Let me start by getting this out of the way: I don't care that the Blue Jackets won against Winnipeg on Saturday.
One thing that really got under my skin from Matt's recap of Scott Howson's Q&A with season ticket holders was this:
Howson was asked about the coaching staff, and if he had considered a coaching change, and his answer was an immediate "We are not." When asked why, with the oft repeated stat of 5 wins in 36 regular season games shouted at him from the crowd ... "We believe that Scott Arniel is a good coach and needs a chance to work through this. The way Mr. Mac and J.P. McConnell run their businesses, you hire the best people and you give them a chance. I don't make excuses, but the coach needs to have some of the players we acquired in the lineup before we make a final judgement." On the other hand, he also admitted that both he and Arniel only have so much time to turn things around, or they could find themselves out of their jobs as well. "That's professional sports."
He also admitted that the team has backed off and tried to protect leads too often rather than getting aggressive in games vs. Colorado and Anaheim, and that was a coaching decision that he had discussed with Arniel. Despite the faith Howson expressed, his body language seemed somewhat strained on the subject of his coach - I really wonder if he is as unsatisfied with some of the recent coaching decisions as the fans.
In a perfect world, Jeff Carter would have been healthy, James Wisniewski wouldn't have been suspended, and Mark Dekanich wouldn't have been hurt, again, this time during pre-game warmups.
Then again, in a perfect world, would Kristian Huselius have been injured? Had he never been hurt, the team would have never thought of acquiring Vinny Prospal. Prospal has been one of the few bright spots and honest voices this season.
Point being, you can't blame the bad circumstances just as much as you can't lean on the good breaks. What happens if, God forbid, a key player goes down with a season-ending injury? Do you just throw up your hands and say, "Well, there's always next year!"
That may very well be the Blue Jackets response, if the start of this season is any indication.
I'm firmly on board with all the moves Scott Howson has made this season. Bringing on Mark Letestu and Nikita Nikitin may have been small moves, but they're players that want to show up and work hard every day and earn their ice time.
The players that have looked good at times this year are the ones that don't need to be prodded to play hard: Prospal, Letestu, Wisniewski, Carter, Ryan Johansen, Grant Clitsome, and a few others.
But what about Rick Nash, Antoine Vermette, and Derick Brassard? How can they all be playing this poorly? Is it a lack of accountability from the coach? Not a proper set of goals and expectations from practices to game days? I don't think it's any coincidence that Kris Russell was the first player traded. He would have been included in this group had he not be dealt to St. Louis.
If the coach can't get his best players to play, it needs to be on the players to hold each other accountable. If the players can't do that, it's on the GM to make the correct moves. I think Howson has started down that path. I also believe Nash, Vermette, and R.J. Umberger can be a part of the solution here. I'm still not sure about Brassard.
I'm afraid that if the team sits too long on Arniel, the players that are holding this team together by the few threads that are left will be trade bait. If Prospal, Letestu, and others are moved at or before the trade deadline, this team will be in even worse shape. The organization will point to the draft picks and prospects acquired and try to play up the future. But that will be just another mistake. And if the team finally decides late in the season or next off-season that a coaching change is indeed necessary, how much longer will we be expected to grant him to put his system in place and begin to gel with the players? That was our excuse this October. I don't want it to be the excuse next October.
I still believe the team has a good core in place, and Scott Howson has an idea of what he's doing. I don't think Arniel is the coach that will get this team to play their best, now or in a year. Good coaches get fired every year. Lindy Ruff and Barry Trotz are the only exceptions.
The Jackets have more talent on the roster now than ever before. Other teams have had awful seasons, but have eventually turned it around with adding the right players and the right coach. The Blackhawks turned a corner when Joel Quenneville was brought in. Terry Murray and the roster upgrades have helped the Los Angeles Kings become a legitimate contender. Peter Laviolette seems unphased that the Flyers traded Jeff Carter and Mike Richards a season after finishing with a 47-23-12 record.
This team doesn't need a coach who is looking to build his NHL experience as much as half of his players are. This team needs someone who has been around the block, and won't take half efforts at practice as an acceptable game plan.
Of the potential options, three names caught my eye. These individuals all have some hockey-related obligations, but none are currently coaching in the NHL or AHL, so there should be no major roadblocks for the Blue Jackets to interview - if they were so inclined.
Bob Hartley - .581 winning percentage, 1 Stanley Cup, 5 playoff appearances. Between his time with the Colorado Avalanche and Atlanta Thrashers, Hartley has a pretty impressive resume. Even more impressive if you throw in his Calder Cup win with the Hershey Bears in 1997. In Atlanta, he helped Ilya Kovalchuk find his game and turned around a pretty awful Thrashers team, improving each year before he was let go in 2008 after an 0-6 start.
Guy Carbonneau - .539 winning percentage, 1 playoff appearance. Not as much coaching experience here, but he helped the Canadiens to some pretty respectable records in his brief tenure. Carbonneau is a three-time Stanley Cup winner as a player.
Marc Crawford - .518 winning percentage, 1 Stanley Cup, 8 playoff appearances. Crawford is personally my least favorite of the three, but still has a very impressive track record. He won honors as the top coach in both the NHL and AHL during his time as a coach. He didn't have great success in his last two stops, LA or Dallas, although he did finish last season 42-29-11 with the Stars, but was let go after missing the playoffs for a second straight season.
So, there you have it. Three strong options that I believe would be able to better utilize the talent we have than Scott Arniel currently has been. Again, I have to ask, why is Scott Arniel still the coach?