Scott Arniel has got to go in Columbus.
Not because his coaching is the reason his team has been awful. Not because of this weekend’s embarrassing 9-2 loss to the Flyers.
But because the team has obviously checked out on him.
With just two wins and an overtime loss, the Blue Jackets have five points in the standings, putting them 10 points behind the eighth seed.
If Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson wants to give up, he can keep things as-is and prepare to start dealing talent toward February. Or maybe he can even start earlier, like when stores have a Black Friday sale before Black Friday.
But if Howson thinks he’s assembled a competitive NHL team, it’s time to get rid of Arniel and bring in someone else. But he needs to do it now, before the playoffs fall out of reach.
Last season, the Devils were mired in a similar slump with coach John MacLean, although the Blue Jackets would kill for a slump like that right now, and Devils GM Lou Lamoriello didn’t make a coaching switch until late December. But by then, the playoffs were out of reach. Even though the Devils put together a lights-out second half under coach Jacques Lemaire, who took over for MacLean, there just wasn’t enough time for the Devils to push their way into the playoff picture.
If the coaching switch had been made sooner, the Devils might have made the playoffs.
So while it’s not entirely fair to solely blame Arniel for his team’s lackluster start, ultimately he’s the coach and he is responsible for how his team plays.
Saturday night in Philadelphia, we saw a team that was apathetic. We saw a team that was undisciplined. We saw a team that was lazy.
Arniel just cannot come back from that.
Howson needs to do the compassionate thing for Arniel and put him out of his misery. And he needs to get his team back on track.
There were rumors Ken Hitchcock, a one-time Columbus coach, was waiting in the wings to take over for Arniel, perhaps a nod to New Jersey’s improved second half under their old coach. With Hitchcock taking over in St. Louis, though, his taking a second job in Ohio seems unlikely.
Hitchcock wouldn’t have been a bad choice for Columbus; he’s system oriented and a maniac for discipline, both of which the Blue Jackets desperately need.
And it would have made for a nice symmetry, given that Hitchcock was fired in February 2010, after the Blue Jackets went into a nosedive with him behind the bench. This time, Hitchcock could have been the bail-out specialist.
But was Hitchcock a long-term solution?
Probably not. Hitchcock had trouble connecting to younger players and his defense-oriented style might have been a turn-off to some of his more offense-minded players. But the drama of Hitchcock’s return might have made players sit up and realize that they’re a part of a professional sports league.
Howson has a problem that’s not going to resolve itself. He needs to get a new voice in the room and let his team know he expects them to win more than two games this season.
It seems like a fairly achievable goal.