You could say that Andy Murray was a victim of his own success. Or that his act simply got old.
Either way works to explain his dismissal as coach of the St. Louis Blues, one of the NHL’s biggest surprises last season, and one of its greatest enigmas in this one.
Prudently, the Blues avoided catching any flack from the league by waiting a day after the Winter Classic to dump the coach they hired three years ago. But the decision has seemed inevitable for several weeks, and was reached finally after St. Louis blew a big lead for the third game in a row on New Year’s Eve, all them of losses at home.
It was getting really ugly, and with their playoff hopes rapidly fading, the Blues figured they had nothing to lose by becoming the latest organization with a young roster to turn the reins over to an untested coach from their minor league system. Maybe rookie Davis Payne will do for them what Bruce Boudreau did in Washington or Dan Bylsma did in Pittsburgh. At this point, St. Louis would even be happy if the new guy just got them back on track the way John Stevens did in Philadelphia.
Anything has to be better than what was happening under someone obviously living on borrowed time. St. Louis has been in a funk most of the season and was spiraling downward quickly since Thanksgiving. The situation became intolerable for an organization that has spent the last couple of years trying to reconnect with its fan base and came into the season with high expectations.
What made matters worse, was that those expectations seemed justified.
The Blues got great goaltending from Chris Mason as they went from last place in mid-February to the playoffs last season with the league’s best second-half record, and youngsters like David Backes, T.J. Oshie David Perron and Patrik Berglund, all drafted and developed by the organization, started to blossom at the same time. But Mason hasn’t been nearly as good this season in large part because no one in front of him has either, and more troubling were the younger players were not making any progress..
The frustration got to Murray, and he tried to make the point this week against division rival Nashville by scratching franchise defenseman Erik Johnson. That didn’t preclude the 21-year-old from being named to the Team USA Olympic roster a couple of days late, but by then, it was clear everyone in the room had effectively tuned Murray out. IThen again Murray has been through this before, although in his previous and first NHL job in Los Angeles, he did at least have a longer “best-before” date.
That’s because Murray is a good coach technically. And he spends long hours preparing diligently for games. But Murray tends to micro-manage as well, and in an era where coddling athletes is often necessary, his hard-driving personality grates on players’ nerves after a while.
One of the reasons he was dumped by Los Angeles was that players rebelled because he would slip note under doors with ‘homework’ assignments.
Murray apparently didn’t do that as much in St. Louis, but he did call a lot of meetings and ultimately his efforts stifled the development of the core players the Blues are counting on so much for their future. That meant Murray had to go.
Maybe his third time as an NHL coach will be a charm. If he gets another chance.