We'll start with the coach. It's established that Todd Richards is the interim head coach through the end of the season. To date, I've seen nothing to suggest that his performance should preempt a full coaching search. Not sure much more needs to be said on that front. I'm not married to a playing philosophy...I just want a guy that knows how to coach NHL players and knows how to win with them. Period. So let's move on.
Candidly, individual players are not my strong suit. I mean, any lunkhead can look at goals, assists, time on ice, penalty minutes, plus/minus or even the advanced stats like Corsi et al. You can even try to develop a formula that considers the productivity value that you find against the amount (and length of time) that you're paying the player.
Problem is, I feel that this is precisely what Scott Howson has done with his roster. What's missing, and is clearly so desperately needed, is an addressing of the culture of the team and its roster. This is where Howson has fallen completely flat on his face. As evidence:
- Trying to shore up the lack of leadership by bringing in other team's ex-captains - and shipping out high character players in the process.
- Trading for a player (Carter) who clearly didn't want to be traded - and I won't even suggest whether he wants to play here or not.
- Letting the team collapse for three straight seasons now with no change in its core.
The last point is perhaps the most damning, and it's the one that I'm going to suggest gets addressed with a blunt force object.
DBJ's TACTICAL NUCLEAR OPTION
In my mind, the overarching issue to be addressed is the cultural predisposition of this team to quit. Quitting might involve not practicing hard (thanks for that insight, Mr. Prospal), might involve not playing a full 60 minutes. It might involve tuning out a coach. Point is, it's not winning hockey and fans like me don't want to pay to see it.
So taking the premise I suggested back when answering the big question, that the team has quit on two full-time coaches and only given one interim coach (Claude Noel) a winning record since the CBJ's sole playoff appearance, I'm going to presume that the players who have been here through all of that are at least partly complicit in the club's fall off the precipice.
I'm not savvy enough to suggest which players exactly are at the root of the blame - I have no special insights beyond what I read and hear (and I get precious little insider information), so that's why I'm going to cut wide around the margins and order a tactical nuclear option:
I would aggressively work to move every single holdover from the February 4, 2010 Blue Jackets roster out of Columbus as soon as feasible.
Why that date? That's the date that Claude Noel coached his first game for the CBJ. Thus, the players who were on the squad at that point and still are with the team have been through Hitchcock, Noel, Arniel and Richards. That's four coaches in less than two years. In my estimation, that group is toxic to any coach's career (good/Hitch or bad/Arniel) and, by extension, the team's prospects for success. And it must change. Now.
Who's left over from February 4, 2010, you may ask? Here's the list, taken from the game's roster report:
- Jared Boll
- Derick Brassard
- Derek Dorsett
- Kristian Huselius
- Steve Mason
- Marc Methot
- Rick Nash
- Sammy Pahlsson
- Fedor Tyutin
- R.J. Umberger
- Antoine Vermette
Now, if some new general manager can apply the ability to read minds and figure out how to conduct a more surgical excision of the root causes of this team's current blasé culture, I'm all for it. Save the "good," dump the "bad." But as I said, I'm not savvy enough to be any more precise...and the problems facing this team, in my estimation, are so deep as to suggest that it's worth losing a couple "good" players to make sure you lose the "bad."
Am I suggesting a garage sale? Am I suggesting selling off this crew for late-round draft picks? Of course not. I am suggesting a systematic purge of those players from the roster in as quickly an efficiently a manner as possible, getting as much in return (players, prospects, draft picks) as humanly possible. Some of the trades will work out great for Columbus, some won't...but the roster will get an overdue scrubbing.
So I'm not calling to blow the entire team up. But gosh, I sure come close.
While the purge is underway, steps need to be taken to move the team in the future direction. The interim /new general manager needs to work closely with the coach to determine exactly what identity this team will have and identify talent that will get the team there. Personally, I hope that coming from a winning background is given a priority. I want players for whom, as the saying goes, "it hurts to lose." The last thing we need it to backfill the roster with players who will accept a losing culture.
It's also important to recognize that there is some talent still in the CBJ development pipeline (perhaps Scott Howson's saving grace is leaving the cupboard not entirely bare). Yes, the Springfield Falcons are playing close to the bottom of their conference - just like their parent club in Columbus (As I type, Springfield is tied with four other teams for third-worst in the AHL) - but there is talent to be had. The likes of Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert and perhaps David Savard immediately come to mind. These promising youngsters, and others whom I have not identified, need to be allowed to grow in the juniors and minors and come along at a deliberate pace. Promote them to the big club when they are ready, and not a moment too soon. Remember, the Red Wings' Jimmy Howard was nearly collecting Social Security when he got the Calder Trophy. It's OK to be patient. Who knows, maybe they might even learn how to win in the minors.
|Veterans like Robert Lang helped Phoenix take Detroit to the limit in the|
Stanley Cup playoffs while letting the team's prospects develop.
In my opinion, Columbus would be in much better shape than Phoenix if they tried this approach. If the new general manager restricted his trade activity to just the players mentioned above, he would start with a team that includes, based upon my scan of the injury list and the most recent game against Tampa:
- Dane Byers
- Jeff Carter
- Grant Clitsome
- Colton Gillies
- Ryan Johansen
- Mark Letestu
- John Moore
- James Wisniewski
- Nikita Nikitin*
- Ryan Russell*
- Aaron Johnson**
- Brett Lebda**
- Derek Mackenzie**
- Radek Martinek**
- Vinny Prospal**
- Curtis Sanford**
(Players whose contracts expire at the end of this season are indicated by a * for restricted free agents, ** for unrestricted free agents,)
|That's a LOT of talent to bring in for one free agency period.|
But Florida has proven that it CAN be done.
Now, a capable general manager starts with Carter, Letestu, Wisniewski, Johansen and Moore. If he brings back a couple of the free agents you see above and is given the flexibility to spend to hit the salary cap floor like Dale Tallon did with the Florida Panthers, he should be able to field a pretty competitive team.
So that's my plan: Extricate the core, protect the kids and backfill with tough veterans who know how to win and can teach the youngsters how to play winning hockey on a day-in, day-out basis.
In many ways, this is a remodeling job that has the contractors stripping the walls all the way back to the studs and starting over...which I fear is necessary to get this franchise on the right foot for the long haul.