Thursday, May 17, 2012

The long, hot summer

I read with great interest the fan reaction to the Columbus Blue Jackets' hiring of Todd Richards as "permanent" head coach.  (Not that it matters for this piece, but my piece at DBJ+ shows that I don't mind the hire.)

Seems like, from what I've read, there are a few aspects to the hire:
  1. Was Todd Richards the right guy?  Other candidates surely were available; in fact, CBJ GM Scott Howson said in the Richards presser that 8-10 potential candidates called the team to express interest.  Then, there's the question of whether other coaching shoes were still to drop (like the Oilers' release of Tom Renney today).  Lastly, there's the whole question of whether keeping the coach is truly indicative of heightened expectations.
  2. Should the formal interview process have been skipped?  Howson revealed that while the 8-10 people contacted the team, they did not conduct any interviews.  Does Richards' 18-21-2 record deserve a fast track to the job without even cursory interviews of other candidates?  Is the current CBJ management so secure in their decision-making when it comes to coaching hires, and does their track record warrant such confidence?
  3. Why is Scott Howson still around?  I've gone over Howson at length, but the fact that he ran the press conference opens all the slow-healing wounds of a healthy contingent of the CBJ fanbase.  
  4. What was Craig Patrick doing there?  Putting aside his odd performance at the presser, there's the real question of why his presence was required in the first place.  Is Howson in charge, or isn't he?  Does Patrick's presence undermine Howson's legitimacy?
All of these points (and more, but these were the big ones) were raised in the wake of the Richards announcement and presser. And you know what? None of them surprise me.  The questions are legitimate.

Have fans given up on
GM Scott Howson and the rest of the CBJ
hockey operations team?
The Blue Jackets' hockey operations team has had five years.  They haven't come through.  In fact, just the opposite; they piloted the team into the NHL cellar.  The national hockey media suggests that Scott Howson is in a make-or-break year (which sounds a lot like what we heard a year ago).  The coach that they removed is a favorite to win the Jack Adams award in June.  A gaggle of ex-players are meaningful contributors on their new teams' playoff runs.  Yet, given the opportunity, the CBJ chose to pass on the most basic of due diligence procedures in hiring their "new" coach.  The fans that are complaining are reasonable in expressing confusion and dismay.

The problem for the franchise is, in my estimation, that this type of reaction (with many of the same aspects of fan response) likely will come at every turn until the on-ice performance improves.  By that, I mean events like:
  • The draft - Will they get "the right guy"?  Will they give up enough/too much to get what they wanted?  And who is "the right guy" considering the team's needs?
  • The seemingly inevitable Rick Nash trade - Will they get enough?  Will the return help the team enough?  And what exactly is enough?
  • Free agents and other trades - What about the guys the CBJ will inevitably miss out on?  Were the guys that they acquire enough to get the team out of the cellar?
Every strategic move that this team makes should be expected to get questioned harshly until things turn around.  Sadly, this management team has squandered any entitlement to automatic fan support.  They're reaping what they've sown. 

Until the team wins, and consistently, I fear what we saw is what we'll get.  And the winning won't start until October at the soonest.  I don't envy the folks on Nationwide Boulevard.


  1. I'm so glad someone else hit on just how "awkward" Patrick seemed at the presser announcing Richards as the full time coach. I understand its been some time since he was regularly in front of mics as Pitts' GM, but he seemed to stumble terribly, he seemed almost pained when he finally got the phrase "culture" out of his mouth. To me, this looks like a cost-saving move first, and maybe a move for "stability" (which is strange because everything in the letter from ownership laid out that their would be "changes".) Richards gets a two year instead of the standard three year deal for new head coaches, plus the organization now appears to need at least two new assistants with Berry likely heading to North Dakota. We also need a head coach in Springfiled and perhaps additional staff there. Plus the CBA expires in September. I still think you continue to give Mr. Priest too much of a pass here though. Regardless of his hand in the Arena deal with the city/county, Mr. Priest involves himself in the on-ice matters too much, I don't care if he feels the need to insert himself because our GM regularly fails, Priest then needs to fire Howson and bring in someone that he doesn't need to worry about. Make no mistake, Mike Priest's lack of knowledge of this product and the blind faith from ownership in him is the main problem right now. Its allowing the fostering and festering of problems all over the franchise.

  2. I think he was there to show support for the decision, and because they realized it would feel better coming from him rather then Howson. Given that he's still on staff and his statements it is reasonable to assume Patrick supported the decision to hire Richards. One of the good things the Dispatch people pointed out in their chat was that Howson being insecure makes the coach equally insecure, and thus the Jackets job is seen as in flux. A really top coach might want to see how things shake out first, particularly after last season. I think everyone should be seen as transitional. Richards short contract only emphasizes this. It's win or die next season.



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