The Said And The Unsaid
By now, you've probably heard the news that Jacques Martin is out in Montreal, the sixth head coach given the boot this season.
That's 20% turnover for the NHL this year, and so far the only major surprise is that Scott Arniel isn't among the names of the fallen.
I agree with LTL when he says that we've reached the point where firing the coach cannot save the season. What I think we've reached is a point where the men at the top of the food chain (JPMac, The Wolfes, the Pizzuttis) are almost certainly unsatisfied, but want to take steps to lead the team in a "rapid" change of fortunes - similar to the revival the Flyers had after their 2007 season, and the selection of James van Riemsdyk with the #2 pick, or the way the Chicago Blackhawks burst onto the scene following their assembly of young talent.
With the Jackets almost certainly locked into the lottery pick portion of that equation, the next steps must be to make sure that the proper player is selected, and the proper resources are in place to use the team's talent effectively.
Firing Scott Arniel at this point would certainly send a message that the team needs new answers at the bench, but does nothing to address the rest of the organization.
Enter Craig Patrick.
Patrick's job at this point has been reported as "evaluation", but I think the closer truth is "Auditor". It's not surprising that he started with a look at the young talent in Springfield - and I wouldn't be surprised if he makes stops on some of the players like Boone Jenner, Will Weber, or Oliver Gabriel, either. It's time to see what the team can realistically expect out of these players, especially if Patrick feels that some of the issues in the locker room can only be fixed via trades. Some will be assets to move, some to nuture, some to promote. I'd say that his judgement of the skill levels and "promise" is likely honest. He won't come out and say "we suck", but typically when you don't have a lot of talent in the pool you hear language like "hard workers", "lunchpail", "physical players", or something along the lines of "lots of heart."
Patrick's evaluation of the hockey ops, so far, is more interesting: Even though he's said he likes what he's seen "behind closed doors" and the work the group is putting in, there's no mention of anyone by name. Is Scott Howson safe? Probably, but I wouldn't be 100% percent sure. I suspect Patrick is going to give a blunt evaluation of his draft efforts, his trades, and how he approached this season before any vote of confidence is offered. (That said, I think the Letestu and Nikitin deals are likely to help his cause. Finding diamonds while being neck-deep in the privy is a handy skill to have.)
Is Scott Arniel safe?
Right now, I'd doubt it.
Consider that the highest success the team's shown of late has come when Arniel put them into a very heavy defensive system. Now think about "skill level" teams. With the exception of the Washington Capitals' attempt to employ the trap last season (which failed to produce results in the playoffs or the following season), how many "skill" teams do you see going into the trap?
I think Scott Arniel has shown that he could be a great defensively oriented coach - but he seems to be the wrong fit for "letting the boys run", as he promised this offseason.
Even worse is his decision to take Rick Nash and Jeff Carter back off of the PK with the return of Derek Dorsett to the lineup.
Don't get me wrong - I love #15. I think he's actually one of our best PKers. But watching Carter and Nash on the PK, you finally saw opposing powerplays hesitate. They feared the risks of being exposed by our talent shorthanded...and Nash and Carter both responded.
I don't think it's a coincidence that both had some of the best play we've seen when they were put out in all situations, and not "reserved" for the power play and even strength.
These guys are thoroughbreds. You don't keep a thoroughbred happy by taking him for short laps around the meadow and then back to the barn. You keep a thoroughbred happy by letting him run, and run, and run.
The more our top players see the ice, the more they've responded. Yet Arniel's remarks to the press all indicate their ice time will be brought back down.
I respect the concerns of "tiring out" Nash and Carter, especially late in games, but that rings hollow when playing your top D pairs for over 30 minutes a night, or "preserving" them late and sending out the third and fourth lines for situations where they risk being overmatched. Don't send a plug when you need a thoroughbred.
The other major question is the team's scouting and development efforts. Tyler Wright has, for the most part, been very quiet this season. One wonders what Patrick is going to say in regards to him, particularly with several promising players (Matt Calvert, David Savard, Grant Clitsome) arguably taking steps back this season.
There are far more problems than just the coach - it will be very interesting to learn what Mr. Patrick feels would be appropriate answers.