- Scott Burnside, NHL
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Just wondering, but what exactly was the point of having Mike Kitchen behind the St. Louis Blues' bench for the past 28 games?
Based on the fact that Kitchen was fired Monday, there was no point.
This fits in pretty well with the Blues' season. To wit, pointless.
Now a team desperate to mend mangled relationships with its once-loyal fan base must start anew -- with more than a third of the season gone.
No one is suggesting 50-year-old Kitchen is Scotty Bowman with nicer hair. It was a surprise to many that Kitchen was retained at the end of the lockout. But the Blues were going through an ownership upheaval and Kitchen was well-liked by players. Having been an assistant to Joel Quenneville for 6½ years before taking over for his good friend late in the 2003-04 season, he got another chance to prove himself last season.
But it was hard to tell just how good a coach Kitchen might have been, given that the Blues went into warp decline immediately after the lockout ended, trading Chris Pronger to Edmonton and failing to sign any meaningful free agents. So, Kitchen was given another chance to prove he had the stuff of a big league coach. But he was left with a bag of hammers and the Blues performed commensurately, finishing dead last for the first time in team history and missing the playoffs for the first time in 25 years.
That should have been the end of it.
When Dave Checketts and his ownership group took over and hired former NHL netminder and ubiquitous television analyst John Davidson as president this past summer, the presumption was that Davidson would clean house and dismiss both GM Larry Pleau and Kitchen. Certainly, if that had been the case, Davidson could have given new coach Andy Murray a full training camp to work with this team instead of sticking him with the ugly mess he'll inherit now. But there were time constraints, and Davidson was learning on the go. So, Davidson kept Pleau to assist him with front-office issues and used the same logic with Kitchen, arguing that the coach hadn't been given a fair chance to prove himself. Davidson even gave Kitchen a two-year extension to back up his belief in the man.
Sadly, for all those concerned, the disarray hasn't dissipated but rather has taken root, and Kitchen turned out to be Davidson's first on-the-job mistake. Or is that his first on-the-job scapegoat?
Davidson clearly believed he was giving Kitchen more tools to work with, having re-signed Doug Weight and adding free agents Bill Guerin, Jay McKee, Dan Hinote and Manny Legace. Keith Tkachuk came to camp in shape. Barret Jackman and Christian Backman were expected to give the Blues defensive stability.
But even with those additions, the Blues figured to be a long shot to compete for a playoff berth, and, after enduring a rash of injuries, they have fallen off the proverbial map. Jackman has played in 17 games, Backman 18, McKee just six.
By the time Kitchen walked out the Scottrade Center door the last time, the Blues were last overall with just 18 points. They are tied with Philadelphia for the worst home record in the league. They boast the worst power-play efficiency in the NHL and have scored fewer goals than any other team.
Making a coaching change isn't necessarily a surprise. The bigger surprise is that it didn't happen before the Blues frittered away 28 games they could hardly afford to squander.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.