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Blues fire Payne, name Hitchcock coach @NHLdotcom

The St. Louis Blues have fired coach Davis Payne and replaced him with Ken Hitchcock, the team announced Sunday night.

St. Louis is currently 6-7-0, and sits in 13th place in the Western Conference with 12 points. The Blues had lost three of the past four games, including a 2-1 defeat Saturday night at Minnesota.

"It's shocking and it's disappointing, but in the end, you're responsible for all the areas of your hockey team," Payne said. "There were pieces that weren't firing on all cylinders and it's under my umbrella of responsibility. But I also can say that we were looking at a favorable schedule ahead and ready to turn the corner. That said, if this is what gets things going, then I'm all for it. I wish nothing but the best for the team and this group of guys. They deserve it."

Hitchcock was still under contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who had to give permission to the Blues to hire him. He was in charge with the Blue Jackets for parts of four seasons until he was fired Feb. 3, 2010. He has a career record of 534-350-88-70 with the Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong worked with Hitchcock in Dallas and with the Canadian national team.

He led the Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999, and lost in the Final to New Jersey in 2000. Hitchcock helped the Blue Jackets reach the playoffs for the only time in the franchise’s history in 2009, but was fired the next season after the team started 23-27-9.

Hitchcock has won six division titles and coached in three NHL All-Star Games. He also was an assistant coach for Team Canada in both the 2002 and 2010 Winter Olympics, and won a gold medal each time.

Payne finished his tenure in St. Louis with a 67-55-15 record. He replaced Andy Murray, who was fired Jan. 2, 2010. He was originally named interim coach, but that tag was removed Apr. 14. Payne had previously coached the Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen.

The Blues made the postseason 25 straight years from 1980-2004, but have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs only once since. Murray was the coach when the team made it in 2009, but was fired after a 17-17-6 start to the 2009-10 campaign.

Pundits have considered St. Louis a potential breakthrough team each of the past two preseasons, but the Blues finished in 11th place in 2010-11 with 87 points. Armstrong made a franchise-changing trade in February, dealing No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson to Colorado for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, and then added veterans Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner in free agency this offseason.

A big problem for the Blues this season has been special teams play. St. Louis is last in the League at just 7.5 percent on the power play, and the Blues’ 73.8 percent on the penalty kill ranks 27th.

"I'm more than grateful, more than grateful, to this organization for giving me a chance to coach in this League," Payne said. "The things that I learned and will learn from this, I owe a great deal of thanks."

Correspondent Louie Korac contributed to this report.
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