Huge Changes in Store for Blue Jackets

Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch is reporting that some huge changes are in store for the Blue Jackets. It’s a good thing that I’ve already had my cup of coffee – otherwise, I think reading this news would have caused me to faint.

In short, it’s being reported, by multiple NHL sources, that Blue Jackets team President Mike Priest has contacted Ken Hitchcock about returning to coach the Blue Jackets.  It’s also being reported that Priest has contacted former Calgary Flames General Manager (GM) Craig Button about assuming the reigns as the Blue Jackets GM.

For a team that’s off to a woeful 1-9-1 record, particularly one with the NHL’s 4th highest payroll and ironically, as a result of the horrid start, the NHL’s 4th worst home attendance mark, something has to be done and done quickly.

In my article, I indicated the plethora of personnel decision errors, particularly in the areas of trades,UFA acquisitions, player retention (capology) drafting and player development.

Whether fair or not, in choosing to fire Ken Hitchcock, the coach who led the Blue Jackets to their only playoff appearance, Scott Howson stated that the direction and fortunes of this organization were his.

But in possibly bringing Ken Hitchcock back, as well as Craig Button, the former Dallas Stars director of player personnel, it would give a strong indication that ‘the future is now’.

Given the Blue Jackets mounting financial losses – $25 million, last season – as well as the prospects of trying to obtain financial relief for their current lease agreement from the City of Columbus and Franklin County, such a move would send a signal that the Blue Jackets must provide the public sector as well as their fans with a good faith effort of competitive hockey, something a 1-9-1 record does not provide.

It’s been said that during the last season of Ken Hitchcock’s regime that players were ‘tuning him out’, particularly the younger players – Jakub Voracek (now with the Philadelphia Flyers), Derick Brassard and Nikita Filatov (now with the Ottawa Senators).  But if that was the case, the Blue Jackets players didn’t exactly ‘tune in’ to current Head Coach Scott Arniel, who posts a career mark of 35-44-14 but includes a current stretch of 4-23-8.

And if the players don’t particularly care for the return of their former head coach, I say this:  They’re not exactly in a position to complain.

Much like Scott Howson’s responsibility, Scott Arniel – fair or unfair – assumes the same burden for their woes.

If this speculation is indeed true, what can the Blue Jackets and their fans expect from Craig Button?  Button comes from a family with a strong hockey lineage:  His father Jack Button was the Pittsburgh Penguins GM from 1973-1975 as well as other executive responsibilities and his mother was the secretary to former Toronto Maple Leafs GM and head coach and Hall-of-Fame member George “Punch” Imlach.

Craig Button, while director of player personnel with the Dallas Stars, was responsible for drafting players who forged the Stars’ 1999 Stanley Cup Championship team that Hitchcock coached :  Derian Hatcher, Jere Lehtinen, Jamie Langenbrunner, Marty Turco, Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow.

With the Calgary Flames, Button replaced Al Coates as the Vice President and GM in 2000 until his contract was not renewed at the end of the 2002-2003 season.  One of Button’s most questionable moves was releasing Martin St. Louis who would become the NHL’s Hart Trophy recipient (MVP) just 4 seasons later with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  However, Button was also held as the architect of acquiring many of the players instrumental in the Flames’ success as a Stanley Cup finalist in 2004:  Craig Conroy, Martin Gelinas and Jordan Leopold.  He was also the guiding force for the Flames’ primary development team, the Saint John Flames of the American Hockey League (AHL), who captured the AHL’s Calder Cup Championship in 2001.

Will this major shakeup occur?  Perhaps not, but the mounting losses, underachieving play and dwindling fan base seem to indicate a call for immediate change is due.

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