Sunday, November 6, 2011

Farewell, Hitch

The winningest coach in Columbus Blue Jackets history and the man
who helped steer the CBJ into the Stanley Cup playoffs, Ken Hitchcock
is now off to coach the St. Louis Blues.
Word has come from all across the inter-tubes that the St. Louis Blues have hired former Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock as their newest head coach, replacing AHL coaching call-up Davis Payne.

I'm genuinely happy for Hitch as he was surely chomping at the bit for another shot at an NHL roster.  The NHL, a faddish bunch if there ever was one, has gone overboard in the promotion of AHL coaches and kept qualified veteran coaches on the bench in the opinion of this writer.  Sure, some AHL coaches turn into good NHL coaches, but it's nowhere near a certainty.  Payne (with his jaw-droppingly bad, firing-worthy 6-7-0 record) was one such failed experiment.  Not everyone can be Dan Bylsma (with or without Crosby and Malkin, as he's proven he can win either way), that's for sure.  And guys like Hitch know how to coach, and they know how to win - on the biggest stage.

That the CBJ allowed Hitchcock to talk with the Blues is a head-scratcher.  He's probably had time to hand-write the book on the entire Blue Jackets roster with the almost two years that he's spent sitting around on the CBJ dime after being relieved of his duties as head coach.  And the CBJ and St. Louis only play each other six times a year right now.  No biggie. 

(And did the CBJ extract any concessions/players/draft picks from St. Louis for this midseason assistance, or is the crew on Nationwide Boulevard banking on jumping to the Eastern Conference and not seeing St. Louis much after this season?)

In the end, losing Hitch from the CBJ payroll is a bit of a watershed.  It means that there's no discernible backup plan if/when the team needs to replace Scott Arniel.  It means that there is no de facto "senior hockey advisor" on Nationwide Boulevard (one that team president Mike Priest utilized, if no one else).  It means that Gallos' somewhat depressing yet ultimately pragmatic projection for the balance of the 2011-12 season is that much more likely.

But enough of the nuts and bolts.  Let's wind this up on a fond note.

Acknowledging that Hitchcock's tenure did not wind up positively, I remember these hallmarks of the Hitch Era in Columbus:
  • His 2008-2009 squad was the only Columbus Blue Jackets team to make the Stanley Cup playoffs.
  • He helped orchestrate what some refer to as the Best Week Ever in Columbus Blue Jackets team history:
    • March 7, 2009: 8-2 win over Detroit
    • March 10, 2009: 2-0 win over Boston
    • March 12, 2009: 4-3 shootout win over Pittsburgh
    • March 13, 2009: 5-3 win over Chicago (with Wade Dubielewicz in goal, no less!)
  • He installed an identifiable on-ice team identity, one so strong that team president Mike Priest once said, "Hitch Hockey is Blue Jackets Hockey."
  • He helped transform Rick Nash into a credible two-way player.
  • He is credited with pushing to get the goal scoring cannon installed at Nationwide Arena, only the best goal celebration in the Western Conference.
Simply put, it may have been Sergei Federov that got me in the door...but it was Hitchcock that made me the Columbus Blue Jackets fan that I am.  

Farewell, Hitch...and thank you.  May you win all your games in St. Louis - except those against Columbus, of course!

1 comment:

  1. I believe that the coaching answer could lie in hiring Michel Therrien (last the head coach of the Penguins in 08-09 when he was fired and replaced by Dan Bylsma).

    Hire Michel Therrien, even if everybody knows it will only last a few years. He can whip a locker room into shape, get a team to act cohesively, and push the players to go from last in the division to playoffs.

    Yes, his run with Pittsburgh didn't end well for him, and yes he had Crosby and Malkin. But you know what? They were a young, aimless team that didn't know what to do with their talent. Therrien got them to be responsible, play well, and win (and not even a boring low-scoring sort of win).

    I sincerely doubt he would be an extremely long term answer, but for 2-3 or maybe 4 years, I believe he could mold the team and get them over this seemingly endless amount of suck. After that, the choice in coach is less relevant - a foundation needs to be built somewhere. Yes, roster overhaul could be necessary, but Therrien could form a solid basis on which the Blue Jackets could develop as a whole team.


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