After local blogger The Dark Blue Jacket broke the news that Columbus assistant GM Chris McFarland was sighted in Winnipeg discussing the Blue Jackets roster with head coach candidate (and current Manitoba Moose head coach) Scott Arniel, a lot of speculation began to buzz that the Jackets might have decided not to wait on Hamilton Bulldogs coach Guy Boucher and pressed on with the second round of the coaching search.
Today, we've had a formal update from the franchise, courtesy of the Columbus Dispatch and their Puck-Rakers blog, and the speculation was at least half right - the franchise has requested a second interview with Arniel (whom McFarland personally delivered an interview prep package that included a highlights DVD for the team and many of its AHL and Junior Hockey prospects) and Portland's Kevin Dineen, who likely received a similar package over the weekend.
Both interviews are likely to take place this week before Howson leaves for the NHL combine in Toronto, where he may also be able to sit down for an initial interview with Boucher. Hamilton is currently up 2-0 on the Texas Stars, with the series heading to Texas for games 3 and 4 starting Wednesday. Montreal has said that they will not block Boucher from sitting for an interview, so if Hamilton can complete the sweep and earn a few days off, it's entirely possible that Howson might squeak in an interview or two before Boucher has to return to Hamilton to prepare for the Calder Cup finals. (CBJ fans hoping for this possibility might pray for Manchester and Hersey to keep playing to the home crowds, as each team has won on their respective home ice going into tonight's game 4 match up.)
Meanwhile, the team has also informed Detroit assistant coach Paul MacLean that he is no longer a candidate for the position, and told interim head coach Claude Noel that they do not require a second interview with him. If I had to guess, that means that things aren't looking too good for Claude, either. Even if the team continues to list Noel as a candidate, look at the audience for the second interviews for Dineen and Boucher: team president Mike Priest and majority owner John P. McConnell. They're being asked to size up the candidates for the big decision - even if Noel is more of a known quantity, it's doubtful that either had much face to face with him in the past (recall that Noel's interview with Scott Howson was reportedly the first time he'd ever had a real sit down meeting with the General Manager), and you'd think that if he was a real contender, they'd be giving him a chance to sit down with the ownership to explain what his vision for the future holds.
The only slim hope I can see for Claude's candidacy is that, perhaps, they'll be giving him a modified version of his request to be the last interview - setting the stage by giving Arniel and Dineen their second interviews, hooking up with Boucher as quickly as Hamilton's playoff run allows, and then wrapping up the show with Noel, but my gut tells me that Noel's a distant fourth in this race, and he could be the next to drop out of the running.
Edit: Late breaking news from the Dispatch confirms that Portland head coach Kevin Dineen was in Columbus today for his second interview, with the meeting being held at the Double Eagle Golf Club, owned by the McConnell family. The meeting apparently lasted much of today, wrapping up at 9:00pm. With reports from TSN that Scott Arniel will be interviewing with Atlanta about their head coaching vacancy on Friday, I'd bet that we'll see Arniel in town for his interview tomorrow, allowing him a day to switch gears and travel to Georgia.