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Blues fire coach Murray; Payne appointed interim head coach of struggling club

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

ST. LOUIS - The worst home record in the NHL led to the end of Andy Murray's tenure as St. Louis Blues coach.

The franchise replaced the 58-year-old Murray on Saturday, hoping a younger man can better motivate a youthful roster that's underachieved. Davis Payne, coach of the Blues' AHL affiliate in Peoria, was appointed interim head coach and coached St. Louis in its 6-3 home loss to Chicago on Saturday night.

"We feel going forward that we really need to get our young people to be better players," team president John Davidson said. "One thing we promised our fans is come grow with us.

"Davis has done a nice job this year with the kids in Peoria."

Defenceman Erik Johnson and forwards David Perron, T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund are all former first-round picks in their early 20s and all have struggled at times. Johnson had a fast start but was a healthy scratch earlier this week, while Perron (11 goals, 22 points), Oshie (seven goals, 19 points) and Berglund (six goals, 12 points) have failed to energize an offence near the bottom of the NHL in goals.

"To give Andy some slack we fast-tracked here," Davidson said. "These kids were raw when they got here."

Murray presided over a second-half surge that led the Blues to a playoff berth last spring and the team picked up the option on his contract in September.

"We just lost too many games we were in a position to win," Murray said. "Way too many losses at home, too many games we were leading. We're a .500 team and we haven't played good enough. Ultimately, that's what I'm judged on."

The Blues entered Saturday 6-13-3 at home, including a season-opening victory in Sweden, and had lost four in a row. The final blow came at home Thursday night when the Blues squandered a 3-0 lead in a 4-3 overtime loss to Vancouver.

"It's kind of maybe the way we lost more than anything else," Davidson said. "It's such a mental game at times and this league is so close. Every night it is such a fine line, and you need to be there with your mindset and we just simply haven't been, consistently anyway."

The 39-year-old Payne inherits a team that is 12th in the Western Conference at 17-17-6. He was the East Coast Hockey League coach of the year in 2006-07.

"We feel he's our coach and he might be our coach long term," Davidson said. "It's a whirlwind for him, but we feel confident about him."

The Blues retained assistants Ray Bennett and Brad Shaw. Goaltending coach Rick Wamsley replaced Payne as Peoria's coach.

Payne said he was "absolutely thrilled" to get this chance. He addressed the team before the morning skate.

"I don't know where the emphasis has been, but I asked these guys to work hard for each other, I asked them to trust each other, and I asked them to play with passion," he said. "That's our starting point for tonight."

Defenceman Barret Jackman said Murray paid the price for the team's struggles.

"It's tough to swallow," Jackman said. "We're the problem and I think management decided to make a change to wake up the players."

But forward Cam Janssen, the team's enforcer, said Murray had difficulty relating to players.

"I don't think he was on the same page with everybody," he said. "I think guys didn't know where they stood with him, and I think that's not a good thing to have in the locker-room. I had no idea where I was with him and I couldn't understand what he was trying to tell me. It was a bizarre situation."

Murray was hired by the Blues in 2006 after coaching the Los Angeles Kings and working as an assistant in Philadelphia, Minnesota and Winnipeg. Last season the Blues ended a three-season playoff drought with a strong second half under Murray, who was 118-102-38 in St. Louis.

Davidson said he decided to dismiss Murray on Friday but did not want to distract from the NHL's Winter Classic outdoor game in Boston and the announcement of the U.S. Olympic team. Davidson said Murray was informed Saturday morning.

"Andy's a class guy and he handled it well," Davidson said. "My intuition tells me he knew something was coming because of our home record. Nobody wants to do this, but you have to at times change to continue the evolution of the organization."

Peoria was 19-13-1-2 under Payne this season and 62-44-3-6 over two seasons. Before that he was a head coach for seven seasons in the ECHL.

"It felt the same when I got on the ice this morning as it did two days ago in Peoria," Payne said. "Obviously, the buildings are bigger and lots of star power on the ice, but it's the same game."


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