Kukla's Korner Hockey
from Michael Arace at Puck-rakers,
Coach Ken Hitchcock, who has been under fire here in Columbus, fielded scads of questions from large media hordes during the recent Western Canadian road trip (which began with a 7-4 loss in Vancouver). The questions were variation of “Are you worried about getting sacked?” Hitchcock needed to escape. He saw some old friends in Edmonton, his hometown, and they provided a mental lift. Then came the victory over the Oilers.
“The whole season changed with the third goal in Edmonton,” Hitchcock said. “It made a difference on the bench, a difference in the locker room, a difference in the feel. The tension was everywhere. Oh, no, here we go again. Something bad is going to happen. When we (Kristian Huselius) scored the third goal in Edmonton, the whole season changed.”
Hitchcock was asked whether the 2008-09 Blue Jackets have entered the building. They have allowed two goals or less in seven of the past nine games.
“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t play like this the rest of the year. The players were comfortable with it. Obviously, it’s winning hockey. We’re grinding it out with some really good teams. Every night, if we play this way, we’ll give ourselves a good chance to win. Seventy-five to 80 percent of scoring chances are coming off the check, which is what good teams do. Rather than looking for space, we’re fighting for space.”
from Bob Hunter of the Columbus Dispatch,
Here’s the future I see every time I read a “Fire Hitchcock” post on the Internet:
Hitchcock is fired, and two weeks later he is hired by a struggling big-market team that can’t believe its good fortune. That teams surges, and a few months from now he has it in the playoffs, and winning. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are sitting at home and the angry Internet posts are about losing Hitchcock and general manager Scott Howson doing something with the flawed roster.
And what of Hitchcock’s successor? It’s hard to believe team owners are going to pay big bucks to another coach with Hitchcock’s credentials, or find one willing to come here, so the new coach would likely be an unproven guy who might be good and to whom some of the players might relate better. But six months or a year from now, would the Blue Jackets really be better off with him than they would have been with Hitchcock?
The unhappiness over the Jackets’ prolonged funk is understandable. But the big picture is more important than what happened in Vancouver on Tuesday or in Edmonton last night. At this point in this lost season, it’s not about where the team is next month, but where it is next year and beyond.
from Tom Reed of Puck-rakers,
The Blue Jackets room was kept closed for several minutes after their 4-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers in Rexall Place last night.
Music was cranked and players let loose for a few moments. It’s doubtful many Jackets knew they had averted tying a franchise record for the longest winless streak (14 games). Ending the 13-game skid, however, brought temporarily relief and lots of smiles.
The scene is open to interpretation. They were celebrating for finally winning a game against the only team worse than themselves? Or, maybe it showed a lot guys care and there’s pride in the room, however wounded.
“It’s exciting to win again, but it’s just one game,” Jackets captain Rick Nash said. “We will enjoy it but there is another one (tonight). We will have to be ready.”
from Mark Spector of Sportsnet,
“Nobody saw this drop-off. We started (this season) 12-6-3,” said GM Scott Howson. “Now, seven weeks later we’ve dropped almost out of sight. Everyone is just sort of bewildered by it. Including the players.”
Don’t forget the head coach.
On Wednesday, in the midst of the most perplexing and disappointing seasons in the career of a lifetime hockey man, Hitchcock stood inside Rexall Place pondering his predicament. In the city where it all began for him, a few words from an old coach came to mind.
“He said, ‘Did you sign up to win? Or did you sign up to coach? Because you can’t do both,’” Hitchcock said with a smile. “‘If you signed up to win, and that’s all you signed up for when you got in this business, then you might as well get lost. It ain’t going to work.’”
And so Hitchcock, and the Blue Jackets, are losers once again.
from Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail,
The problem, when a coaching death watch begins, is that they often become self-fulfilling. The players start to hear rumblings about a possible change and it creeps into their collective psyche. They wonder about its implications, good and bad, for them as individuals. They stop playing on instinct; hesitation sets in.
Pretty soon, everybody is standing around, waiting for the other shoe to drop – and the frustrated general manager is there, watching the whole thing unfold, ready to tear out his hair because he doesn’t want to make a coaching change, but knows he may have to.
That, in a nutshell, is pretty much where the Columbus Blue Jackets stand at this moment, on the heels of a 7-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night, the first of three games in Western Canada that continues Thursday night in Edmonton.
from Tom Reed of the Columbus Dispatch,
Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock won’t get the chance to scratch Mike Commodore for tonight’s game.
The club’s highest-paid defenseman has told the coaching staff he won’t play until he feels “100 percent.”
It’s yet another twist in Commodore’s bizarre season, one filled with injury, poor play and conditioning issues.
On Sunday, he notified Hitchcock of his intent on the team’s flight to Vancouver. The coach had benched Commodore for the past three games but was thinking of playing him tonight, pending a meeting with the player and several assistants, including strength coach Barry Brennan.
“The whole year has been a disaster, but I’m looking to move forward,” Commodore said. “Unless I have to, I’m not playing until I’m ready, until I’m 100 percent. When is that going to be? I don’t know. I thought it was going to be a month ago.”
from Spector at Fox Sports,
The Blue Jackets entered 2009-10 coming off their first playoff appearance in franchise history, while the Oilers — having made changes behind the bench and in goal — were expecting to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Instead of being in playoff contention both clubs enter the New Year mired in the bottom of the Western Conference standings and in danger of falling out of the postseason chase….
Goaltending has been a common issue. The Oilers brought in veteran Nikolai Khabibulin last summer to be their starter but he struggled with a bad back which eventually sidelined him in late November. Backup Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers has done his best but it’s clear in relief that he’s not yet ready to be a full-time starting goalie.
The Blue Jackets made the playoffs last season in large part to the goaltending of Steve Mason, who won the Calder trophy as rookie of the year with his 33-win, 2.29 GAA, 10-shutout performance. This season, however, Mason is mired in a sophomore slump, with only 11 victories in 32 games, a bloated 3.18 goals-against average and only two shutouts.
from Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch,
From the press box in Nationwide, Dispatch beat writer Aaron Portzline text-messaged general manager Scott Howson, who was in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, scouting the world junior championship. Portzline asked whether the firing of Murray gave Jackets management pause to reflect on Hitchcock’s job safety. Portzline phrased the question differently, but that was the gist.
Howson’s answer: “The decision in St. Louis is not relevant in Columbus.”
The Blues aren’t running the Jackets, and vice versa. The Jackets will handle their own coach as they see fit. Understood.
But the question, in some form, will not go away—not when the team is losing at this rate. Would Hitchcock still have his job if he started the season 1-13? Is there anywhere else in the league where a coach can survive a 3-13-7 streak? Would anyone be shocked if Hitchcock got the boot tomorrow?
from Aaron Portzline of Puck-rakers,
Lots of scuttlebutt across the hockey world right now that the Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals are on the verge of a trade.
A source within the Blue Jackets has confirmed that the Blue Jackets and Capitals have had serious trade talks, but also told The Dispatch today that the Blue Jackets are close with another club as well, but wouldn’t reveal the club.
from Tom Reed of Puck-rakers,
Blue Jackets general manager is talking to several clubs about making a deal to help lift the club from its worst stretch in franchise history.
In the meantime, Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock might be trying to send a message Monday night to his underachieving group by playing minor-league call-up Alex Picard.
Hitchcock is adamant about playing Picard against Detroit on Monday. Now, let’s see how far up the food chain Hitchcock is willing to go. Swapping Picard for Mike Blunden or Jared Boll does little.
A Kristian Huselius or Jason Chimera or Derick Brassard would be different. Let’s face it, there are lots of candidates.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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