As I am sure all of Blues Nation already knows, the Blues relieved Head Coach Davis Payne of his coaching duties and replaced him with NHL coaching veteran Ken Hitchcock. On the outside looking in, this looks like a smart move. The Blues have posted a dismal 6-7-0 record this season, with players like Chris Stewart (3 points) and Patrik Berglund (5 points) off to very slow starts. But do the numbers really justify this move?
If you are a member of Blues management, you may not like my answer to this question.
Payne, who posted a winning record with the Blues (67-55-15), was hired in January 2010 and coached just one full season with the NHL club. Payne replaced former Head Coach Andy Murray after it was apparent that the Blues roster was not responding to his coaching techniques. Now with Payne in Murray’s shoes, everyone wonders if it was the same situation this time around.
It was not. Payne was getting results. There were other members of the organization who were not.
Our friends over at St. Louis Game Time posted an article Monday afternoon about how Payne was not the one who should have been let go. Instead, they suggested that assistant coaches Brad Shaw and Ray Bennett should have received the axe. This is a correct assumption.
Brad Shaw, who runs the Blues’ penalty-kill, has had less-than-perfect results since taking 1st in the league in penalty-kill percentage in 2009-10 (86.8%). Last season, the Blues finished 18th in the league (81.7%) and this season they have an absolute atrocious percentage, currently ranking 27th in the league (73.8%). St. Louis Game Time made a great point in saying that Jay McClement and Mike Weaver were a huge part of that 2009-10 PK unit. Looking at the roster now, the Blues still have some guys who can step up in the defensive role. T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo and Roman Polak have all proven in their NHL careers that they are fully capable of being on a top-unit on any team in the NHL. The results are just not coming and strategies seem like they are the only other place to look.
It cannot get worse than the penalty-kill, right? Well, look at the flipside of being a man down.
Watching the Blues on the power-play is like watching Jersey Girl over and over again. Currently dead-last in the league (7.5%), the Blues have as many power-play goals as there are branches in the U.S. government. The same man has been running the power-play since 2006-07. Guess what? The only season that the power-play finished higher than 10th in the league was in 2008-09, when Andy Murray publicly took over the power-play unit. Only twice since 2006-07 have the Blues finished higher than 20th in the league in PP%. Who runs this unit? Ray Bennett.
Maybe I am jumping the gun on the coaches. Maybe St. Louis Game Time is looking too much into who is running the special teams and not the product on the ice. So who is to blame?
Here is an odd answer; the players. As I mentioned, Chris Stewart has just 3 points. T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund are yet to register a game-winning goal. Nikita Nikitin is a -5 on the season. Jaroslav Halak is 1-6-0 on the season.
This is all not even mentioning that 2 of the Blues’ top-6 forwards are currently sitting on IR. With McDonald and Perron in the lineup, we would likely be seeing a different team. The same could be said for last season when Payne was given literally AHL talent to work with due to ownership struggles not being able to bring in NHL talent. With a lot of star players out of the lineup for long stretches of the season, Payne still coached this team to a 38-33-11 record which placed the team just ten points out of a playoff spot.
We could look higher in this organization, but that is a complex issue that deserves to be reviewed after we see how this team shapes up. This current Blues regime is still young; they deserve more time to see what they can do with all of this adversity.
Although, Payne deserved that same opportunity.
Hopefully, Ken Hitchcock will be given a longer leash than Payne was given.