Sunday night the Blues Twitter community erupted in to a furious frenzy of question asking and conclusion jumping as Davis Payne was let go, Ken Hitchcock was hired and Ian Cole was recalled from Peoria. In an effort to blend my business wold technical writing and my blogging world creative juices I have constructed a FAQ on the coaching change and the potential implications.
Some of the questions are near verbatim that I saw on Twitter. Some are a mesh-mash of random thoughts put in to question form to provide an answer. Either way, here they are.
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Why was Davis Payne removed from the head coaching position?
Head coaches are paid to do one thing, win games. Their record and rank in the standings are the end all, be all benchmarks in which they are graded by. Regardless of any extenuating circumstances.
Simply put, Payne didn’t do enough of it. In 137 games behind the Blues bench he posted a 67-55-15 record which earned 149 points. Just 54.4% of the points possible. Projected over 82 games that’s roughly 90 points. In the Western Conference that percentage leads to April tee times more often than not since the lockout. With the Blues expecting to make the playoffs and perpetually pacing to end up outside the picture, a change was coming.
That said, there are circumstances and issues extended past the business aspect of the decision.
Payne has been unable to transition his immediate success in motivating players following the firing of Andy Murray in to a long term dynamic. The effort displayed through last season and the 13 games of the current campagin are no different than the darkest days leading to the last coaching change.
Supposed star players in the making have flat lined. Chris Stewart has performed up to the standard that put him on the outs in Colorado. In Patrik Berglund’s case the consistency issues are problematic once again. Fan favorite and resident sparkplug TJ Oshie hasn’t been able to find the jump he busted in to the league (and Rick Nash) with. The three have combined for 8 goals and 16 points in 13 games.
Alleged franchise netminder Jaroslav Halak has not been the same performer in St. Louis as he was in Montreal. Payne hasn’t been able to devise a system which effective insulates him or draw out more of a “Tim Thomas” stand alone type goalie.
A general failure to meet standards across the board lead to this decision.
Who is Ken Hitchcock?
From: Edmonton, Alberta
Coached for: Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers & Columbus Blue Jackets
Record: 534-350-88-70 in 1,042 NHL games.
Successes: Stanley Cup champion in 1999 as head coach of the Dallas Stars. Assistant coach on the Gold Medal winning 2002 and 2010 Candian Olympic squads.
What type of coach is Hitchcock?
His play style tendencies would seem favor the old school approach. More of a stereotypical defense first system emphasizing responsibility. But don’t get caught up in “should be” or “could be” because of his history.
Based on today’s press conference Hitchcock will not run the same system he did in Dallas. Gone are the days of a slow 150 foot game. He intends on bringing a fast 200 foot game. He is a student and avid observer of the game. Clearly he has learned lessons after shortcomings in Columbus.
Personal accountability is a major concern for the Blues and Hitchcock is known for keeping his players in line. Those who wish to play will buy in or their ice time will be significantly reduced or be shown the door.
He is also known for being able to develop an effective game plan and employ it.
What does this mean for the under-performing likes of TJ Oshie, Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart?
The rumor mill is going spin away freely given the perceived lack of effort coming from this trio and the fog of change floating over Scottrade. Bottomline, not much is likely to happen, to them, before Hitchcock and Armstrong can reassess their lineup after a few games.
Let’s be clear and honest. Armstrong does not shy away from making bold moves, but he is cold and calculated. Removing Payne and inserting Hitchcock is a dramatic upheaval for the players to digest. Moving out someone who was not performing well under one coach before the new one can get a crack and reshaping them in too itcy trigger finder for Armstrong.
For now the auditors will be watching them closely. Gauging their actions and reactions as well as their performance. Hitch is a veteran’s coach and these three need to prove they aren’t kids anymore.
How will the goaltending situation be impacted?
Likely not much. Winning is goal number one and if Brian Elliott keeps up his play, then the status quo continues. If Halak continues to improve “Plan A” goes back in to effect.
That said, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Halak starts seeing the more favorable matchups in an effort to get him where he should be. An area Payne appeared to not be concerned with.
There is a popular perception that Hitchcock is “anti-Russian”. Does his hiring alter Vladimir Tarasenko’s plans of starting his NHL career?
It’s clear that the environment that a Russian player is moving in to in North American as well as their development path are critical checkmarks on the list to determine if/when they head over.
To say that the hiring of Hitchcock won’t weigh on Tarasenko’s decision at the end of World Championships is downright foolish. No matter the success Sergei Zubov experienced more recent examples of Russians developing under his watch, Nik Zherdev and Nikita Filatov, could easily encourage Tank to stay home.
Granted, it appears he possesses a drive and will to compete that the other two simply do not have. But why leave home and his father’s team to play someone who has more failures handling his countrymen than successes? Don’t forget, Zubov was an established player under Hitchcock. He came to Dallas in his mid 20s with 191 points in 180 games. Tarasenko would be in his early 20s with zero points and NHL games played.
Hopefully all the talk of Tarasenko wanting to play in the NHL is true and he will come over to fight for a roster spot in St. Louis.
Which players benefit most from the change?
All those who buy in and play hard will benefit. All those who do not, will not.
Will Doug Armstrong make a trade soon?
The news of Ian Cole’s recall sent many heads a spinning harder than they already were last night. The truth of the matter is that Kent Huskins went on IR and Cole brought the total number of roster players to 23, not 24.
Obviously the wheels are rolling full speed in Armstrong’s head, but that doesn’t mean a deal is coming soon. The linking of an imminent trade and the recall appear to be a spurious correlation.
Can he fix the special teams?
With the assistant coaches staying in place, this question is up in the air. One of those “only time will tell” deals.
Was this the right move?
The correctness of the decision can’t be determined by Tuesday or even the end of the month. Check back on Sunday, April 8th for that answer. At that point the Blues will either be confirmed in or out of the playoffs.