So your professional hockey team endures perhaps the most disappointing season in its ten-year history. Forwards aren't scoring as anticipated, defenders are falling like flies, goalies can't hold serve for longer than a game or two. But despite all the disappointment, it's still the third-highest point total in that same period of time. What's a general manager to do?
If you're Scott Howson and your team is the Columbus Blue Jackets, you keep the team together and wipe the slate clean in the coaching suite.
Yup, Ken Hitchcock and his band of long-time CBJ assistants all were shown the door over the course of a few months. Howson then went out and looked for a new head coach, interviewing established assistants and rising stars alike. After conducting that wild and wooly coaching search, Howson's preferred choice, Guy Boucher, was poached by Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning at the last second. Which leads us to...
|Is Scott Arniel ready to have his name in lights?|
Luckily for Arniel, he has won quite a bit, with a 181-106-33 record over four seasons with the Manitoba Moose, the AHL farm team of the Vancouver Canucks. He took the Moose to the Calder Cup finals once and, perhaps more importantly, never missed the playoffs in any season where he was head coach. That's saying something considering the talent level on a farm team can drastically change from season to season - heck, from day to day - depending on the whims of the NHL club. So that he has won consistently with a less-than-consistent roster...that's important.
But now he's stepping up into the big leagues, and it's a whole new game. Sure, Arniel has the pedigree - longtime player, assistant under longtime Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, head coach in Manitoba - but being a head coach at the top level requires a level of creativity and skill that comes from trying to motivate players who make multiples of your salary and probably could have you fired with a couple of phone calls. Does Arniel have the deft touch to massage the egos, install his system and actually win games at the NHL level? Knowing that Scott Howson doesn't make any move (let alone select a head coach) without a ridiculous level of due diligence, I'd tend to think that he does. But time will tell.
|Brad Berry is the coach's guy,|
but can he lead the transformation
of the CBJ defense?
Then there's the job for which he was hired. Arniel professes that he will bring a "puck-possession" system to the Blue Jackets, one that I understand has defensemen carrying/moving the puck out of the defensive zone and - where appropriate - joining the offensive rush. Hold it right there. Wasn't this defensive roster set up to play Hitchcockian faux-clutch and grab defense? Are these the right guys to turn on the jets and fly into the neutral zone to assist in scoring plays? With the exception of Kris Russell and maybe Anton Stralman, are we not talking about a case of square pegs and round holes? With the conditioning and injury issues plaguing the defense and almost sinking goalie Steve Mason's career last season, can these guys be relied upon to 1) be in shape, 2) be healthy and 3) pick up a (to them) radical new system in the course of one training camp? To the guy who has to coach in that situation, all I can say is:
Canadian Hockey League, a conglomeration of three regional "major junior" league for players aged 16-20) Windsor Spitfires. A former NHL player himself, Boughner apparently has a dream to coach his own NHL team and has decided that Columbus is the place to break into the National Hockey League.
|Can Bob Boughner's championship coaching prowess transfer|
from major juniors up to the National Hockey League?
The concerns I have about Boughner are largely the same about Arniel (former AHL head coach) but magnified. Putting Boughner in charge of Rick Nash, Antoine Vermette and the CBJ forwards is like installing a powerhouse high school football coach as offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers...it's football, with 11 guys on a side, 6 points for a touchdown and 1 for the extra point kick...but it's just not the same game. I pray that his past NHL playing experience can carry him through to this new level of coaching competition.
Let's hope he knows what he's doing, and that both Scott Arniel and Scott Howson have a sufficiently tight leash. The NHL isn't major juniors, and we need all hands on deck. Especially those who are trying to make a name for themselves at the big league level.
|Did you know that Hinote is married|
to Jenny McCarthy's sister, Amy?
Now you do!
And Hinote is young. He's only 33 years old, making him younger than some of the guys that he'll be coaching. It's clear that Howson is placing a priority on making sure the coaches can relate to the players, and Hinote won't have much trouble talking the talk. But can he coach? We'll find out...
STRENGTH COACH KEVIN COLLINS
The team largely was in poor shape coming into last season, and it killed the Blue Jackets coming out of the gate. Collins hopefully will make sure that's not the case this season. He has had a fair number of player in town over the summer, so it'll be all the easier to see his effect on the players.
GOALTENDING CONSULTANT DAVE ROOK
Rook is Steve Mason's guy. Period. It seems like he's the one who had the "Come to Jesus" talk that got Mase to get his game back on track last season, so I give him major points.
In my opinion, this is a raw group of coaching talent that has to prove their mettle at the NHL level. It is the absolute opposite of Ken Hitchcock and his cadre of long-time CBJ assistants. These guys are young, they're aggressive (at least until the season starts, we'll see after that point) and they profess to be able to relate to the players - an area that needed a lot of improvement in the wake of Hitch.
But let's be clear. This is not the CHL. This is not the AHL. This is the National Hockey League - the best hockey league in the world. These four guys need to be ready to go yesterday, and they need to have a great training camp as they teach their system and instill a winning ("Hardcore Hockey") attitude while helping the team un-learn their old systems and stomping out a defeatist culture from the locker room.
This won't be an easy job, not in the least, and all four men need to step up to meet the challenges that they'll face over the days ahead.