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St. Louis Blues fire Davis Payne, hire Ken Hitchcock as head coach

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In a surprising development this evening, the St. Louis Blues have abruptly fired head coach Davis Payne, and hired former Blue Jackets boss Ken Hitchcock. This, from NHL.com:

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 Eric 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.    

With a 6-7-0 record, and the club with key forwards Andy McDonald and David Perron on injured reserve, this seems to be a bizarre time for a shakeup. All eyes, obviously, have been on Columbus instead. Since taking over in St. Louis midway through the 2009-2010 season, Payne compiled a 4-2-2 record against the Predators, and it was expected that the Blues would have a good shot at returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Looking forward, Hitchcock could indeed be the guy to get the Blues delivering on all that potential. During his 8 full seasons in Dallas and Philadelphia, he claimed 6 division championships, and the 1999 Stanley Cup with the Stars. Obviously his time in Columbus was not so distinguished... but can he turn the Blues into a real Central Division power?