't get enough of them.
"But it's going to happen. In my opinion, good things are happening. The team is a save or goal away from six or seven more wins, certainly at home. The fact is we're not. But I think they're right around the corner. They'll have playoff hockey this year, there's no question in my mind. And as a coach, you have to believe it would have happened with you there.
"Tonight, Davis' first game is going to be in front of a full house against Chicago. I think the first game I coached, there were 6,800 people in the building and it was against Chicago. It was family and friends that night. The one thing I told Dave Checketts and JD when they hired me, 'We'll play hard and battle and we'll fill your biulding because people will appreciate how hard we play.'
"I want this team to win every game the rest of the season. I want to see them raise the Stanley Cup and think that in some small way, I played a role in that. I have a tough time with the word 'fired.' They decided to go in different direction, that's the way I like to think of it. Some people think you want to see them struggle, but I want them to win every game."