Sunday, October 30, 2011

Do I want Scott Arniel to get fired?

I wrote this post back on October 21 and chose not to post it because the notion of firing the coach was, in my opinion, still far-fetched. That's not the case any more. So rather than rehash stuff that I've already written, I'll share what I wrote back then. The only big difference between then and now is that the Blue Jackets indeed did win a single game.

"It's terrible news. It's terrible news, it's terrible we couldn't play better, and the coach had to be fired." 

Scott Arniel addresses the media after being
announced as the newest
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach 
Yesterday, I offered a simple comparison of the Columbus Blue Jackets coaching records of Scott Arniel and Ken Hitchcock that I found online.  For giggles, I tossed in the interim coaching record of Claude Noel.

An anonymous reader offered this reaction: coach. Next step, turnover roster to fit coaches system (2 years). Continue losing, fire GM, who then fires that coach, to get his guy, and turnover the roster.  
Honest to God, I didn't mean for that to be the logical conclusion.  My intention was to raise the spector that Arniel could expect Hitch's fate if he didn't get things back on the positive side of the ledger.   There's a big difference between "The numbers say that Arniel should be fired" and "The numbers aren't in Arniel's favor right now."

I'll rely upon Gallos' (once again) masterful post from last night, that which suggests that organizational stability - something which has been in short supply in the ten-plus years of the life of the club - should be a consideration before making a shakeup.  In a roundabout way, that's what the commenter was saying.  Firing a coach (and likely a general manager, seeing how Arniel is Scott Howson's man) is a huge, and traumatic, undertaking for an organization.  As a rule of thumb, I don't like the idea of changing coaches as often as you change your underwear.

That being said, I have to offer a caveat, one raised by commenter Pete Goegan after Gallos' piece: You have to be confident that the guy in the position is the right guy.  I have a host of concerns on that front, not the least of which:
  • The bag skate, a tactic of questionable effectiveness (ask the new assistant coach),
  • The inexplicable prevent defense against Colorado
  • The double-dip slump of 2010-11, 
  • The 2011-12 record thus far (even considering all this season's roster losses, every past CBJ roster with lesser on-ice talent have been able to win a single game by this point), 
  • The inability to field a reasonable defense or a potent power play after two training camps, a full season and an offseason, and
  • The apparent message-sending this past offseason and training camp that they were something that they have been conclusively proven not to be thus far - that being a high-powered scoring machine.
And don't get me started on hiring Bob Boughner.

So what do you do?  Fire the man and potentially start the dominos a-falling?  It's an option. But when you've won a single game in regulation in the last 28, I suppose everything is an option.

There are other options as well.  For perhaps the most compelling of them, I present The Dispatch's already well-travelled article featuring comments from newcomer Vinny Prospal:
“For us to be getting out of this, it’s a matter of putting more pride in ourselves going to the net, creating screens, getting on loose pucks,” Prospal said. “But I would say the biggest thing is it starts in practice. It’s the way you practice that becomes the habits you take into the game. 
“This is what the young guys should be doing, and the older guys should be teaching them to do. 
“I wouldn’t want to judge (the franchise) because I haven’t spent much time here. But for right now, for sure, it’s one of the reasons why we are where we are.”
 And with that article, the Columbus Country Club was exposed once more.  I've heard about it in conversation pretty much since I started following the Jackets, but I'm not sure I've ever heard a player talk out against it - as in stop loafing in practice if you want to win some games.

But changing that culture isn't easy, nor can it be done in a way that keeps everyone safe and comfortable.  So when it's concluded that a coach can't change the culture, whether through his inability to communicate or the players' unwillingness to play along, the coach goes.

The Cannon's Mike McLean said when Hitch was removed as head coach, "With the old adage being 'you can't fire 23 players' [DBJ note: Given what happened in Florida this past offseason, I'm not sure I buy that any more.], you knew something had to give. Hitch's message wasn't being delivered, and the result was the team was in shambles on the ice. There was no semblance of structure, no commitment to a plan. It was painfully obvious. The question now becomes whether or not the players tuned him out, or if it was just a matter of the organization coming to the realization that his style wasn't conducive to the young, skilled players the team possesses. I think it's the latter."

Considering the disconnect between what Arniel preaches (effort, energy, even a little toughness) and what we've seen, I'm not so sure it was the former.  What I still can't reconcile is the two burst of success that the team had last season - the first of which Arniel reminded us of in his Blue Jackets Slap Shots interview this week.  Yes, it WAS the best start in team history last season.  And now it's the worst start in team history this season with a supposedly improved roster.  What do we make of that?

In the end, The Dispatch's Bob Hunter probably put it best back in the dark days of February 2010, with a little help from Mr. Howson:
"We're all responsible -- management, players and coaches," Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson said. 
So, at the end of the day, how is it that only one guy ... got fired?
A great question.

I do not want to see Scott Arniel get fired.  I really don't.  I've never met the guy (but he brushed past me and a bunch of other fans at Fan Fest), but so I don't have any personal connection one way or the other.  I do, however, want the team to get on the winning track, and quickly.  As they should.

This is a salary cap squad that, even with the host of injuries and suspensions affecting some critical parts of the roster, should have been able to win a single game in its first six.  To be unable to do so reflects on everyone, just as Howson said:
  • The players and their commitment to playing competitive hockey, 
  • The coaches for designing and executing a winning game plan regardless of what talent they have at hand and 
  • The management that identifies talent and stocks the roster with enough depth to remain competitive regardless of what life throws at the squad.  
And if these guys can't do that to the point that they can win a single game in every six (let alone a single regulation win in 28), then I suppose every option should be on the table.  Firing Scott Arniel included.  


  1. The whole thing needs to be blown up, unfortunately. Blow as much of it up as possible and re-start it, but this time with competent management, ideally starting with ownership and working all the way down to head coach. It's no longer repairable, assuming it ever was.

  2. I've met the guy twice, and to be quite honest, it's not him. The guy can only do so much as a team, the players do the work. And for whatever reason, maybe it being the Carter and Wiz moves, they thought the wins would just come to them. Arniel realized to late that he has to work them a lot harder. Hope he stays, he's a great guy.


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