|Former GM Scott Howson|
While Howson retains a measure of credit for the players he brought in that took the CBJ to the playoffs this year, we must remember that Craig Patrick influenced his decision making in a dramatic fashion. All that said, Howson listened to Patrick, to his credit, as well as pointing out that John Davidson's contract situation would make him available. Thus, Howson's contributions to the organization's current success are real and significant. Balanced against that are the disastrous hiring of Arniel, who was not ready to be an NHL coach, and the plummet to 30th place. Both of these are squarely his responsibility. Even though Howson was astute enough to know that the expectation bar had been raised, his teams failed miserably to even make traction towards those heightened expectations.
So it was interesting to see Jarmo Kekalainen's take on the season, as reported by the Columbus Dispatch, and other sources. Jarmo was quick to point out that the team barely finished in the top half of the league, pretty much in the middle of the pack, or 'mediocre'. He was also emphatic that the team was not satisfied with this finish, and felt they had a higher ceiling. I think these are healthy attitudes.
As hard as the CBJ worked this to make the playoffs this year, they have to work harder next year to make the playoffs. If you want to advance beyond the first round, you have to improve your play AND work harder. Fortunately this team seems wired to tackle this kind of work as a challenge. The 2008-09 team did not respond to success by working harder, and the results were disastrous. Hopefully the hard wired work ethic of this iteration of the Jackets helps them to climb the mountain again next year.
Hitch has stated he squeezed everything out of that 2008-09 team, and it is one of his favorite teams because he felt they 'maxed out'. They were unable to repeat that level of effort. I think Todd Richards got everything available out of this year's group, but I don't think he 'squeezed it out of them'. I think he created a situation that allowed them to deliver the effort at least semi-voluntarily (Richie can be demanding at times). I believe that is a scenario with a much better chance at repetition than the squeezing approach. Hitch's players just couldn't climb the mountain again. So long as our young players are racing each other to the top of the mountain next year, things should be just fine.
But these seasons never end up the way you expect that they will.