Davis Payne was an experiment by Blues management. After the young core of the team essentially tuned out whip-cracking coach Andy Murray, and after seeing the success that the young Pittsburgh Penguins were having with a young, player-friendly coach in Dan Bylsma, management gave the young AHL coach his first crack at an NHL job.
Davis Payne, I think, did a good job with the rosters he had at his disposal, but with the team continuing to disappoint despite years of upgrades, clearly the bosses upstairs felt like a move had to be made. Why Payne was fired and not his assistant coaches, who are in charge of the floundering special teams and the floundering starting netminder, is a subject that is still open to discussion. But what is obvious is that the Blues feel like the so-called veteran leadership that was brought in over the summer clearly is not enough of a steadying force on the roster. Ken Hitchcock is a renowned whip-cracker himself and his influence should be noticeable on this team quickly.
Hitchcock's professional coaching career began in Dallas, as a mid-season replacement during the 1995-96 season, when he took over for Bob Gainey and his 11-19-9 start. Hitchcock put together a 15-23-5 finish and the Stars wound up 6th in the Central Division, well out of the playoffs.
The following year, Hitchcock and the Stars went 48-26-8, winning the Central, but falling in the first round of the playoffs in seven games. Year three in Dallas was an equally-successful regular season as the team went 49-22-11 and breaking through in the playoffs, making it to the Western Conference finals before falling to the eventual champions, some team from Detroit.
1998-99 was, of course, the Stars' best, as they won 53 games and the Stanley Cup over Buffalo. Hitchcock managed to get the Stars back to the Stanley Cup finals again in 99-00, though they lost to New Jersey in six games. The following season was another first place finish in the Central Division with 48 wins. The Stars, having played more hockey than any other team in the previous three seasons, couldn't sustain their postseason success and lost in the second round of the playoffs (to the Blues in a sweep).
In 2001-02 Hitchcock was unable to keep the Stars as the top team in the Central, as they had been for five straight seasons, and was let go after 50 games. That team finished fourth in the division and out of the playoffs.
Hitchcock found a job in Philadelphia for the next season, and in his first three seasons with the Flyers he led them to three 40-plus win years (45, 40, 45) and second place or first place finishes in the Atlantic Division. His teams met with varying degrees of success in the playoffs, losing in the second round (to the Senators, who lost to champion Devils), the Conference Finals (to eventual champion Lightning) and the first round (to Buffalo, who lost in seven games to eventual champion Hurricanes).
After a bad start to a dismal 2006-07 (1-6-1 start, Flyers finished last in the NHL), Hitchcock was fired by the Flyers, but quickly picked up by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In Columbus, Hitchcock struggled to lead the hapless Jackets to respectability, but he did get them to their first-ever playoff berth, in 2008-09. His first three seasons in Columbus rank as three of the franchise's four best seasons in their 10 years of existence.
Hitchcock's career coaching numbers are 533 wins, 350 losses, 88 ties and 70 OT losses, good for a career 58.8% winning percentage. He is 66-55 in the playoffs (54.5%) and in nine playoff seasons he has won one Cup, been to the finals twice and been to the Conference finals an additional two times (total of four).
Hitchcock's reputation is one of a coach who values discipline and adherence to the team system above all other things. He is known for valuing veteran players over youngsters, and that tends to hold up both statistically (his top-scoring players on virtually every team he has coached have been older, with the exception of Rick Nash leading the Blue Jackets two of the three years he coached in Columbus and 25-year-old Simon Gagne leading his Flyers one year) as well as allegorically, as he was blamed for squashing the creative play of youngsters like Nikolai Zherdev, Gilbert Brule and Nikita Filatov in Columbus.
Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how this philosophy works with the current Blues roster, many of whom have earned icetime on the team based on their reputations as creative young players.
With this move, Doug Armstrong brings in another strong-willed coach with a track record for success. It's interesting to note that this may just be the first of a series of moves, as most of the management team recently spent a couple days in Peoria watching the Rivermen play. Armstrong has proved that he's willing to move swiftly and decisively to address roster and coaching issues. If Hitchcock expresses a desire to make a change with assistant coaches or with players on the team, expect that it will happen.