Blues fire Quenneville, Coyotes dump Francis

Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2004

ST. LOUIS With the St. Louis Blues scrambling to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in a quarter century, general manager Larry Pleau decided it was time for a change.

The Blues fired coach Joel Quenneville on Tuesday and replaced him with assistant Mike Kitchen.

The Blues are in ninth place in the Western Conference with a 29-23-7-2 record only the top eight teams make the playoffs and are just 9-18-5 since Dec. 20. They have won just four of their past 16 games, a skid that helped seal the fate of the winningest coach in franchise history and the NHL's coach of the year in 2000.

''I think Joel did everything he could,'' said Pleau, the Blues' senior vice president and GM. ''I just felt that the way the team had been playing, that a change was needed and a new face.

''In these positions, you make decisions, and I felt it was time,'' Pleau said. ''I didn't think it was going to get back on track.''

Coyotes fire head coach Francis

GLENDALE, Ariz. Bob Francis was the only coach in Phoenix Coyotes' history to hold the job for four full seasons. He won't get a chance for a fifth.

The Coyotes fired Francis on Tuesday, and replaced him with assistant Rick Bowness a former head coach with four NHL teams, including the Coyotes when they were the Winnipeg Jets.

''Bob is a good coach and we wish him all the best in the future,'' general manager Michael Barnett said. ''It's really a combination of our record the last three years.''

The Coyotes have won two of their last 14 (2-9-2-1) a skid that has them in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for a second straight year.

They are last in the Pacific Division and 13th in the Western Conference with 58 points and a record of 20-24-15-3.

''We hope Rick Bowness goes on to lead us to the playoffs,'' Coyotes managing partner Wayne Gretzky said. ''We hope Rick Bowness is going to be here for a while.''

Francis wasn't the only coach to find himself out of a job Tuesday. The St. Louis Blues fired Joel Quenneville and replaced him with assistant Mike Kitchen.

Bowness, a fifth-year assistant with Phoenix, is taking over a team during a season for the third time.

He replaced Dan Maloney for the Jets' final 28 games of the 1988-89 season, and stepped in for Mike Milbury with the New York Islanders on Jan. 24, 1997, beginning a stint that lasted until he was fired on March 11, 1998.

Bowness also led the Boston Bruins to a 36-32-12 regular-season record and an 8-7 playoff record in 1991-92 his best season. His overall coaching record is 120-277-45, including the first three full seasons with the expansion Ottawa Senators (1992-95).

Francis had a record of 165-144-60-21 franchise bests in victories and games coached in just under five seasons. He got a four-year contract extension two years ago, and is owed about $1.7 million for the remainder of the contract.

He won the NHL's coach of the year award in 2002 after leading a team projected to finish last in the West by some to a 40-27-9-6 record, 95 points and a playoff berth.

But Francis, who also coached the Coyotes into the playoffs in 2000, never got them past the first round, where the Jets-Coyotes have stalled 10 times since 1987, and last season's 31-35-11-5 record was the franchise's worst since the final season in Winnipeg.

Speculation that the players were tuning out their coach sprang up again as the team's playoff hopes faded during their current skid. Phoenix is last in the Pacific Division and 13th in the Western Conference with 58 points and a record of 20-24-15-3.

But goaltender Brian Boucher said the players were still listening to Francis.

''I felt Bobby did a good job,'' Boucher said. ''He treated us all very well. I don't know why anybody would shut him off. I mean, it's not like he came in here and ranted and raved every two minutes. He gave us distance. He let us sort things out as professionals.''

''It's disappointing,'' captain Shane Doan said. ''The way the team has been playing, we didn't do our job.''

Francis, 44, may have been hurt by not being part of managing partner Wayne Gretzky's inner circle. He was hired by former GM Bobby Smith on June 16, 1999, and was in place before Gretzky arrived.

After Gretzky and his partners acquired the team in February 2001, he hired friends and former associates or teammates, including Barnett; assistant coach Pat Conacher; special-teams consultant Paul Coffey, and Marty McSorley, coach of the Coyotes' top minor league affiliate in Springfield, Mass.

But Francis clung to the job by coaxing 90 points out of the team in each of his first two seasons, making the playoffs in 2000 and missing on a tiebreaker in 2001.

He and his father, Emile ''The Cat'' Francis, are the only father and son to both win the league's coach of the year award. Emile Francis, who was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982, won it twice.

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