Blues turf Kitchen, hire Murray
What a thankless task Mike Kitchen had in St. Louis.
Appointed the team's head coach in the tail end of 2003-04, 21 games before the locked-out season, Kitchen's only full season as a head coach ended up being last season's 57-point debacle — where he was handed the reins of a gutted roster on a team in the midst of a difficult ownership transition, a situation in which winning wouldn't have been possible under the best-case scenario.
38-year-old winger Scott Young led the team in scoring with 49 points and a platoon of three inexperienced netminders with Patrick Lalime as their guide dropped the ball more often than not. Keith Tkachuk, one of the only offensive weapon's in Kitchen's meagre arsenal, showed up to training camp overweight and missed much of the year with injuries. Key cogs Mike Sillinger and Doug Weight were purged close to the trade deadline, and injuries took most of the club's thin blueline out of the picture for prolongued periods.
2005-06 was the year from Hell for the St. Louis Blues, and somehow Kitchen managed to coax out a 21-46-15 season from a team that, based on talent alone, shouldn't have been within 20 points of its closest rival.
But, as I wrote late last week, things are just as dire in St. Louis this season, if not moreso given how few bums are in the seats, and Kitchen was an easy fall guy. (Maybe he should have been trying to sell more tickets?) Team president John Davidson, the broadcaster-turned-teambuilder extraordinaire, said last week that it was "senseless to make comments on coaching in any direction at any time," but it wasn't hard to see the writing on the wall.
(It said MIH ERIF.)
So another one of the NHL's good guys, a plugger who played 474 career games with the Colorado Rockies/New Jersey Devils franchise as a stay-at-home defenceman, is thrown under the bus for decisions well out of his control after scantly more than 100 games behind an NHL bench.
It's too bad — but what else is new when it comes to hockey's faceless bench bosses. Someone has to be blamed when there's as few wins on the board as there are for St. Louis so far, and the coach is as low on the totem pole as can be in an upside-down organization like the Blues'.
And while I have a ton of respect for the man taking Kitchen's place — former Los Angeles Kings coach Andy Murray — if I'm a hockey fan in Missouri, the 2007 entry draft can't come soon enough.
UPDATE As an aside, how ridiculous was the timing of this announcement. If Davidson can come up with any reason other than to avoid media coverage for bringing to light the firing at close to 11 p.m. on a Monday night, I'm all ears.