By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- One day after officially sending Keith Tkachuk off into the sunset, the Blues were scheduled to have exit meetings with their remaining players.
Yes, those meetings still took place, but management wanted them to be conducted with one clear message in mind.
The man behind them on the bench this past season would have a permanent place there when next season started.
The Blues wasted little time removing the interim label off head coach Davis Payne's job title, naming him the 23rd head coach in franchise history just four days after the conclusion of the regular season.
"When you've got somebody ... this is it," Blues President John Davidson said. "And we're real comfortable with it. He had a great reaction from his players, we've rebuilt the way we've played at home, which was very important for us, and I think also something that is important is for our players to understand as they go through their exit meetings (Wednesday) that this is our coach. When the coach talks to you today, he's our coach, not an interim coach.
"This is our coach. We certainly wanted to maximize on that. We felt that was important to the franchise."
Payne, 39, is the youngest coach in the NHL and was rewarded with a two-year contract.
He replaced the fired Andy Murray on Jan. 2 when the team was 17-17-6 at the time he was brought in. Under Payne, the Blues were 23-15-4, finishing eight games above .500 (40-32-10) and with 90 points.
But the Blues, who flourished at home under Payne at 12-5-2 which included six in a row at Scottrade Center and 9-2-0 in the last 11 games, missed getting into the playoffs.
"We want to focus on the things that didn't happen for us," Payne said. "We want to focus on why. We want to make sure we understand the steps that are necessary to correct. We can't be looking back at any sort of accomplishment when we're not one of those 16 (playoff) teams playing."
But as he goes into his first off-season and knowing job security is not an issue, Payne can begin the process of getting the Blues back where it was a season ago.
"I'm very pleased," said Payne, who was accompanied by his wife Jane and two daughters. "It gives me that added time to talk with the players and talk with the coaches to really assess where we feel we can improve. When we start breaking it down in all those areas, another month, another two months of time to make that assessment and to go forward with that is extremely valuable.
"I'm pleased with what we accomplished at home. These fans come to this building and have come to this building and supported this hockey team for a number of years expecting a certain level of play, expecting certain results ... not just at home but on the road."
Blues players were on hand when Davidson and incoming general manager Doug Armstrong made the announcement at the Scottrade Center atrium and are glad they can proceed into the off-season knowing a familiar face will greet them in training camp in September.
"To know who's going to be behind the bench and who's going to be leading us is real important," forward Brad Boyes said. "It's great to see, it's great that we're all here to get that news. We're a team and this is a great step to see our coach, our leader be announced when our team is here."
"You're more familiar and that kind of helps," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "I think we got to know him earlier in the year and it definitely helps. You're just comfortable with the coach and you don't have to go into the season knowing who your coach is going to be, so it was good to find out that it's going to be him."
Forward David Backes, given an 'A' under Payne's guidance, said the relationship between player and coach was on solid ground. He joked about the idea of having him back.
"I think he's going to turn 40 next year, so we'll have a nice over-the-hill party to celebrate," Backes quipped.
Davidson said there was a qualified list of candidates the Blues could have pursued but that in the end, the direction kept pointing back to the same guy -- Payne.
"You can go many different ways," Davidson said. "We can wait until July and see who's available and who's not, but when you feel confident that you've got the right person and you feel confident with the job that he did during his 42 games and how he carried himself, his family values, the whole thing, I think it was a pretty easy decision.
"He's young, he's got energy, he's got communication skills. ... We feel really good that he's from within. We feel real strong about that. ... We hope that it's going to be a Doug Armstrong-Davis Payne relationship for 15 years. ... We feel that this young man has a great opportunity to be a long-term coach."
Prior to joining the Blues, Payne guided the Blues' AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen, and compiled a 62-44-3-6 mark there in two seasons.
Payne was the ECHL coach of the year in 2006-07, guiding the Alaska Aces to the ECHL Kelly Cup Championship that also included the three consecutive trips to the conference finals.
Payne, who was told by management of the decision to bring him back Tuesday afternoon, appeared in 22 games as an NHL player with the Boston Bruins and played a total of eight pro seasons.
He was originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 7th round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft.
The Kamloops, British Columbia native is eager to get the Blues, who finished 9th in the west this season, back into the playoffs.
Those communication skills is what really impresses his players moving forward.
"I think he made an effort to really try and get to know the guys and have that communication open," Johnson said. "He was very good in that regard. All the guys were very comfortable with him, so I think that was important."
So Payne, who was on hand for Tkachuk's ceremony Tuesday, was in attendance to support a player's retirement, saw his day and immediate future get a whole lot better.
"It was a good meeting to have," Payne said.