Davis Payne sure has proven that he is ready for the big time.
Just over a year ago, Blues Team President John Davidson announced that he had relieved Andy Murray of his coaching duties and replaced him with former Peoria Rivermen Head Coach Davis Payne. Davidson only had warm things to say about his new head coach.
"Davis is very knowledgeable of the players in our organization and we feel he is the best candidate to coach our team," Davidson said during the press conference.
So many questions followed; could Payne be ready for the NHL? Would the players respond well to a new NHL coach? Could this be the guy that could finally get the Blues over the hump and into a regular-playoff spot every season?
In his first outing as an NHL coach, Payne led his new team to a devastating 6-3 loss to the rival Chicago Blackhawks. The questions immediately rose regarding Payne’s ability to coach an NHL team.But Payne kept strong and led the Blues to an impressive second half of the season. Going 23-15-5 from January 2 to the end of the season, Payne’s Blues finished in ninth place with 90 points, just five points behind the Colorado Avalanche, who received the final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
This season has been even more of a thrill for Payne.
The injury-riddled Blues are currently 20-13-5, giving them 45 points. This ties them for sixth in the Western Conference and places them in second in the Central Division. This can be owed to the spectacular play by Blues goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Ty Conklin, or even the unexpected goal-totals from players like supposed-grinders Matt D’Agostini (8) and Vladimir Sobotka (5).
One thing the Blues’ success cannot be owed to is the play of top-forwards David Perron, T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald. The Blues have found a way to win without these three in the lineup for the majority of the season.
Add in the fact that the Blues lost veterans Mike Weaver, Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk to retirement and free-agency over the summer and really did not find replacements. The holes were filled from within (except for the addition of Sobotka) and it has somehow worked.
This is because Davis Payne has found a way to make his team work for every puck and fight for every rebound.
The Blues won five games in a row, catapulting them in the standings. But they hit a snafu Sunday night against the Stars, surrendering a lead after two periods and earning a loss. Did Payne focus on the positive and remember those five wins?
A tough day of drills and hard skating preceded, in which a large-holiday crowd saw the Blues skate harder than they have in awhile. Payne did not let that loss go unnoticed.
"We needed to get some work in," Payne told reporters after the practice. "We didn't play the type of game necessary [against the Stars] for our team to have success and we want to make sure it gets addressed and gets put behind us quickly.”
Individual play has picked up as well. Along with D’Agostini and Sobotka having career seasons, Patrik Berglund looks like a different player from a year ago.
Last season, the 22-year old Swede was quite the disappointment for his club. His 13 goals and 13 assists were far below what was expected. But his play in Payne’s first full season has improved. His eight goals in 38 games puts him on pace for about 17 goals this season, and he has already matched his total in assists from a season ago. His two goals against the Red Wings on December 23 powered the Blues to a victory, but more importantly showed that Berglund can pull out his bag-of-tricks in the big match-ups.
So what does this all mean?
Davis Payne has taken control of this team. The puck control has been dynamite, tough play has been great and the defense has vastly improved.
If the Blues make the playoffs, there is no doubt that Payne deserves consideration for the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year.
Calling the Scottrade Center the House of Payne is not an overstatement.