Friday, May 14, 2010

A defense of Claude Noel - and Scott Howson

Per the Dispatch, the Columbus Blue Jackets' (interim) Head Coach, Claude Noel, is interviewing today to remove the (interim) tag from his title.  Though a few in the CBJ fan community think this to be an act of charity by General Manager Scott Howson, permit me to offer a few reasons why Noel is a very legitimate candidate...if not a front-runner, in part courtesy of his profile on the CBJ website:
  • During his time as head coach of the AHL Milwaukee Admirals from 2003-2007, he led the club to a 183-94-12-31 regular season record, three 100-point seasons and two West Division titles. 
  • He also compiled a 33-21 record in the Calder Cup Playoffs, including two appearances in the Finals (2004, 2006). 
  • During the 2003-04 season, the club compiled a 46-24-7-3 record and went 16-6 in the playoffs en route to capturing the organization's first Calder Cup championship. That year, Noel was named the AHL’s Coach of the Year.
  • In 2002-03, he was named ECHL Coach of the Year with the Toledo Storm.
  • He went 10-8-6 as (interim) head coach of a hybrid NHL/AHL team in Columbus, posting that record while Scott Howson jettisoned Raffi Torres, Freddy Modin and Milan Jurcina and backfilled the team with Syracuse Crunchers.  
  • He pulled Derick Brassard and Jake Voracek's heads out of the jumbled morass left by Ken Hitchcock.
  • He fostered an environment where Steve Mason got competitive again.
  • He gave the team back to the players, and Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger took the reins.
I'm sure there's more, but that's all I can come up with on short notice.  Point is, he knows this team inside and out and has demonstrated that he knows how to win.  That combination makes him unique against any other candidate.

My point is, Claude Noel IS a legitimate candidate.  I've been saying that for months - go pore through my blog and see how many times I've said that Noel's performance makes him worthy of serious consideration.  

Now, to Scott Howson.  If it's not clear by now, he's no one's fool.  He's dumped the most significant of the Doug MacLean mistakes off on other teams, brought in dynamic young talent in return, restocked a major component of the farm system (the now-overflowing defensive talent pool), rebuilt the team's salary budget for the long haul (no small feat when playing a $50 million hand in a $60 million salary cap league) and - by and large - has avoided overpaying too much of the roster.  Now, it's time for him to pick his coach.  In doing this, he has interviewed the best of the best with a host of different characteristics:
  • Dineen & Arniel - Top AHL coaches with experience.  I'll grant that Dineen has sentimental value with the fanbase (although a link to the team's tortured past doesn't seem like an automatic positive to me...), but I honestly doubt that Howson could care less about his past history with the Blue Jackets.
  • MacLean (gosh, it still makes me cringe to type that name even though he's no relation to the CBJ's former majordomo) - Top assistant to arguably the best team in the NHL in recent memory.
  • Boucher - I know he hasn't interviewed yet, but Howson's clearly leaving the process open to interview this wunderkind who has only won everywhere he's been in his young career.
  • Noel - Proven winner (A top AHL coach, too, when he was in the "A") who admirably cleaned up the psychological mess left by Ken Hitchcock.
This is a fantastic roster of candidates, which in and of itself speaks to the program that Howson has (re)built since taking over for the more unfortunate MacLean.  There are no gratuity interviews here - the people who are talking to Howson see the potential of this young and rising team.

This isn't some high school recruiting effort like, say, the "search process" that brought Gordon Gee back to the Ohio State University.  This is a serious, and methodical, search for the ideal candidate for a young team on the rise.  Blue Jackets fans are damned lucky that someone as smart as Scott Howson is the shepherd of this process.

To those who say that this is an open and shut case - that it's been Kevin Dineen's job all along, that Howson is only going through the motions, that Noel is being extended a professional courtesy by even getting an interview - I can only say that you're playing checkers while Howson's cleaning your clock in chess.

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