Point Of No Return?
I have a mixed blessing in my new job: I don't get "personal" internet access.Though that means I have to check news on my phone, which kinda sucks, it also forces me to wait until I get home to have the luxury of writing, no matter what's going on. It lets me collect my thoughts, and make sure I know what I want to say.
On days like today, that's a very good thing.
Things started when Aaron Portzline dropped a bombshell courtesy of Puck-Rakers, declaring that this is the lowest point in franchise history.
The details are things that most of the fanbase already know, or at least are willing to debate. I find it rather...interesting...that Scott Arniel has gone from the Dispatch's primary target to a coach that was buried by the problems Scott Howson and Mike Priest created, but I certainly wouldn't argue that the team's lack of fire this season.
I'm equally skeptical on how the loss of Don Boyd and Bob Strumm was crippling to the franchise. Were they good hockey minds? No doubt. Don Boyd in particular is a very smart, very experienced man. But they're also the same men who helped to build this crooked house, and who signed off on more than a few pallets of rotten wood during their time in Columbus.
I find it amazing how the same man who openly agitated for the dismissal of Ken Hitchcock in his recaps, chats, and columns is now heartbroken that the wise hall of famer is now coaching in another city.
If there is a mistake to point out in the loss of these men, it is the fact that the team was far too slow to replace their knowledge, and to bring fresh perspectives into the organization. Craig Patrick certainly is a good addition, but this team also allowed an entire offseason to pass without making moves, allowing teams to snap up several possible transplants to the brain trust. Rick Dudley, for example, is now one of four former GMs working for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Think he could have helped the franchise? I sure do.
Was Scott Howson afraid of hiring his potential replacement? If so, I imagine it's a bittersweet day as he looks at the prevailing winds.
If there was any truly new information, it was the statement that Jeff Carter is "100%" available, something that Puck Daddy thinks should be cause for dismissing the management team alongside him. I'd actually disagree slightly here. If Carter goes, who is more to blame: The GM who acquired him in good faith and tried to make him a core component of the team, or the player who made the decision to resist, refuse, and recede?
Jeff Carter wanted a lifetime career in Philly. I get it. It's an honorable wish. But when that ship sailed, he had a choice to accept that and move on. If he's refusing to do so, and if he is demanding an exit, he owns his fair share of the blame for the experiment's failure.
There have been many theories of what the team could get for trading the center. There have also been debates on if his massive contract will be tradable.
From where I sit, I've no doubt that there are teams who would would be interested in Carter, but I suspect the destinations are limited - and that Carter likely wrote the list. If I had to suspect? Los Angeles is at the top.
I have no doubt the return could be a major boost for the franchise, no matter where he went...but as Alton Brown says, that's another show.
The larger issue right now is that the team is allowing the current architects to keep planning the remodeling. On the one hand, it can be argued that Scott Howson's trades and player decisions as the GM have been reasonably sound. On the other, his treatment of off ice issues, clear problems in assembling his coaching staffs, and the failure to make sure that the team possessed the proper attitude in the locker room are major black marks.
Meanwhile, Mike Priest's business decisions have seemed reasonably strong, particularly in the resolution of the arena issues, but his hockey sense remains lacking, and his apparent decisions to try to handle hockey personnel acquisitions with the same tools as accountants is rather problematic. This is a man who would be an ideal fit as a head of business operations, but as a team president, he is a square peg that has been painfully wedged into a round hole.
Despite it all, the team continues to draw fans. Attendance is actually up this season, remarkably, from last. But there is a sense that this franchise may be at a crossroads. Some may say the trade deadline could be the even that shapes this team, but I think the real bellweather for this team will come thirty days later, when the team begins asking for season ticket holders to put down deposits once again.
Will John P. McConnell make a decision on his front office by that point? Will the process of reshaping the roster truly have begun yet again? Or will the team wait to see how many will put their faith (and their money) in the club before taking steps?
This season is lost. There is no arguing that. But the fate of the team's future, both short and long term, is very much in the air. On paper, the team is committed to Columbus through 2039...but just ask fans in Atlanta how quickly the NHL can make the decision to move a franchise out of a market when things go south.
Does the ownership truly trust the men who put them in this situation to make the right decisions this time?
The Blue Jackets had their first chance at success when they came into the league. The end of the Doug Maclean era signaled a second.
If the team doesn't get it right on the third try, there could be a real risk that there will be no fourth.