It's a bit ironic that the last time Blues fans saw Davis Payne behind the bench as head coach on Friday night, Payne was congratulating Tony La Russa before the game for winning another World Series and wishing him well in retirement. La Russa had 33 years managing and had been with the St. Louis Cardinals since 1996. Payne got 137 games with the Blues before he was fired Sunday.
No, we didn't see this coming right now, but trouble was brewing. After the current ownership put more money into the team for the first time in a few years this summer, expectations were higher. Everyone in the building - be it in the stands, on the bench or in John Davidson's skybox - thought this team was going to be better. Sure they've shown flashes, but the team that got shutdown 2-1 in Minnesota on Saturday was just as likely to show up as the team that controlled Vancouver 3-2 on Friday.
When Jeremy Rutherford with the Post-Dispatch got in touch with Payne tonight, the now former head coach didn't burn a bridge.
"It's shocking and it's disappointing, but in the end, you're responsible for all the areas of your hockey team," he said. "There were pieces that weren't firing on all cylinders and it's under my umbrella of responsibility. But I also can say that we were looking at a favorable schedule ahead and ready to turn the corner. That said, if 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."
If you interviewed me the night I got fired from what sure seems like my dream job after my other head coaching jobs involved stops in Central Illinois and Alaska, I'd be a bitter asshole. And one thing that would keep eating at me is that the some of the same guys that didn't give consistent effort and struggled to show up on the score sheet on a regular basis who got Andy Murray fired are some of the guys that got me fired.
The big Erik Johnson trade last season was a popular one for the players that came in return (Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart) as well as the idea that the Blues were shipping an uneven performer and possibly hard to coach player for two guys with lots of potential. Maybe they traded the wrong guy? Maybe they didn't trade enough guys? General manager Doug Armstrong was sending a message then as well as when he brought in Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott in the offseason. He's not impressed by the potential or the performance of this team. Payne wasn't his guy. Neither are most of these players. Embrace the change. More is coming.
Let's be honest, this is a quick hook. Payne's tenure is shorter than Jacques Martin's (160 games), shorter than Bob Berry's (157) and even shorter than Mike Keenan's (163). Remember the head coaching regime of Mike "I Can't Believe I Replaced Quenneville Either" Kitchen and how bad it got? His teams won 38 times...in 131 games. In terms of total games behind the bench, Payne's Blues career mirrors the most forgettable Blues coach of at least the last 20 years. They also have something else important in common: neither coached in a single playoff game.
Since 1967, the Blues have now had 24 coaches. They all have one thing in common: None has ever won a championship here. Ken Hitchcock is the first coach to have a Cup on his resume when joining the Blues since Keenan - which is fitting because they have somewhat similar reputations. They don't play games and they like their kind of guys. You don't conform, you sell your house because you just got traded.
We'll have more Monday morning about the new coach, a guy we've made more than a baker's dozen fat jokes about over the years. We'll probably have more on that later as well.