Blues fire Kitchen, hire Murray

Updated: December 12, 2006, 1:50 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues, last in the NHL standings again despite a change in ownership and several player upgrades, fired coach Mike Kitchen on Monday night and replaced him with former Los Angeles Kings coach Andy Murray.

Scott Burnside's take
Scott Burnside
Just wondering, but what exactly was the point of having Mike Kitchen behind the St. Louis Blues' bench for the last 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 whit, pointless.

• For more of Scott Burnside's analysis, click here.

Blues president John Davidson told The Associated Press that Murray received a long-term contract after negotiations in New York on Sunday. Murray was fired by the Kings last March.

"We realize we're a team that's got a long way to go," Davidson said. "We just felt we needed to take a step like this to move forward."

Davidson said he wants Kitchen, hired on an interim basis in February 2004 when Joel Quenneville was fired, to stay with the organization. But he said it was time to make a change.

The team planned to introduce Murray at a news conference on Tuesday at the team's practice facility.

The Blues were 21-46-15 last season, in Kitchen's only full campaign as head coach, finishing with an NHL-low 57 points and missing the playoffs for the first time since 1979.

Despite the talent added after the new ownership group led by David Checketts, the former head of the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden, took over in late June, the team continued to struggle. The Blues have yet to win back fans disgruntled by the sale process, which came on the heels of the NHL lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.

St. Louis is last in the league this season in attendance, drawing an average of 11,142 fans -- or 58.6 percent of capacity -- for its 15 home games. The Blues have scored 65 goals, fewest in the NHL.

"You look at this thing and we realize we're a team that's trying to rebuild," Davidson said. "We just want more, that's all.

"We'll see where it goes with Andy. We need a more concerted effort," he said.

The Blues are 7-17-4 with 18 points this season and have lost seven in a row. Davidson said Murray will be on the bench Tuesday night at home against the Chicago Blackhawks.

St. Louis hasn't won since earning consecutive shootout victories at Columbus and Detroit on Nov. 22-24. They picked up one point during the slide and the effects had begun to show.

Kitchen expressed frustration with the state of the team after ceremonies to retire Brett Hull's No. 16 jersey resulted in a desultory 5-1 loss at home to the Red Wings on Dec. 5.

"How can you not get ready for tonight's game?" he said that night. "You just look around. You've got a full building, there's a lot of electricity in the air, and they're not ready to play? Come on!"

Davidson said the move didn't surprise Kitchen, who joined the organization in 1998 and spent 6½ seasons as an assistant coach. Before that, Kitchen was a Toronto Maple Leafs assistant for nine seasons.

"I'm sure Mike's had a tough time sleeping for a couple of weeks," Davidson said. "You could see it on his face, how much the guy cares."

Murray is the Kings' career leader with 215 coaching victories and 480 games but was let go with 12 games to go last season when Los Angeles was in a playoff race. The Kings were 37-28-5 and tied with Edmonton for seventh in the Western Conference when he was dismissed and then failed to reach the postseason under interim coach John Torchetti.

Murray, who missed the playoffs in his final two full seasons with Los Angeles, also has extensive international hockey experience, having guided Canada to gold medals in the 1997 and 2003 world championships.

"Andy comes to us with extensive experience and a very successful coaching pedigree," Davidson said. "He is one of the most prepared coaches in the NHL and I believe that he is the right person for the job.

"I look forward to working with him closely as we move ahead and get this franchise back to where it belongs," he said.

The Blues' run of 25 straight playoff appearances ended last season after the previous ownership stripped the roster of talent to facilitate a sale. St. Louis stars Chris Pronger and Doug Weight, among others, were traded away.

The new owners re-acquired Weight, who returned after winning a Stanley Cup ring with the Carolina Hurricanes, and added goalie Manny Legace, forwards Bill Guerin and Martin Rucinsky and defenseman Jay McKee to the mix.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press