Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Arniel Removed as Blue Jackets Head Coach

After a half season of enormously underwhelming hockey, Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson has decided to remove Scott Arniel from the head coach position.  During his time behind the bench this year, Arniel amassed a record of 11-25-5, with the largest salary in franchise history on the books, and a team who many had high expectations for playing substantially below their capacity.  But that is really only how the books cover should read, as I think it's important to consider some variables:

1 - The Jackets have been short handed due to injury or suspension for most of the season.  As it stands, free agent signings Wisniewski (broken foot), Carter (separated shoulder), and Martinek (concussion) are all out due to injury.  Mark Dekanich is finally competing in full games after his injury, but only at the AHL level, leaving me to wonder how long it will take for him to regain form.  Huselius has found himself on the IR once again for multiple injures, and finally, early acquisition Letestu is out with a broken hand.  To Arniel's defense (and more so to Howson's defense), the team has not had a real stretch of games where they could compete as a full roster.

With this in mind, and what I think to be (at least by mid-season standards) a terrible suspension length to Wisniewski, I have to believe that Howson gave Arniel the benefit of the doubt early on due to the mess of players missing time, leaving large gaps with few ideal candidates to fill the holes.  When the team started showing signs of life in front of Sanford I have no doubt it bought him more time, but the huge slide following that momentum must have been the last straw.  Howson was quoted saying he believed Arniel was running out of potential solutions to the teams struggles, and I am personally under the impression that when something like that is admitted to, or blatantly visible (see line juggling galore) it is time to make a change.

2 - Arniel had completely lost the dressing room.  This is rarely a surprise when a team starts to really plummet down the standings (or stay in the basement) but it was quite obvious the players had little passion for playing a full sixty minutes under the direction of Arniel.  

In his defense, the players appear to be entirely incapable of playing with passion regardless of their cause or reason.  The term "fragile" has been used a LOT this year in the #CBJ twitter world, and their late game collapses after two periods of solid hockey are perfect examples of how coaching is only a portion of the problem.  Now, the line juggling (while obviously a weak attempt at generating offense) was most definitely a mess of confusion and in my opinion poor judgement by the coach, but I can't help but wonder if the decision was made solely because nothing else was working.  There has to be a good excuse SOMEWHERE in there to explain why Boll managed to sneak into the top six for brief moments, right?

3 - It was probably nothing, but it certainly seemed as though those in decision making power were adamant about convincing the players to find their game and find their compete level.  The logic behind this would seemingly be that the coach is not, nor should he be in the position to babysit the players and convince them to come to 'work' each day ready to compete.

I think there's a lot to this, considering that was one of the arguments that eventually lead to Hitchcock's demise.  There are plenty of teams in the NHL that just appear to play at a higher level, and unfortunately Columbus is not among that list.  When you consider their see-saw like playing style in each game, and then compare that with teams that flat out play a full sixty minutes each night, I think it becomes very obvious that the overused term "country club feel" in the dressing room was more of a reality than a farce.  Interesting that former player and current analyst Anson Carter feels that a change in the dressing room is very much necessary to right the ship. He tweeted earlier:

@AnsonCarterLA: "CBJ, firing your coach isn't the answer. Ur whole org needs a culture change. Treating young guys like vets and vets like rooks equals "

There are those who will discredit Anson for not being an all star player or a guy who lasted a number of years in the Jackets organization, but for a guy who has been in the dressing room first hand, I think it would probably do well for us to pay attention.  Teams with great leadership seem to feed off hard work, and unfortunately Columbus doesn't ooze that from my perspective.  From the outside looking in, Columbus has been a place where the lesser talented players (such as Chimera, Malhotra, Dorsett, and MacKenzie) seem to get great reputations solely for their on ice work ethic.  This became exceptionally obvious when rookie Ryan Johansen moved up to the top line with Rick Nash and Jeff Carter, and was notably faster and harder working until they recognized it and picked up their game.  Such scenarios are not necessarily something a coach can maintain, as the motivation is directly rooted in the players feeding off one another.

Todd Richards will be taking over as interim head coach, and if I had to guess, it will last until the season ends.  He is a fully capable coach who has experience at the NHL level with the Minnesota Wild.  Realistically, his talent pool will diminish as the season progresses, with Howson openly stating that trading will commence with the deadline approaching.  While it is hard to define the quality of a coach in scenarios like this where the team has lost most of their competitive edge, it will be interesting to see how the players respond to Richards.  As it stands, there is still a lot of hockey left to be played in Columbus this year.

Carry the Flag.


  1. Good post...Anson Carter is dead-on. This has been a buzz the past few years. Hitch started to derail the country club atmosphere, until the players quit on him. Its a shame much of the CBJ fan base, and media always point at the easy scapegoats.

    Attitude is a reflection of leadership.

  2. Couple Anson Carter's comments with those of Vinny Prospal (and, I think others) regarding the low intensity of the CBJ practices and low expectations and I think we see the "country club" pattern repeatedly a source of at least some of the problem.