Payne Relieved, Ken Hitchcock Hired

Davis Payne Relieved,
Ken Hitchcock Hired

Ken Hitchcock

Following the Blues disappointing 2010-11 season we knew that if this team started flat in the 2011-12 campaign that changes could be in store. Now, 13 games in and a 6-7-0 record to show for it, the Blues have surprised many and pulled the trigger on a major change. Head coach Davis Payne has been “relieved of his duties” and Ken Hitchcock has been hired to be the new head coach. The move is likely surprising to many but one that I personally welcome and think was one we could have seen coming. Photo from the team’s press conference welcoming Ken Hitchcock as the club’s new coach.

How will the Davis Payne era be remembered in St. Louis? Over the course of three seasons (only one full season) Payne led the Blues to a 67-55-15 record. He was tabbed to be a man that could get the most out of the team’s youngsters – something coach Andy Murray failed to do. Payne was labeled as a “player’s coach”, one with a loose style that should work with this group of youngsters. As we have seen, that method has not worked out and the roster as a whole has turned in numerous efforts (word used loosely) that make you ask if they are even trying their best. Unfortunately, even with a complete year under his belt, Payne failed to deliver consistent victories and as a result was let go tonight.

First, let’s make the obvious clear. Davis Payne isn’t the lone individual to blame for the team’s struggles. While he is supposed to prepare and get his team motivated for anything the league throws their way, it is ultimately the players job to go out and compete for the entire 60 minutes. As we know, it’s easier to fire one man than an entire team of skaters. It is also his coaching staff’s job to take care of other areas of the ice, such as special teams play and coaching the goaltenders. These are clear areas where other men were responsible, like Corey Hirsch as goaltending coach, but Payne, as the head coach represents all of them and the loudest message is sent by cutting the top man. I don’t think Payne did a terrible job nor do I point all the blame on him, but I do believe a change was needed and he is the obvious first guy to go.

That being said, I’m pleased to see the Blues aren’t waiting to make changes. Sitting back on their heels is something we see plenty of players on the roster do on a regular basis, so it’s nice to see GM Doug Armstrong make a timely decision. Currently, Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispacth believes that the assistant coaches will be retained, but you can bet they will all be kept on a pretty short leash. It’s an odd decision, if factual, that the new coach won’t have new assistants, especially given the ugly performances in the assistants’ respective areas. Surprising, yet I wouldn’t be shocked to see one or more of them let go in the near future.

Now the Blues welcome Ken Hitchcock, a seasoned coach, behind the bench in St. Louis. It’s a pretty interesting name to hear as Hitchcock was still currently employed within the Columbus organization as a consultant and was tabbed by many to be the new coach for the Blue Jackets due to the team’s horrific start to the year. The Blues had to ask permission to speak to Hitchcock and upon Columbus accepting, worked quickly to bring the experienced coach to the Blues.

Hitchcock brings a wealth of knowledge behind the bench with a 534-350-88-70 record over the course of 1,042 games. He’s served as the coach of the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and most recently, the Columbus Blue Jackets where he was fired as head coach in 2010 yet retained as a consultant.

GM Doug Armstrong has plenty of experience working with Hitchcock in the past, serving as the assistant GM of Dallas when Hitchcock carried the Stars to a Stanley Cup in 1999. Given his experience and ties to Doug Armstrong, it’s really no shock the Blues pounced when they did.

Hitchcock’s reign officially begins now and his first work with the team will come at their practice on Monday. The main criticism on Hitchcock is that he employs a dull, if not boring, style of hockey. While this might be true, the structure and discipline Hitchcock brings may be exactly what this unorganized, sloppy team needs. After all, I think Blues fans everywhere don’t exactly care what style of hockey this team plays as long as they win.

The “House of Payne” is over. Honestly, while the saying was sort of fun, the only pain brought came to fans viewing incredibly frustrating uneven performances. We can debate all we want just how much of that was Payne’s fault directly but at the end of tonight, he’s time with the Blues as head coach is over with. It’s time to welcome Ken Hitchcock and hope that at the helm he can finally do two things this team hasn’t done since 2008-09: Motivate this squad and win games consistently.