Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Evaluating the Coach

Scott Arniel - Head Coach
I have really struggled about how I feel about Scott Arniel this year.  We have watched coach after coach get fired this year in the NHL, most with .500 records or better, while the Columbus Blue Jackets  sit pat in spite of being in last place (though today we have climbed to 29th of 30 teams).

At this point, I have to throw out a stick tap to the rest of the blogging team here at the Dark Blue Jacket for helping me to process these issues in some sort of positive fashion.  The Nashville game was an insanely good time!  It was extremely entertaining, and we pushed them all over the ice.  For 58 minutes.  Dang.  I was really 'disturbed' (you are welcome grandma) following the game, and promptly wrote a diatribe calling for Coach Scott Arniel's head.  Courtesy intervened at that point, and the knowledge that I was dragging a bunch of other people down that path without their consent was a real issue.  So the 'publish' button was not pushed.  Two days later the 'delete' button was pushed.

Why delete a really slick post calling for the ouster of the Head Coach?  Certainly his record demands it.  Might be good for traffic on the site.  But maybe its not that easy.

As the Dark Blue Jacket pointed out, the window for a coaching change having a meaningful effect on this season is rapidly closing.  In addition, making a coaching change at this point has some really, really heavy ramifications.  The need for clarity of thought at this juncture is high, because the stakes are so high.  A coaching change at this point means you are saying you made a mistake in the direction chosen for the franchise and implies a several year change of course.  Not to be done lightly.

We have argued in this space before that a coaching change was not necessarily going to fix things.  So what are the things we ought to lay at the coaches feet?  I feel strongly about some of these, so in accordance with the Dark Blue Jacket's long standing commitment to public service, I'm going to try lay these out in handy check list fashion so that the Coach can review them sometime next summer when he is sipping scotch at a campfire next to a Canadian lake.

Opportunities for Improvement

  • The Coach did not have the veterans ready for the regular season.  Training camp this year was wasted evaluating which rookie would make the team, only to have them all sent down in the first two weeks of the season.  Note to the coaching staff.  We will likely have some more roster turn-over next year.  Look at the rookies the first couple of weeks, settle on your team, and get that team ready for the regular season.  So far your teams have had the most successful start in franchise history and the least successful start in franchise history.  A happy median would work just fine, thanks.
  • The Coach did not recognize that his system was not working at the NHL level.  For what ever reason, the Coach waited until 2011-12 season was down the tubes to realize the system he was pushing wasn't working. This is not the first time a coach has found out his system didn't work, Ken Hitchcock is a good example of someone who came up from the AHL and his system did not work.  The difference was that Hitch fixed his system in the off season (while at Dallas).  He didn't need to trash another season to make that choice.  The off season is when we want to make these adjustments coach, not 15 games into the season.
  • It took the Coach more than a year to adjust to the natural tendencies of your players.  This process is taking too long.  Please note the evidence in front of your face.  Rick Nash and RJ Umberger are two of the best two way players in the game.  But you haven't been playing them on the penalty kill.  Notice how effective the kill was against Vancouver?  Because these guys are a threat to take it the other way, the opposition's power play must respect that threat.  Our penalty kill is not getting the job done.  You keep saying our best players have to be our best players, but you haven't been putting them on the ice so that they can contribute at critical times.  Nash's offensive production has gone up as he has played more defense.  Let the Captain lead.  Put him on the ice.
  • Your teams are not finishing periods.  You have control over who is on the ice, as well as the ability to make them do everything in their daily lives for two minutes longer.  This is something that is fixable, but it shouldn't have gotten to this point.

Mitigating Factors
  • The Coach was able to make a mid-season adjustment that appears to be successful.  If these guys are able to turn this around and make a serious charge at the playoffs, it will really be something.  
  • Once the odd man rushes against were eliminated, the team has been playing a very entertaining brand of hockey.  The games are fun to go to, and the atmosphere in the barn is not so dirge-like.  Stick tap to Game-ops there, but there is some good hockey to be seen, even with the insanely frustrating collapses.
  • It also seems that the conversion of a team of tight checking, conservative players into a free-wheeling offensive dynamo simply takes longer than a year.  Keep in mind most of these players spent three years having Hitch abhor the things that Arniel is telling them to do.  Old habits die hard.  Now that there is a compromise between the two systems that the players can understand and buy into, they are playing better.
  • Hopefully the Coach will see that it is no accident that the PK is better when you put your best players on it.  Nash, Umberger, Carter, and Vermette are all accustomed to playing on the PK.  Let your best players influence the course of the game.
  • The Coach got mad.  I was 'disturbed' after the Nashville game.  The Coach was really mad, and he said the things the players wanted to say, but couldn't, especially regarding the officiating.  That didn't hurt the relationship between the Room and the Coach.  To me, I wanted to see someone get mad.  It was refreshing to me that the Coach did get mad.  Against Vancouver they were able to turn that stuff into results.
  • The team Arniel inherited has played pretty much the same way as the team that got Hitch fired.  Canning the Coach won't necessarily fix it, no matter the amount of instant gratification the fans get from it.  There are signs that they may finally be turning the corner.  That would be a really great thing to see.
In balance, the only way to really evaluate this is going to be at the end of the year.  If the team goes on another major slide, then we will know its not working, and it will be time for a new coach. If however, they continue to make the incremental steps towards better play, with a slight allowance for the normal ups and downs the game imposes on anyone, then there is a distinct possibility that they are building something that could go somewhere.  

No matter how fed up I was after the Nashville game, I don't think firing the Coach is the right approach at this point.

What do you think?  What are the Improvement Opportunities and Mitigating Factors that you see?



  1. I hope your right because the coach isn't going anywhere. But it sure appears he's in over his head.

  2. Great article! I agree, keep the coach. There have been many times where I too have wanted our coaches head on a silver platter. But many times items which you have mentioned in this article have popped in my head and I bite my tongue. Give the coach a chance, it's only his second season and like you said, let's wait til the end of the season to see where we are.

  3. Great post, but I must respectfully disagree. If Arniel is not going to coach this team next year, and right now you'd have to agree that it doesn't look good for him, then I think letting him ride out the year is a huge mistake. Losing breeds more losing. We are teaching young players how to lose, as opposed to teaching them how to win. It will take the next coach longer to change the culture, disinfect the locker room and teach the guys how to win (consistently). If Arniel isn't going to be here next year, the sooner he is removed the better (IMHO).

  4. Keeping in mind that I fully expect Arniel to (at least) finish the season, I'm a bit torn.

    Perhaps the nugget I saw online today that Arniel isn't planning on keeping Nash on the PK once Dorsett returns is swaying my opinion. Is it possible that circumstances and not deliberate strategy are forcing him to make what we consider wise coaching decisions?

    If that's the case, I think Greg has a point. But, sadly, I just don't see anything matter how much we might want it to be.

  5. He needs gone. Fast. What other team would allow their coach to go 2-12-1 and not do anything about it? There were injuries, yes, but there were also just as many poor coaching and personnel decisions to add to that (Mason in net again? Really? Johansen getting scratched again, even though he had both of our game-winning goals? Really? Umberger and Vermette NOT getting scratched, despite taking forever to score a single goal? Really?). To me, putting Arniel back behind the bench another season tells me we don't plan on making the playoffs that season, either.

  6. If Arniel isn't fired before the end of the season, Howson should be shown the door, too. Arniel is a massive mistake.


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