Sunday, November 6, 2011

Major shakeup hits Blues; Payne fired, Hitchcock hired

Sluggish start to season leads to changing of the guard at head coach

ST. LOUIS -- With large expectations coming into this season and the team sputtering through 13 games, the Blues fired head coach Davis Payne move Sunday night.

Payne was relieved of his duties and was replaced by veteran Ken Hitchcock, who has signed a contract through the 2012-13 season and becomes the 24th head coach in franchise history.
(Getty Images)
The Blues relieved head coach Davis Payne of his duties Sunday night.

There will be more information and reaction from Blues brass and players on Monday morning, where a press conference is scheduled.

Payne was gracious enough to comment on the shocking news and was nothing but classy.

"It's shocking and it's disappointing, but in the end, you're responsible for all the areas of your hockey team," Payne said. "There were pieces that weren't firing on all cylinders and it's under my umbrella of responsibility. But I also can say that we were looking at a favorable schedule ahead and ready to turn the corner.

"That said, if this is what gets things going, then I'm all for it. I wish nothing but the best for the team and this group of guys. They deserve it."

The Blues, who are 6-7 through 13 games and in 13th place in the Western Conference, lost 2-1 Saturday in Minnesota, which turned out to be Payne's last game.

"I'm more than grateful, more than grateful, to this organization for giving me a chance to coach in this league," Payne said. "The things that I learned and will learn from this, I owe a great deal of thanks."

Payne, who was the head coach of the Blues' American League affiliate in Peoria, was hired on Jan. 2, 2010 as the interim coach, replacing Andy Murray, who himself was fired after a 17-17-6 start. Payne, 41, was 67-55-15 during his nearly two years on the job with the Blues after having the interim label removed when the Blues officially hired him on April 14 of that year, giving him a two-year contract. Payne was in the last year of his contract.

The Blues came into the season with lofty expectations after adding some veteran pieces to go along with their promising young roster but failed to live up to the early-season hype with only 12 of a possible 26 points.

The special teams was an especially gray and alarming area. The team is dead-last in power play efficiency (3-for-40, 7.5 percent), and is 27th in penalty killing (11-for-42, 73.8 percent). The offense was 20th in the league, averaging 2.46 goals per game while allowing 2.69 goals against per game, which was 16th in the league.

Hitchcock, who will turn 60 on Dec. 17, was recently the coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he was fired on Feb. 3, 2010 after coaching parts of four seasons. He led the franchise to its only playoff berth during the 2008-09 season but was fired a year later after the Jackets started 23-27-9. He was still under contract with the Jackets, and the Blues had to get permission to seek out Hitchcock, which they apparently got.

Hitchcock has a career record of 534-350-88-70 with the Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars, where he was coach under current Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. He led the Stars to a Stanley Cup in 1999 and lost to the New Jersey Devils the following season.
(Getty Images)
Ken Hitchcock becomes the 24th head coach in Blues history.

Hitchcock, who has won six division titles, coached in three NHL All-Star Games and was an assistant for gold medal-winning Team Canada in the 2002 and 2010 Olympics, is familiar with two Blues veterans: Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott from his coaching days with the Stars.

There were reports that Hitchcock was seen at recent Blue Jackets games, leading speculation that he might return behind their bench until Sunday night's surprising developments.

The Blues got off to a franchise-best 9-1-2 start a season ago under Payne but were besieged with injuries and ultimately missed out on the playoffs, becoming only the second team to begin a season with 20 out of a possible 24 points and not make the playoffs.

* NOTES -- The Blues also announced Sunday night they have recalled defenseman Ian Cole from Peoria. Cole, the team's first-round pick in 2007 (18th overall), has played in 13 games with the Rivermen this season, recording three assists. The 22-year-old has four points in 26 career NHL games.

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