If you recall, Hitchcock arrived in Columbus as a white knight. The original Mr. Mac said, "This is the man who will save our franchise" when he hired Hitch. Hitch is unquestionably a great coach, with over 500 wins and a Stanley Cup to his credit. Heck, he helped pilot the Jackets to their first-ever Stanley Cup playoff appearance; if that's not Hall of Fame-worthy coaching, I don't know what is.
At the same time, losing does funny things to a coach, his players, the front office and the fan base. Especially losing a lot over an extended period of time. Coaches start grab-bagging, players lose confidence in the system (and maybe each other), the front office makes (possibly half-hearted) statements about the coach's job security and the fans...well, the fans grab their pitchforks from the closets and light the torches.
I'm not going to go into the nuts and bolts of what is going wrong. Too many other CBJ bloggers have done so. I especially recommend the following posts if you want additional analysis and thoughts about the Blue Jackets current malaise:
- "The Young and the Restless: Blue Jackets, Hitchock seek common ground" - The Hockey Writers
- "Something Must Be Done" - Tea with Ms. McGill
- "State of the Union - 12/15/09" - Jackets Required
- "The Hypocrisy of Accepted Mediocrity" - Carry The Flag
- "Drifting" - Dispatches from Columbus
- "Same Old Jackets?" - Fire The Cannon
- "Packing It In..." - Observations of a Columbus Blue Jackets Fan
If you only want to read one article, Jeff Little's "Young and the Restless" would be it. At the same time, all present unique perspectives - and a remarkable commonality of opinions on common issues...like Ken Hitchcock. And, of course, any spin through the comments at the Dispatch's Puck Rakers blog would also give one a reasonable temperature of the more devoted fan base.
As I said, the bloom is off the rose. Hitch is a Hall of Fame coach, a Canadian Olympic team assistant coach, Mr. Mac's anointed savior and a Stanley Cup champion. Those facts are undeniable. They also don't automatically generate wins in Columbus for the Blue Jackets. And this is a team, that for a myriad of reasons, needs wins...and lots of them.
We in the fan base were ushered into this season with the mantra "high expectations" beaten into us at every turn. With a year of experience under their belts, however, this young team is essentially where they were at this point last season - a season that took some lights-out play in January and an exhausting stretch run just to make the playoffs. Will the Jackets be able to improve on that performance and, I dunno, win a playoff game to meet those loftier aspirations? Perhaps more immediately, will they be able to (re-)attract fans to the seats in Nationwide Arena and continue to justify Columbus' viability as an NHL hockey market to the team, the league and civic leadership?
As much as I admire Hitch, it's safe to say that his honeymoon in Columbus is over. It's time to produce wins.