As our 2010 Draft Prospects series winds up, it's time to take a look at the other big story dominating the horizon for Columbus Blue Jackets fans - the ongoing search for a new head coach.
Since beginning interviews with current Maintoba Moose head coach Scott Arniel last Wednesday, GM Scott Howson has worked his way through the available candidates, getting a good look at four of the five men who might take over the bench.
Interestingly, the one who many CBJ faithful feel is the man with the inside track, former CBJ winger (and current Portland Pirates head coach) Kevin Dineen, seems to be the one man who has spoken the least about his look behind the curtain. It may simply be that Dineen is the type who prefers to keep his cards close to the vest, but I do have to wonder about the situation when every other candidate interviewed to this point has been willing to give the Columbus media a few words on their experience, and what they hope to bring to the franchise, but Dineen was a simple "No comment."
Howson's other interviews this past week included current Red Wings assistant coach Paul MacLean on Tuesday, the 11th, and current interim head coach Claude Noel today.
The final candidate, Hamilton Bulldogs coach Guy Boucher, could be the hardest to get a hold of - with Montreal pushing their way into the Eastern Conference Finals after a dramatic game 7 stomping of the defending cup champions, and Hamilton kicking off the AHL's Western Conference finals tonight - even if Texas were to Sweep Hamilton, it's doubtful that Boucher would be available to talk before the 24th at the earliest, assuming that Montreal didn't ask him to come up to assist with their push to the Stanley Cup finals before interviewing. Howson has admitted to the Dispatch that he might well be looking for a coach into Late May - possibly even into early June.
Though there is the risk that other coaching vacancies might lure away other candidates the longer Howson waits on a decision, there is also the possibility that the delay could lead to the revelation of additional candidates, such as Montreal's Kirk Muller.
In my personal opinion, I suspect that Boucher is a strong candidate, or GMSH wouldn't be admitting that the search will stretch out longer than he originally predicted. Like most of the hockey world, he probably expected Montreal and Hamilton to both suffer early exits from the playoffs, allowing Boucher to be one of his first interviews. (If anything, he probably expected to be waiting on MacLean.)
I'm also not sold on the fan theories that it was Dineen's job all along. If that was the case, Howson would have interviewed Dineen, perhaps Arniel, and given Noel a show trial before holding the press conference and diving into the work of preparing for the upcoming draft. Howson is really trying to search for the best man, and while his choices of candidates are excellent, they also make his job that much more difficult.
Every candidate he has interviewed brings success to the table - the only candidate to have not won a coach of the year award in the AHL, ECHL, or both would be MacLean, and he's been the guy helping Mike Babcock take Anaheim and Detroit to the Stanley Cup Finals. Every candidate has a wealth of experience in dealing with the pressures and struggles of a head coaching position at one level or another, and each has experience coaching a team to a championship series, if not a championship. (The odd man out here is Arniel, who has yet to meet that milestone. MacLean coached the UHL's Quad City Mallards to the Colonial Cup before joining Anaheim's staff.)
The only real question is who will do the best job of taking the young talented core of the Blue Jackets and refine them into a true playoff contender? From that standpoint, I think Dineen and Boucher are the ones to watch. Players like Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, Jaroslav Halak, and P. K. Subban are demonstrations of how each can help a player achieve his potential. Though Noel did a solid job clearing the decks and righting the ship after he stepped into the coaching position in February, it's hard to say how much was his approach to the game, and how much was simply telling the team to relax.
Even Noel himself admits he will change things up if given the chance:
"When I took over, I wanted to provide clarity," he said. "I didn't want to add to the confusion. It wasn't a situation to go into and change things immediately.
"We needed to get certain guys going. We needed to get the team back on the right path. It was more about giving clarity to the group."
If I'm Scott Howson, I'd look at that quote with a mix of interest and concern - just what would he like to change? How would he be adjusting from the approach that he used in 2010? Where does he see possible additions like Filatov or Matt Calvert in those changes? But at the same time, Noel's strongest card going into these interviews is the work he delivered from behind the bench - and now he says that wasn't really what he wanted to do, and now he can really show you something. It's certainly a gutsy move, but only time will tell if it pays off.
In the meantime, here's a few other perspectives on the search to check out:
Coaching Carousel (Ten Minute Misconduct)
Opportunity Gained? (Light The Lamp)
Happy Friday, and happy reading!