Blues dismiss Payne in favor of Hitchcock

Monday, November 7, 2011

St. Louis fired its coach after a 6-7 start

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues changed coaches Sunday 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.

The 59-year-old Hitchcock is 534-350-88, winning a Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999-2000 and also coaching at Philadelphia and Columbus. He had been under contract with the Blue Jackets through the end of this season at $1.3 million.

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

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

Armstrong was GM with the Stars when Hitchcock coached there, and the two also have worked together with the Canadien national team.

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

Payne coached two seasons for the Blues' Peoria, Ill., affiliate in the AHL 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 postseason five of the previous six seasons.

Hitchcock, fired by the Blue Jackets in February 2010.

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