Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Should He Stay or Should He Go?

After another uninspired loss to a team the CBJ were supposed to be jockeying for playoff position with, the question is getting louder and louder. So I asked the other contributors of Jackets Required a simple question: Should a coaching change be made?

Our responses:

Top Shelf:

Let me start by saying that I do not believe Ken Hitchcock is the reason the Jackets have lost 21 of their last 24 games. Far more culpable, in my opinion, are the players. Mason has redefined the Sophomore Slump. Brassard apparently has a more fragile confidence meter than Gilbert Brule ever had. Hejda, Tyutin, and Methot, it seems, conspired during the preseason to compete for the League lead in largest drop in +/- from one season to the next. And Commodore... I don't know where to begin with #22. I have to wonder if "Conditioning issues" is code for "I'm quitting". Seriously... dude is a professional athlete and half way through a regular season he still isn't in game shape? I have a feeling this is more related to his ego being bruised than his current state of cardiovascular readiness. If it truly is conditioning than he needs more blood work done because something is wrong with him. The list goes on and on... I don't have the composure to write about Kristian Huselius right now.

But Pepper asked about Hitchcock and whether he should be fired. Unfortunately I think it has come to that. It is no secret that his "system" is demanding and difficult to play, especially for young players. The Blue Jackets have one of the youngest rosters, if not the youngest, in the league. So they players already had an aversion to the coach, even if they were mature and professional enough to give it their best (see last season). However, when the slump took hold early in December, I thinks Hitch's demeanor and demonstrative approach to digging out of the problem backfired causing him to lose the room. His already-difficult-to-play-for style, coupled with his approach to pushing the players out of the slump, appears to have resulted in the players giving up on him. That is certainly how it looked last night in the 7-3 butt-whooping by the Canucks. So if the players have stopped their willingness to play for him, then it is time to find a new coach. It is a shame that any man should ever lose his job because of the performance of others, but that is how it works.

WILL he be fired? I think so, but not until after the Olympic break.

Stick on the Ice:

Hitch is a first-class coach. I think he has done a remarkable job in building a system and an identity for a franchise that clearly languished prior to his arrival. He has a keen eye for the nuances of the game and an exceptional dedication to the strategy of a very fast and fluid sport. And all of these great assets are complemented by an incredible work ethic. However, he just isn't getting the job done right now. It's as puzzling to me as anything I've ever seen in sports. The Jackets started the year with great momentum -- they had focus; they had the talent; they had an established system. So why have they folded since the middle of November? The more complex a question is, the more simple the answer tends to be. My feeling is that there is a massive lack of leadership on the team. It's not fair to assign all the blame to Hitch -- he can't score goals and he can't make a decent clearing pass on the breakout. But he is ultimately responsible. Meetings haven't done it. Video sessions haven't done it. Win to play challenges haven't done it. For the first time since he's arrived in Columbus, Hitch looks genuinely perplexed. He simply doesn't know how to motivate this group of players - and more importantly - he's failed in motivating the leadership among the players. In my opinion, there are two primary responsibilities for a coach --- 1) Accurately assess the talent and assign jobs and responsibilities accordingly 2) Mentor each player to help them fulfill the extent of their potential. Right now, Hitch is clearly failing in both areas. Unfortunately, this has been compounded by the fact that the Jackets don't have a vocal leader in the room, but again -- Hitch is ultimately responsible. Surely, he's played an integral role in evaluating the players and assembling his "leadership team." Fail. As for fulfilling players potential, I would struggle to say that any young player - with the notable exception of Kris Russell - has grown this year. The jury is still out on the Filatov situation. Regardless, I would say that Brassard and Voracek have regressed -- and the club needed big production from both. As quoted in the Dispatch/Puck Rakers: "There were about 40 games when I was playing to make him happy and I was not playing my game," Brassard said. "Now, I'm just playing to have fun and not worry about anything." 40 games? Really? Did it take that long to diagnose and fix that problem? With the exception of of Mason, who could have been more integral to the team's plans this year? Howson didn't get a first line center because they expected Brassard to fill that role. I thought it was a gamble, but one that had a good chance of paying off. Instead, Hitch mis-managed the development of a key player and when he started to stumble, he further shook Brassard's confidence by sticking him on the fourth line and cutting his minutes. Did it really take half of a season to realize this and act upon it?

"The Streak" - as it will come to be known in Jackets' lore - has destroyed what was once a very promising season. There have been too many lopsided losses. Too many contradictory statements and promises. Too many games that showed a lack of character and poise. Hockey is a humbling sport and coaching in the NHL is a humbling endeavor. There must be tremendous pressure from the league to retain Hitch because of his affiliation with Team Canada, because it is becoming nearly impossible to justify his continued time in Columbus. Timing is everything in life, and sadly, Hitch's time with this franchise has come and gone.


You can't fire Hitch now.

Wade through the soup for the next few weeks and see if there is any improvement to be made. But, we are now 14 points out of 8th which is almost unfathomable! Frankly, as Stick on the Ice knows, I've never been a fan of the talent base on this team with the exception of Steve Mason (who has fallen further than I could have ever imagined - or even as I complained about him earlier in the season before everyone else, thank you very much) and Rick Nash. I mean seriously...Brassard, Voracek, Huselius, Umberger, Tyutin, Methot, Commodore? These are nice guys and average NHL'ers, but they aren't exactly guys that would be topline players on other teams and we're expecting to get topline performance out of them. Would ANY of our defensemen crack the top 6 in say, San Jose, Calgary or Chicago? No. And, before you say, "Well, those are elite teams," I would say, "Yes, you're absolutely right." And, we ain't elite.

So, diatribe complete.

My point...can't fire Hitch now and replace him with Gary Agnew again for the rest of the year. You think attendance is bad now, you fire Hitch and there won't be 12K-13K on most any night in that building. This season's pretty much lost so I'd rather retain Hitch for now and look for the best available guy in the off-season with a substantial upgrade in talent.

Peppper Brooks:

If you had asked me a two weeks ago, heck, even one week ago whether I thought Hitch needed to go, I would've offered a resounding 'no'. I believed the the company line that was coming out of the offices at Nationwide Arena. 'Hitch's way is the right way to win games in the NHL,' 'We want to have something similar to Barry Trotz in Nashville where the coach and his style of play is the identity of the team.' I bought into it. I also thought the team could start to get things going in the right direction after their emotional win over Detroit.

But I was wrong. What followed the home win was a loss in a shootout in Long Island, deflating OT loss on New Year's Eve to Nashville (btw, which was more depressing that night, the CBJ loss or Dick Clark's 'countdown?'), an uninspired loss to Colorado and apparently an optional skate last night in Vancouver. I don't think Hitch is the reason that the team is in the state that it's in, but he's got to be the fall guy. It isn't his fault that Steve Mason hasn't made the key stops, Hejda and Commodore have been shells of them former selves, or that the team can't seem to find the back of the net with any consistency, so much so that I'm longing to hear that damn Chili Chant again. These things necessarily his fault, but it is obvious that guys have quit on him and the room needs a new voice....

When a team quits on you, you're dead as a coach and unfortunately the bottom line is that these guys have quit on Hitch.


  1. Miami guys have popped collars. Everyone knows this. Post of the blog thus far!

  2. Swaindog- Nobody has ever mistaken us for an "elite" team, but we certainly you would agree that this roster should be competing for a playoff spot, no? Was last season simply a group overachievment?

  3. Competing is probably fair. But I just have a hard time thinking it's Hitchcock and just sub-par performance from a team, that when you really evaluate it, isn't that talented. This is particularly true on the back end which is problematic.