Blues fire coach Murray; Payne appointed interim head coach of struggling club

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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ST. LOUIS - Andy Murray was fired Saturday as coach of the St. Louis Blues, who have the NHL's worst home record and are coming off a disheartening loss for their fourth straight defeat.

Davis Payne, coach of the Blues' AHL affiliate in Peoria, was appointed interim head coach and was to coach St. Louis at home Saturday night against Chicago.

The Blues are 6-13-3 at home, including a season-opening victory in Sweden. The final blow for Murray came at home Thursday night when the Blues squandered a 3-0 lead in a 4-3 overtime loss to Vancouver.

"It's kind of maybe the way we lost more than anything else," president John Davidson said at a news conference. "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."

The 39-year-old Payne inherits a team that is 12th in the Western Conference at 17-17-6.

"We feel he's our coach and he might be our coach long term," Davidson said. "It's a whirlwind for him, but we feel confident about him."

The Blues retained assistants Ray Bennett and Brad Shaw. Goaltending coach Rick Wamsley replaced Payne as Peoria's coach.

Payne said he was "absolutely thrilled" to get this chance. He addressed the team before the morning skate.

"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," he said. "That's our starting point for tonight."

Defenceman Barret Jackman said Murray paid the price for the team's struggles.

"It's tough to swallow," Jackman said. "We're the problem and I think management decided to make a change to wake up the players."

But forward Cam Janssen, the team's enforcer, said Murray had difficulty relating to players.

"I don't think he was on the same page with everybody," he said. "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."

Murray was hired by the Blues in 2006 after coaching the Los Angeles Kings and working as an assistant in Philadelphia, Minnesota and Winnipeg. Last season the Blues ended a three-season playoff drought with a strong second half under Murray, who was 118-102-38 in St. Louis.

Davidson said he decided to dismiss Murray on Friday but did not want to distract from the NHL's Winter Classic outdoor game in Boston and the announcement of the U.S. Olympic team. Davidson said Murray was informed Saturday morning.

"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."

Davidson said the situation was not ideal for Murray, given the Blues' youth. Defenceman Erik Johnson and forwards David Perron, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund all in their early 20s.

"To give Andy some slack we fast-tracked here," Davidson said. "These kids were raw when they got here."

Peoria was 19-13-1-2 under Payne this season and 62-44-3-6 over two seasons. Before that he was a head coach for seven seasons in the ECHL.

"It felt the same when I got on the ice this morning as it did two days ago in Peoria," Payne said. "Obviously, the buildings are bigger and lots of star power on the ice, but it's the same game."

Organizations: NHL, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings

Geographic location: Peoria, ST. LOUIS, Chicago Sweden Vancouver Philadelphia Minnesota Winnipeg Boston U.S.

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