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Blues fire Davis Payne after 6-7 start, hire Ken Hitchcock through next season

ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Blues have changed coaches after a disappointing 6-7 start, firing Davis Payne and hiring Ken Hitchcock to a contract through next season.

The 40-year-old Payne was the second-youngest coach in the NHL but got only one full season with St. Louis after being hired in January 2010.

"It's shocking and it's disappointing, but in the end, you're responsible for all the areas of your hockey team," Payne said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There were pieces that weren't firing on all cylinders and it's under my umbrella of responsibility."

The 59-year-old Hitchcock is 534-350-88-70, winning a Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999-2000 and also coaching at Philadelphia and Columbus. Hitchcock was also an assistant coach for Canada's men's hockey team when it won gold in the 2002 and 2010 Winter Olympics.

He had been under contract with the Blue Jackets through the end of this season at US$1.3 million.

The team called a news conference for Monday with Hitchcock and general manager Doug Armstrong, and said there would be no comment until then. Hitchcock will be on the bench for practice that afternoon. The Blues begin a five-game homestand Tuesday night against Chicago.

Payne thought the Blues were "were looking at a favourable schedule ahead and ready to turn the corner."

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

Hitchcock and team president John Davidson didn't return telephone messages from the AP.

The Blues were 67-55-15 under Payne. He was interim coach the remainder of the 2010-11 season after replacing Andy Murray and the interim tag was removed after the Blues finished 23-15-4.

Payne coached two seasons for the Blues' affiliate in the American Hockey League before getting promoted.

The Blues were optimistic about making the playoffs for only the second time in seven seasons after adding veterans Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner and Scott Nichol to a base of young talent.

Goalie Jaroslav Halak in particular has struggled with a 1-6 record, while backup Brian Elliott is 5-1. Forward Chris Stewart is off to a slow start with three points.

St. Louis lost four of its first six, then seemed to right itself with a three-game winning streak that included victories at Vancouver and Philadelphia but has dropped three of the last four.

Hitchcock's teams have won six division titles and topped 100 points eight times. He inherits a team expected to contend for a playoff spot after missing the post-season five of the previous six seasons.

Since being fired by the Blue Jackets in February 2010, Hitchcock coached Canada at the IIHF World Hockey Championship earlier this year. Hitchcock has worked with seven national teams for Canada, including the 2008 world championship squad that won the silver medal in Quebec City.

Hitchcock and Armstrong also have plenty of history together. Armstrong was GM with Dallas when Hitchcock coached there, was an assistant GM with Canada at the 2010 Olympics and also worked with Hitchcock at the 2008 world championship.


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