St. Louis Blues Fire Head Coach Davis Payne, Replace Him With Ken Hitchcock

Davis Payne took one for the team, as the terrible special teams and lack of top line scoring costs the coach his job. Ken Hitchcock will replace him and hopefully have greater success.

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Brett Hull Gives Stamp Of Approval To New Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock

If there’s anyone who has played in the NHL who knows what it’s like to be a young superstar who was snapped by a short leash, it’s Brett Hull. St. Louis’ top goal scorer in franchise history felt he was hampered by coach Mike Keenan’s tight style and extraordinary abrasive personality. He departed at the end of the 1997-1998 season for the Dallas Stars, and was promptly rewarded with Ken Hitchcock.

Despite the fact that Hull wound up with the second lowest point total in his career (just 58) under Hitchcock’s system, he obviously doesn’t care about that any more – he won the Stanley Cup. In hockey, that – not personal numbers are showing off – is the number one goal.

Kevin Allen of USA Today caught up with Brett Hull and asked him for his opinion on Hitch:

“He’s the best X’s and O’s coach, showing you how to beat the other team, that I ever played for,” said Hull, who played for Hitchcock in Dallas. “Every game, we were prepared and ready to beat the other team.”

That’s not to say that Hull understood that right away.

“For guys like Joe Nieuwendyk and myself, we really had to figure out how to do it,” Hull said. “It takes a little bit of time. It takes a full-time commitment to that game.”

Full-time commitment. That’s something that as the years have progressed and the kids’ve gotten older (but not necessarily more mature) people’ve questioned. Bernie Miklasz, in a scathing op-ed, refers to the youth and how they’re marketed (and possibly how they view themselves) as “terminal cuteness” and “little darlings.” That’ll end super quickly under Hitchcock.

The youth’d do well to listen to Hull:

“The hardest thing for the young skill guys is that some of their freedom will go away, and their numbers will take a hit,” Hull said. “But when you see those wins pile up you forget about it.”

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New Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock Decides Halak Is His Man Tomorrow Night

Goalie intrigue! Assuredly something that Ken Hitchcock has a minimal tolerance for, Hitchcock put an end to the speculation as to who his number one is for now by making the decision to start Jaroslav Halak on Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. Halak has just one win on the season, but he is the starter. Hitchcock has to see him in action before he makes a decision as to who he needs to start in the game. It seems unreasonable for him to start the backup, despite Brian Elliott’s record and stats. He needs to watch both goaltenders in goal multiple times to see how he responds to Hitchcock’s tight system.

Mike Halford of Pro Hockey Talk has a pretty good spot-on analysis of the situation.

Payne used Elliott because Elliott gave him the best chance to win. With Hitch, the system gives him the best chance. His tight-checking defensive approach does wonders for any goalie — literally, any goalie. Steve Mason got nominated for a Vezina while Hitch was in Columbus. Roman Chechmanek and Robert Esche combined to win the Jennings during his stint in Philly. One year his Dallas team finished third in goals allowed with an Andy Moog-Arturs Irbe timeshare.

Hitchcock won the Cup in 1999 with an Ed Belfour/Roman Turek (!) combo. Belfour’s stats that year? 1.99 GAA and a .915 save percentage. Turek’s stats were also quite impressive, with a 2.08 goals against average. Hitch gets what he needs to out of his goalies by building a wall in front of them, thereby making sure that they truly are the last line of defense – not just a stopgap when the defense doesn’t feel like trying.

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Ken Hitchcock Proud To Be Next Blues Coach

The newest coach of the St. Louis Blues took some time before practice today to speak with the media. Hitchcock played the happy new addition despite coaching against the Blues when he was coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has worked with Doug Armstrong in Dallas and he has worked with President John Davidson in the past, so factor in the familiarity that came with coaching against the Blues and Armstrong seems to be in a comfortable place.

Armstrong explained his decision to fire Davis Payne and hire Armstrong to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

"It’s something when I looked at our team and saw the way we were progressing, there were postmarks that you look for in management," Armstrong said. "And I felt where we are at right now, we needed an experienced coach, someone that could guide this younger team to the area it wants to go to. I just felt that I wanted the certainty of a head coach with a proven track record, a winner, to push these young players and push this organization to the next level.

Hopefully Armstrong’s faith is rewarded, as Hitchcock tends to push young players and tends to squash their creativity in the process. Then again, their creativity hasn’t worked this year, so perhaps adding that into a solid system will benefit both the scoring and goaltending.

Here's Hitchcock's interview:


And Armstrong's:


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Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong Hopeful; Former Coach Davis Payne Appreciative

In an article published earlier the day that the St. Louis Blues fired head coach Davis Payne, Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong sees some hope in the future despite the frustrations. He was generally displeased with the direction of the special teams, and he highlights that specifically:

“I think you have to look at the power play and the penalty kill for the first eight or nine games (as problems),” Armstrong said. “Both have been better recently, but we haven’t got to reap any of the rewards from the power play movement. But at least we’re seeing some form of life there.”

He also calls out the top scorers on the team, basically saying that if the third line can be an effective scoring line, than so can the top six. The loss of Andy McDonald is not an excuse for a 3-for-40 powerplay:

“We thought that the strength of our team was going to be our depth, and our depth hasn’t provided us with that secondary scoring on some nights,” Armstrong said. “Early in the season, we had (Jason) Arnott, (Jamie) Langenbrunner and (Alex) Steen doing a majority of the work. For us to be a successful team, we’re going to need scoring throughout the group, and that includes the top six.”

He does see Halak improving, and he’s pleased with Elliott’s role on the team. He’s not negative, but him specifically calling out the lack of scoring makes the hiring of a defensively-minded Ken Hitchcock more interesting.

Recently fired coach Davis Payne was very gracious in handing over the reins of the team to Hitchcock, telling the Post-Dispatch:

“[I]f 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.

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

The press conference announcing the hiring of Hitchcock is scheduled for 10:30 today, before the Blues’ first practice with their new coach. Hitchcock makes his premiere Tuesday night like the two coaches before him: against the Chicago Blackhawks.

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Ken Hitchcock Under Contract Through 2012-2013; He's Not A Quick Fix

As per the Blues’ earlier press release, Ken Hitchcock is under contract until the end of the 2012-2013 season. This gives one the thought that his being hired isn’t a quick fix for the kids who are under-performing – to show them the “right way” and move on. Hitchcocks’ way is the right way, or else you’re hitting the highway. He doesn’t mess around, and he demands accountability from his players. The youth on the Blues has gotten a reputation of being too relaxed and of contributing to an “inmates run the asylum” kind of feeling among the fans and people who cover the team.

Hitchcock’s defensive first style isn’t exciting hockey, and it might not fit well with the playmaking prowess of players like Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie, whereas David Backes, Chris Stewart, and the like should be able to grasp it fairly quickly. The young players are going to have to be quick studies, and will have to be responsible on and off the ice, or else Craig Custance’s tweet about changes coming will come true.

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St. Louis Blues Fire Head Coach Davis Payne, Replace Him With Ken Hitchcock

Davis Payne took one for the team, as the terrible special teams and lack of top line scoring costs the coach his job. Ken Hitchcock will replace him and hopefully have greater success.

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