With only 40 points in 40 games, and sitting nine points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues have made a coaching change.
The club announced on Saturday that they have fired Andy Murray, and have named Davis Payne as the interim head coach.
"We feel he's our coach and he might be our coach long term," Blues president John Davidson said during a news conference. "It's a whirlwind for him, but we feel confident about him."
The 39-year old Payne was named the head coach of the Blues AHL affiliate the Peoria Rivermen in July of 2008. The club has a combined 62-44-3-6 record in one and a half seasons with Payne behind the bench.
The 2006-07 ECHL Coach of the Year, Payne led the Aces to the 2006 ECHL Kelly Cup Championship and also guided the club to three consecutive trips to the Conference Finals.
Payne spoke the his new team on Saturday.
"I don't know where the emphasis has been, but I asked these guys to work hard for each other, I asked them to trust each other, and I asked them to play with passion," said the new coach. "That's our starting point for tonight."
"It's tough to swallow," Barret Jackman told The Canadian Press about the coaching change. "We're the problem and I think management decided to make a change to wake up the players."
At least one of the Blues felt Murray had issues when it came to communicating with his players.
"I don't think he was on the same page with everybody," Cam Janssen told CP. "I think guys didn't know where they stood with him, and I think that's not a good thing to have in the locker-room.
"I had no idea where I was with him and I couldn't understand what he was trying to tell me. It was a bizarre situation."
The 58-year-old Murray was hired by the Blues in December of 2006, replacing Mike Kitchen. He was a Jack Adams runner-up as Coach of the Year last season after guiding St. Louis, which took up residence in the cellar of the Western Conference at the All-Star break, to a 41-31-10 record and the club's first playoff berth since 2004. The Blues were swept by Vancouver in the opening round.
"Andy's a class guy and he handled it well," Davidson said. "My intuition tells me he knew something was coming because of our home record. Nobody wants to do this, but you have to at times change to continue the evolution of the organization."
While Murray contends he did not know he was going to be fired, he understood the decision.
"We just lost too many games we were in a position to win," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an interview. "Early in the year, we had difficult scoring. Recently, the defensive play hasn't been as good. Way too many losses at home, too many games we were leading."
The Blues are 6-13-3 in their home rink including a recent loss to the Vancouver Canucks, where St. Louis fell 4-3 in overtime after leading 3-0.
"It's kind of maybe the way we lost more than anything else," Davidson said. "It's such a mental game at times and this league is so close. Every night it is such a fine line, and you need to be there with your mindset and we just simply haven't been, consistently anyway."
"My goal was for these young guys to learn to be good pros, so they would be good Blues for long time," explained Murray. "I was just happy to see them develop as people, their social skills. Everybody though I was being tough on our young guys. If I let them do whatever they wanted, let them go without working hard, coming late to practice, other habits that aren't professional, then they might have been a flash in the pan for one year. If they were not pros, then they'd never be the ultimate player the Blues need."
Murray finished his tenure in the Gateway City with a mark of 118-102-38.