Andy Murray won't be coaching the St. Louis Blues to another NHL-best second-half finish in 2010.
He was relieved of his duties Saturday morning, less than 48 hours after the Blues coughed up a 3-1 lead to Vancouver in the third period en route to their fourth consecutive loss, and replaced by minor-league coach Davis Payne on an interim basis.
St. Louis is 12th in the 15-team Western Conference this season with a 17-17-6 record, nine points back of the Los Angeles Kings for the eighth and final playoff spot.
"We just lost too many games we were in a position to win," Murray said. "Way too many losses at home, too many games we were leading. We're a .500 team and we haven't played good enough. Ultimately, that's what I'm judged on."
A year ago, Murray guided the Blues to a 25-9-7 mark in the second half of the season, assuring the club of its first post-season appearance in five years. St. Louis then suffered a four-game sweep at the hands of Vancouver in the first round.
"It's kind of maybe the way we lost more than anything else," team president John Davidson said at a news conference. "It's such a mental game at times and this league is so close. Every night it is such a fine line, and you need to be there with your mindset and we just simply haven't been, consistently anyway."
The Blues retained assistants Ray Bennett and Brad Shaw. Goaltending coach Rick Wamsley replaced Payne as coach of the American Hockey League's Peoria Rivermen.
Murray was hired by the Blues in December 2006. He previously coached the Los Angeles Kings and was an assistant in Philadelphia, Minnesota and Winnipeg.
Murray also won three gold medals while coaching Canada at the World Hockey Championship.
Blues forward Cam Janssen, the team's enforcer, said Murray had difficulty relating to players.
"I don't think he was on the same page with everybody," he said. "I think guys didn't know where they stood with him, and I think that's not a good thing to have in the locker-room. I had no idea where I was with him and I couldn't understand what he was trying to tell me. It was a bizarre situation."
Under Murray, the Blues made a remarkable playoff push last spring, winning nine of their final 10 games to leap over Columbus and Anaheim into sixth spot in the conference.
Devoid of a superstar, St. Louis relied on a balanced offensive attack as 10 players scored at least 12 goals.
Halfway through this season, only Andy McDonald (12 goals) and David Perron (11) have reached double digits, while leading scorer Brad Boyes has just 28 points in 40 contests.
As well, first-round picks T.J. Oshie (2005) and Patrik Berglund (2006) are performing well below last year's level, when they were part of helping the team overcome injuries to Paul Kariya and McDonald.
"To give Andy some slack we fast-tracked here," Davidson said. "These kids were raw when they got here."
Only the Detroit Red Wings (104) have scored fewer times than St. Louis (105) this season, while the Blues have the worst home record in the league at 6-13-3.
Payne, 39, becomes the 23rd coach in Blues' history after a successful one-plus seasons in Peoria.
"We feel he's our coach and he might be our coach long-term," Davidson said. "It's a whirlwind for him, but we feel confident about him."
Payne, a former NHL forward, leaves Peoria with a .578 winning percentage (62-44-9) over two seasons, including a 19-13-3 record this campaign. Last season, he posted 43 wins and returned the Rivermen to the post-season following a two-year drought.
"Davis is very knowledgeable of the players in our organization and we feel he is the best candidate to coach our team," said Davidson. "He has nine winning seasons at the minor league level which includes an ECHL championship in 2006."
Payne spent seven seasons as a head coach in the ECHL with Pee Dee and Alaska, compiling a .691 winning percentage. After serving one year as an assistant coach in Peoria, he became the head coach in July 2008.
Payne appeared in 22 NHL games with the Boston Bruins after being drafted by Edmonton in the seventh round in 1989.
He said he was "absolutely thrilled" to get the Blues coaching job. Payne addressed the Blues at Saturday's morning skate ahead of a 7 p.m. CT date with the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.
"I don't know where the emphasis has been, but I asked these guys to work hard for each other, I asked them to trust each other, and I asked them to play with passion," he said. "That's our starting point for tonight."With files from The Associated Press