Davis Payne looks to lead Blues in final year of contract

Each season there are teams with expectations; with coaches who are asked to deliver upon those expectations. Last season, Davis Payne was expected to lead the St. Louis Blues and build upon their 2009 playoff appearance after a frustrating 2009-10 season. Instead, the Blues had enough injuries to fill a steamboat on the Mississippi and the season that started with so much optimism ended with feelings of “what if?” What if T.J. Oshie was healthy all season? What if David Perron didn’t run into Joe Thornton’s elbow? What if Andy McDonald was able to play an entire season? The list goes on and on.

Payne was largely given a free-pass in his first full season behind the bench. To be honest, nothing really stuck out in his first year. They were in the middle of the pack in both goals scored and goals against. Their special teams weren’t all that special with an average power play and penalty kill. On the positive side, team defense was actually pretty good on the whole allowing only 27.7 shots per game—so the coach must have been doing something right. Unfortunately, they were terrible at holding the league as they were one of the worst teams in the league at holding the lead after scoring first period. The Blues may have been prepared, but they didn’t always play the full 60 minutes.

During his “Blues Chat,” Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch in St. Louis addressed Payne and his immediate future with the team:

“This is the last year of Payne’s two-year deal. I’ve written in the past that I think he’s done an admirable job considering his lack of NHL experience and also considering the Blues’ injuries and ownership issues. With that said, there is some heat on Payne this year to get the most out of this club. If healthy, they should be a playoff team. If they can contend, I don’t see any reason the Blues wouldn’t retain Payne. But if the club falls short, there will definitely be questions about whether he’ll be extended.

NHL coaches have a shorter shelf-life than ever these days. After taking over for Andy Murray after New Year’s Day 2010, Payne has a 61-48-15 record in 124 career NHL games. More importantly, he is 0-2 in the playoff department—as in zero playoff appearances. The first season wasn’t necessarily his fault since he only coached half the season and the second season was marred by injuries, but sooner or later the coach will be asked to overcome adversity or find a new job. This may be the season where push comes to shove for Payne.

Adding to Payne’s pressure is the way the Blues started last season. After twelve games, they were sitting on top of the league with a 9-1-2 record. Not only were they winning games—they were beating teams that were destined for the playoffs like the Flyers, Ducks, Penguins, Predators, and Blackhawks. Payne admitted that the quick start may have set expectations to an impossibly high standard:

“9-1-2, I don’t know if anyone finished at that pace. Was it realistic that you were going to carry (that pace) through 82 (games)? Probably not. It was a good start. It was what we needed to do to build that assurance as to how we were going to play and the way we were going to play was going to create success.

“If everybody’s whole and intact the entire year, I see no reason for that type of success, maybe not at quite that level, to continue. … We felt as we finished, there’s teams that are starting (the playoffs Wednesday) that we could go head-to-head with and feel pretty good about it.”

Payne and the Blues will hope to get off to another quick this start—only they’ll hope they learned from last year’s mistakes and play with more consistency. The organization expects veteran additions like Jaime Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott to help the team right the ship during any rough spots and a new captain should give the team strong leadership. This is a team that has shown potential over the last few years—but it’s time for the players to start filling the potential with their play on the ice.

If not, the players and coaches alike could be looking for a new start in a new city.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.

 

After ‘great’ senior year, Pens sign Union standout Taylor

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Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.

Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.

Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.

“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.

“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”