Associate Coach Craig Hartsburg announced his retirement from coaching on Wednesday, ending a four-year stint behind the bench in Columbus. His retirement comes on the heels of John Tortorella's announcement that he planned to bring back the coaching staff intact from this season, and creates a new opening on the staff.
In announcing Hartsburg's resignation, Jarmo Kekäläinen had nothing but praise for the veteran coach:
Craig Hartsburg has been a great asset to our coaching staff over the past four seasons, and we are very grateful for all of his contributions to our club. While we are disappointed that he will not be part of our coaching staff next season, we understand his desire to spend more time with his family, and are happy that he will continue to contribute to our hockey operations efforts moving forward.
Although retiring from active coaching, Hartsburg will remain with the club in an undetermined capacity, likely some form of senior consulting/scouting or player development type of role.
Hartsburg, 56, has had a long and distinguished hockey career, both on the ice and behind the bench. A defenseman, he played a year in the WHA before it folded, and then was the 6th overall pick in the 1979 Entry Draft, joining the Minnesota North Stars. He amassed 413 points in 570 NHL games over a ten year period -- impressive from the blue line. After injuries forced his retirement, he transitioned directly into coaching. At the NHL level, Hartsburg served as an assistant coach for the North Stars, Flyers, and Flames, and was the head coach in Chicago, Anaheim and Ottawa for a combined seven years, compiling a 201-208-69-13 record for those clubs.
The Stratford, Ontario native served as the head coach for Guelph and Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL, and the Everett Silvertips in the WHA. He was head coach of the Canadian teams that took home gold medals in the World Juniors in 2007 & 2008, and served as an assistant on the 2006 squad, which also won gold.
In Columbus, Hartsburg served as the right had of both Todd Richards and John Tortorella, and brought a combination of veteran savvy and controlled emotion to the role. He seemed to have developed a genuine rapport with Tortorella and the players, and clearly commanded respect for his substantive hockey knowledge.
Hartsburg issued the following statement through the Blue Jackets:
I've been very fortunate to spend the past 30-plus years in the game as a player or coach, and have enjoyed every minute of it, but my priority now is to spend more time with my wife, children and grandchildren. I have really enjoyed my time in Columbus, working with both John Tortorella and Todd Richards, and appreciate the opportunity to continue to be part of the organization in a role that will allow me to devote more time to my family.
While Hartsburg's departure certainly leaves a significant hole to be filled, it should not serve as an indication that things are awry among the coaching ranks in Columbus. Hartsburg has coached at the highest levels for 27 years, so spending more time with his wife, children and grandchildren is an understandable desire. As many others have done before him, he is remaining with the organization, which should be viewed as a positive, not a negative.
Speculation will now turn to potential replacement candidates, which will undoubtedly include Brad Larsen from the existing staff. Dan Hinote was a fan favorite before leaving to tend to his own family matters, and his name will likely be mentioned, though it is unknown if his family situation would permit the change. His high-energy personality would be an interesting combination with the feisty Tortorella.
The fact remains that the list of potential candidates is enormous, and coaching changes that will be forthcoming in the off-season will only expand that list. With his years in the NHL, Tortorella undoubtedly has some names in mind, which we will learn about when the replacement is named. He may elect not to name an associate coach, and simply add another assistant. Just another of the myriad things that need to be addressed this summer.
Hartsburg saw the Blue Jackets at their best and worst in his four years in Columbus, and served the club well. I know I speak for all of us at The Cannon in wishing him well in retirement, and hoping that he continues to help the franchise. Stay tuned.