In St. Louis all signs were pointing to the beginning of something great. The pieces were in place; Halak in goal, Oshie, Backes, Steen, and Stewart up front, Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo, and Jackman on the backend. It was a team with high hopes coming into this season, and fact of the matter is they weren’t getting it done.
For some, it was a shocking move. It came out of nowhere in the middle of a Sunday evening, and the new hire was seemingly pried from his obvious destination.
Davis Payne took over for the Blues at the midway point of the 2009-10 season after the Terry Murray experiment failed. Expectations were high for Murray — just as they were for Payne this season — but he failed to achieve them with a lineup that included stars like Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk, and Eric Brewer. While aging, they still had something left in the tank, and they helped in the development of the younger talent — something that was supposed to pay off for Payne.
Payne failed to meet the high expectations set by the Blues organization
Payne was amongst a long-line of AHL coaches being promoted to the big league job after the interim tag was removed from his position. In nearly two full seasons at the helm of the Blues, he didn’t manage a half-bad record, going 67-55-15, but it always seemed like he couldn’t get the most out of his roster. On paper, the Blues were much better than what the standings were showing. One could argue that’s why you play the games, but management is more apt to say that it’s why they needed a change.
Bringing in Ken Hitchcock, who was believed to be the next in line for his prior post as bench boss of the Columbus Blue Jackets, was a bit out of left field. If the coaching change was to come — and if not for the abysmal play of the Jackets, believe the Blues underachieving would have been a bigger story sooner — many thought they would look for someone outside the NHL ranks.
With Hitchcock, the Blues are ushering in a new mentality; defense first. He’s a product of the clutch-and-grab era, as Justin Bourne pointed out today on Backhand Shelf, but more than that, he is one of the last remaining coaches who attempts to use a trapping style game and seemingly bore the opponent to death. While he may not be able to get out of his talent what, say, Barry Trotz manages to get out of his, Hitchcock has a lot more to work with, and best believe he will make them work. After all, this is the man who boosted the lowly Blue Jackets to their only playoff appearance, albeit a crushing defeat at the hands of the Red Wings.
Ken Hitchcock will take over for Payne, and will also be the Undertaker’s ring manager at Summerslam
Craig Custance stated last night on Twitter sources have told him Blues GM Doug Armstrong will work with Hitchcock to right the ship in St. Louis, shipping out and finding replacements for players that don’t want to work under the old school coach’s defensively responsible system.
It’s a bold move by Armstrong and the higher-ups working in St. Louis, but it comes as a sign that the Blues are devoted to winning at all costs — especially before the season starts slipping away. A franchise that spent a quarter of a century in the post-season has only been to the dance once in the last six years, and you best believe the fans are looking for that to come to an end.
And hey, if nothing else, at least they didn’t make the assistant coach the goat.