The Columbus DIspatch reported this morning that sweeping changes could be in the works.
According to their report, multiple NHL sources have informed them that former Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock has been contacted about returning to the team as head coach, and former Calgary GM Craig Button has been sought after regarding the GM position with the Jackets.
My first thought? Forget replacing Howson. It's unnecessary.
While he didn't acquire every player on the roster himself, he has built a team that has two legitimate stars up front in Rick Nash and Jeff Carter, two veteran wingers who can put up points in Kristian Huselius and Vinny Prospal, two versatile forwards with offensive ability (R.J. Umberger and Antoine Vermette), young, talented playmaking centermen (Derick Brassard, Ryan Johansen), defensive stud Samuel Pahlsson, and hard-working, energy forwards Derek MacKenzie, Derek Dorsett and Matt Calvert.
On defense, he has locked up two point-producing, minute-munching blueliners in James Wisniewski and Fedor Tyutin. Marc Methot had a breakout in the second-half of last season. Radek Martinek, a shutdown defenseman, was brought it to pair with Methot. Young, puck-moving d-men Grant Clitsome and Kris Russell, along with top prospects David Savard and John Moore provided depth and offensive ability.
He put his faith in young goaltender Steve Mason, but shored up the depth at the position with the signings of veteran Curtis Sanford and AHL stud Mark Dekanich.
With the exception of goaltending, this team had few question marks-on paper. The forwards were a good mix of flashy offense, power forwards, grinders, and energy players. The defense featured two-way blueliners, shutdown guys and puck-movers.
The biggest problem? This roster, as constructed, has yet to play together.
Huselius and Dekanich have yet to play a game. Carter, Methot, Martinek, Sanford, and plugger Jared Boll, who I didn't mention above, are all currently out of the lineup with injuries.
You can't fault a GM for injuries or poor play. He has assembled a talented team with reasonable depth and some playoff experience. If and when the team is relatively healthy, you can then begin to judge Howson's creation. Until then, making a move at the GM position reeks of desperation.
Now, on to the Hitch thing.
It's up to the coach to get the most out of the players he has on his roster. As I stated above, the Jackets have a large chunk of their roster on the injury report. That said, the lineup isn't depleted. In addition to obvious issues on special teams, the Jackets have rarely looked engaged. From watching other games not involving the Jackets, I see more speed, more energy, and more hard work than I do when I watch a Columbus broadcast. It's right there in front of me- I see other teams fighting for every single puck, attacking up-ice as whole units, and not taking any shifts off.
When I watch the Jackets, I see a lot of pucks getting dumped. I see players trying to beat two or three opposition players on their own, with obvious results. I see battles lost. I see ( a lot) of missed assignments, especially in front of the net. I see a team that after it gets scored on, sits back and doesn't show any life.
Is this coaching? Is it the much talked about country-club atmosphere in the dressing room?
Whatever it is, the players aren't delivering. They looked great against Detroit in the team's only win of the season. Mainly because they gave a 60-minute effort, and Steve Mason made the saves he had to. What is it going to take for the team to give that same effort for every game this season?
If it's a coaching change, fine. Do what it takes to get the most out of the players. Do what it takes to get the team to perform as they did against Detroit for the rest of the year. If Hitch is that guy, do it.
I don't want to see Arniel thrown under the bus, though.
Put Dan Hinote back in the rafters, where he can coach from the bird's eye view, like he did last year. Leave Todd Richards and Brad Berry as assistants. Give the head coaching duties to Hitch, but keep Arniel as his associate coach. This was the arrangement for Team Canada at the World Championship this past spring.
Let Hitch right the ship, with Arniel (the supposed player's coach) acting as the buffer between Hitch and the players. At the end of the season, reevaluate the coaching staff, and if Arniel, with a partial-season apprenticeship under Hitch, is ready to return as head coach, so be it.
This is all assuming that Arniel would be willing to step down to associate coach. It's a big hit to the ego, that's for sure. It would be an unusual scenario, but I think it could work.
Stay tuned, Jackets fans. This could be a busy couple of weeks.
Or of course, this could all be a way of lighting a fire under the player's butts to get them to play harder. It wouldn't be the first time the media has been used as a motivational tool.