Columbus Blue Jackets. I'm sort of like an injured pet. Sitting quietly in the corner, worrying at the injury, in hopes that it will help the healing. The most accomplished player in the history of the franchise is on the trading block. Management demanded a price commensurate with his accomplishments, and what it would take to replace him. Then they stuck to their guns at the deadline when people wouldn't meet their price. The NHL intelligentsia seem offended by both the price, and the unwillingness of the underdog Blue Jackets to cave, and fuel a cup run by someone that they really wanted to watch play. In the immortal words of Bill the Cat: Phttthhhbbbbbttt!!
The Rangers offer of a pretty decent player, their second best prospect, a middlin' prospect, and a number 1 pick was deemed adequate in many circles, so long as you weren't staking your reputation on actually having made that trade. Some of the outrage in New York had to do with the temerity of the CBJ for asking for players that the Rangers quickly took off the table. OK then. I have to confess that this backdrop will add a bit of spice to my watching of the playoffs. At the end of the day, CBJ management did a good job of sticking to their guns, and not giving in to inferior offers.
We the fans are left to grapple with the post trade deadline reality of the situation. Todd Richards seems to be slowly instilling some confidence in the group. Their play is more sound. The addition of Jack 'Mother's Favorite 'Johnson (JMFJ, you're welcome grandma), has added a completely new dimension to the blue line. Talent pressure from the top serves to push people down into appropriate roles, and Johnson has done that on our defensive corps.
So how does this resemble Gerard Gallant's team? We have seen this before.
Todd Richards joins the litany of coaches who have seen some success when all hope of making the playoffs has died. Arguably, the first was Dough MacLean, followed by Gerard Gallant, Claude Noel, and now Richards.
Doug MacLean had taken over after Dave King, the original coach was fired. Doug coached 42 games in 2002-03, and 37 games in 2003-04 before turning the reins over to Gerard Gallant. Gallant finished that season, sat out the lockout, then lead the team to a franchise best 74 point season in 2005-06, but still fell well short of making the playoffs. A mere 15 games into the 2006=07 season, with a record of 5-9-1, Gallant was fired, and ultimately replaced by Ken Hitchcock.
From a historical perspective the 2005-06 season was when Adam Foote and Sergei Fedorov were acquired, and great things were expected. At this point in franchise history, Nash had Foote, Fedorov, Zherdev and Vyborny as running mates (Don't forget that Jan Hrdina had 10-23-33 and -8 playing center for that team). A 74 point finish is not exactly stellar, but it is hard to fathom that a team that featured Nash with Carter, Umberger, Vermette, Prospal and Brassard as running mates could easily stand to finish behind that team in 2011-12. Lick, lick, lick. Woof.
To finish my coaching thought, Claude Noel, came in and mopped up after Ken 'Jack Adams Award in 2011-12' Hitchcock was fired because the game had passed him by. Yeah. Right. One of these days I'm gonna pay to have Bob Hunter's columns from those days dug out of the Columbus Dispatch's archives, so I can make direct quotes from them, as I ruin my keyboard with weeping. But Claude brought a sense of joy, and a lack of pressure, so naturally, the team performed well. But Claude could not convince management to hire him (in literary terms, this is called foreshadowing, which usually indicates impending doom), and another direction was chosen.
So again this summer, we look at the prospect of interviewing a lame duck coach. Richards has done a credible job of pulling this outfit together. One of the things I like seeing is the fact that the team has steadily improved under Richards. That's a good sign. Is he good enough to get a team to the playoffs? I don't really know. But if you plan on trading Nash, you probably ought to give up on that notion anyhow. So I think I feel differently about Richards than I did about Noel. Make no mistake, Claude is in a better situation in the 'Peg than he would have had here. I'm not sure its comparable. But based on his performance in the last half of the season, Richards is worth giving a try. After all, we can always fire him if it doesn't work. Isn't that what everyone does??