Murray’s veteran leadership let him down

An alarming statement by T.J. Oshie on Saturday morning, when he said that most of the Blues young players had never been through a coaching change, and that they would follow the lead of the Blues veterans in working around it.

T.J., I hate to break it to you, but it’s that veteran leadership that got Andy Murray fired, and has your club on the verge of wasting something special. Keith Tkachuk, Paul Kariya and Eric Brewer are all guilty…at different levels…of getting Murray whacked. Number one, they haven’t been responsible in pointing out to the kids that they need to be ready for games. Being at area drinking establishments until all hours of the morning is NOT how you prepare yourself for a pro hockey game.

Number two; Kariya and Brewer haven’t performed. The Blues are paying those two veterans big money to play at a high level and nurture the Blues’ young talent. Even if they played terrible (which they have), the least they could do is provide an example of how to be a winning pro. Their performance has been abysmal, and clearly uninspired play at home is a horrific example for the Blues’ youngsters.

These players are not dumb. They know exactly what NHL teams, especially the Blues, value. Hard work and exciting Saturday night games are what the franchise needs to exist. Blowing leads after two periods is rare in the NHL, and Blues players found a way to regularly squander those leads…teasing fans and management…but losing the game in the end.

Thirteen NHL teams have lost zero or one game when leading after two periods this season. The Blues have lost six such games, tied for the most in the league. The Blues .667 winning percentage when leading after two periods is the worst percentage in the league. The league average is .853. Three of the most galling home losses were games the Blues led after two and let get away, to Edmonton, Buffalo and Vancouver in Murray’s last 20 days on the job.

What do John Paddock, Terry Simpson, Don Hay, Jim Schoenfeld, Bobby Francis, Joel Quenneville, Mike Kitchen and Andy Murray all have in common? They’ve all been head coaches for Keith Tkachuk in the National Hockey League.

Tkachuk is a great guy, a wonderful person to have in a community that he loves, and is a 500 goal-1,000 point guy. His teams have made it to the playoffs in 13 of his 17 NHL seasons, and he’s gotten past the first round twice. Past the second round once. To the finals zero times.

There have been 20 teams in NHL history that blew 3-1 leads in playoff a playoff series, 8.7% of all 3-1 leads. Tkachuk has been a key member of three of those teams that blew leads, as a rookie with the ’92 Jets, with the ’99 Coyotes, and with the ’03 Blues. If you’re looking for a guy to lead young players, to teach them how to win at crunch time, Walt simply isn’t your guy.

Kariya hasn’t been a dynamic performer in four years, and hasn’t been great since he scored 42 goals for the Ducks in ‘99-’00. Since signing a three year, $18 million dollar contract with the Blues before the ‘07-’08 season, Kariya has scored 26 goals in 131 games. In Kariya’s defense, he played in only eleven games last season. But, he’s been stealing money from the Blues.

This year, he scored two goals in a game in Sweden, and has scored six…all on the road…since. Coincidence? That sure looks like a guy that’s part of a diabolical plan to get a coach ousted.

Brewer doesn’t have a single element of an NHL captain. Leadership and grit like Brian Sutter? Nope. Charisma and style like Brett Hull? No. Toughness that exemplifies what a team is all about, like Scott Stevens? Doesn’t have that. Best player on a bad team, like Mario Lemieux with the Penguins late in his career? Not even that. Brewer can’t be faulted for being a mediocre (at best) player or for coming here in exchange for Chris Pronger. He can, however, be blamed for not stepping in and doing the right thing when this horrendous home play reared it’s ugly head night after night. That’s what a Captain is supposed to do.

One of the worst things Murray did as Blues coach was treat he players like men. He told them that they were, in effect, their own enterprise. He set things up so that they could make a lot of money simply by being great at their job. He outlined what it took for a team to be great, and simply asked his veterans to adhere to that outline. But that caused “too many meetings,” and included “too much information,” that caused the veterans to complain and then disengage. And because of their guaranteed contracts, the veterans could conspire against the coach with no repercussions.

When Dick Vermeil took over the St. Louis Rams, he immediately started removing big-money malcontents like Leslie O’Neal, Robert Jones and Dwayne White. When he made free-agent mistakes, like with Ironhead Heyward and Eric Hill, he was able to remove them quickly because they didn’t have guaranteed contracts. He got them before they got him.

Murray stood up for the likes of Tkachuk, Kariya and Brewer, playing a key role in either new contracts, in the case of Tkachuk and Brewer, or a massive free agent outlay, like the one Kariya got.

Kariya and his buddies got their money, and now, they got the coach, too. Congratulations.