With the press conference held yesterday at Nationwide Arena, it became official: Scott Arniel is the 7th (or 5th, depending how you count them) head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
At his press conference, Arniel projected a confident, excited air - second choice or not, he repeatedly stated that Columbus was the job he wanted above all the others, and gave the impression of a cat who has been handed a big bowl of cream. His answers were upbeat but careful, and did a reasonable job of providing excitement without setting unreasonable expectations.
His plans speak of hard work ahead, particularly with the desire to shift the team's style into an up-tempo attack rather than the slower defensive game favored by Ken Hitchcock. Though some have questioned if the team has the right players to fit that style, and Arniel was asked several times if he expected major changes, he simply explained that he was excited by the talent on the roster, and hoped to work with them to get the best possible performances. "My only concern with the team was to make sure that I could get the job!"
So, the next question is natural: What happens now?
There are quite a few things that will begin to happen in a relatively short period of time for the Blue Jackets, and I think it's best to break them down by the men who will be meeting each challenge.
- A Fistful of Resumes - One of Arniel's top priorities is to get his coaching staff settled and into place so he can begin to set plans on where they will be taking the team both in the off season and in preparing to open the season in Europe. Brad Berry, one of Arniel's former assistants in Manitoba, has already been coming up frequently in local and national media as a likely candidate. Arniel has also mentioned that he has "quite a few" resumes flowing into him since the announcement, and he will be meeting with current coaches Gary Agnew, Gord Murphy, and Barry Brennan. For my money, I doubt that Agnew and Murphy will continue on - though Arniel has connections to both men (the coaching fraternity is a relatively small one, and Arniel played with Murphy on the Bruins back in the early 90s), I suspect that the desire for fresh blood and the shifting of styles from a checking and trapping team will be heavily weighted against them. Brennan, on the other hand, is likely safe - the Strength and Conditioning coach is a role that operates relatively independently, and I suspect he received a vote of confidence by the presence of quite a few of the team's younger players showing up at the press conference yesterday and mentioning that they'd been staying in town to work out with Barry as part of the "summer camp" program that was so successful for Derek Dorsett and Jared Boll.
- Getting to Know You - Speaking of the players, Arniel announced on XM Radio's "Power Play" radio show that he will be working this summer to sit down with all of the players on the current roster (and one would assume many of the prospects) to better understand where each player sees himself, his skills, and how he can best contribute to the team, and for Arniel to get them on board with his own plans. Arniel declined to state if the meetings would be held in Columbus, or if he would be travelling to the players - my suspicion is he'll be racking up the frequent flyer miles.
- The Filatov Question - Not surprisingly, one of the first questions Arniel took from the media was the future of Nikita Filatov. For his part, the new head coach seems quite eager to work with the young Russian. "I love those kind of talents! His skill set gives you things that other guys can't give you...but we need to be able to trust him to play him in (late game) situations...I'm looking forward to meeting him." The Dispatch has announced that some time after the draft, CBJ Development Coach Tyler Wright will be heading to Russia to spend some time with Filatov to get a feel for where he is and work with him on preparing to return to North America. I wouldn't be shocked to learn that Arniel might well be meeting with the young winger during that trip.
- Prospecting - Though Howson was quick to shoot down questions about Arniel's involvement in the draft process (as is appropriate - it's not really an area where Arniel will have much input), the team will be conducting their prospect camp not long after. This should be the first real taste of Arniel's coaching style, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a good bit of attention from both fans and current players. In addition, though Arniel will not be sending direct requests for players to Howson and the scouting staff, I would expect his hire to shape some of the decision process - valuing speed and puck possession skills over big size and hard checking means that you'll be more likely to draft players in the Kris Russell or Patrick Sharp molds rather than a Tom Sestito or a Ole-Kristian Tollefsen.
- The Roster - Yes, this is one again more a matter for Scott Howson, but I have no doubt that once Arniel has had a chance to speak to his players and coaches, he will likely have areas he feels the team needs to address. Perhaps by free agency, perhaps through trades. The collective opinion of the Blue Jackets is the team needs to get quicker at the blue line - changing how the team plays may make some difference, but I still think it's likely that we see a move or two to shake up the defensive corps. We've also seen speculation that Jason Spezza wants out of Ottawa - Mike recently speculated about Columbus being a good fit. That's a decision that would certainly need Arniel's input - and given his comments about wanting to help players like Brassard and Antoine Vermette reach "higher levels" in their game, I don't think he would support that move before he has a chance to work with the team.
- Press The Flesh - On his first day as head coach, Arniel took part in a press conference, several radio shows, two television interviews, and stood for questions with members of the local and national print media. I hope he liked it, because he'll be seeing more of it - there's almost a sense of damage control in how he was put into the media circus yesterday, talking about the exciting opportunities he sees for himself in Columbus, and making it clear that this team is an up and comer. Now that he's cleared that gauntlet, expect to start seeing him making appearances in the community to help promote the team - I'm almost certain he'll be showing up at the draft party at Nationwide, for example, and I'm sure we'll see him make some more appearances on local and national radio as the offseason heats up. Don't be surprised if we see a return to the Coach's Show on 1460/97.1, either.
- One More Thing... - Not only will Arniel need to prepare for training camp, prospect camp, and getting to know his players, he'll also need to start getting material together for the team's debut in Europe, including the exhibition game against Malmo. Taking over as head coach is a big job, but this takes everything and cuts a sizable chunk out of the available time.
- Get On The Same Page - One of the phrases you heard quite often in yesterday's press conference was how both Howson and Arniel "could really communicate". That's wonderful, because they need to get on that ASAP. Coaching decisions will need to be settled, familiarizing Arniel with the depth chart, prepping him for the season debut in Europe, finalizing training camp and prospect camp schedules...a lot of information will need to be confirmed between them, and there isn't that much time.
- RFA Offers - already in progress (Thomas Kana accepted an extension this morning), but still important, the organization's Restricted Free Agents must be given their qualifying offers before July 1st unless Howson is willing to let them go onto the open market. This crop includes Jared Boll, Anton Stralman, and Grant Clitsome, among others, so it's likely we'll see qualifying offers or extensions announced in the next few weeks.
- Drafting - With the head coach in place, expect Howson to disappear into an ocean of scouting reports, video reviews, meetings, and arguments as he and the scouting staff determine their board for the upcoming 2010 entry draft. If Columbus stays at the #4 pick, deals down, or trades the pick outright, he will need to be prepared for who they would select, no matter the position, and who the best fits to the team will be.
- Free Agency - This will be an interesting free agent season for Scott Howson. In his first year, it was a fairly simple task. Clear of Adam Foote and Sergei Fedorov's contracts, he needed to provide a shut down defenseman, grab a talented forward if possible, and reinforce the weaknesses in the roster. Last year, the needs were to replace the departing presence of Manny Malhotra and Michael Peca, and try to add a bit more offense at the blue line. This year, there's no real clear need for a single type of player or players to come from outside the organization. There are certainly areas the team wishes to improve, but there are also many players within the prospect system who might well answer the needs. Does Howson trust in his youth? Or does he look to make an acquisition that might cost him some of those developing players in return? Columbus has the advantage of a great deal of cap space (though the budget may be another matter), some excellent prospects, and an attractive new coach. Will these serve to attract free agents or trade offers? Or will youth continue to be served and the team march onward basically as-is?
- Claude Noel - Now that the organization has determined that Claude Noel is not the man to lead them into the future, it's time to do right by him. Reports from the Dispatch indicate that Vancouver has already asked to speak with Noel about the now vacant Manitoba job. There are also reports that a few other clubs (though none of them are Nashville, apparently) are sniffing around to get permission as well. Howson should work with the interested teams to grant them permission, put them in touch, and give Claude the strongest possible recommendation to help speed him on the way to a new job, making a clean break and completing the transition.
Just a few small matters to be cleared up. One thing is certain - there's quite a lot to be done, and there's very likely to be a lot more excitement coming from Nationwide Arena over the next few months.