What Now CBJ?


Over the past week I have started and abandoned at least two blog posts, one of which was a long rambling look at several questions facing the Jackets long-term. After almost a week under the new interim coach and three games, the answers to those questions have become…no clearer than they were before. Which is not to say they were all that cloudy before.

GM – Is GM Scott Howson a dead man walking? Was Craig Patrick brought in to succeed Howson? The answer to the second question is almost certainly no, Patrick was not hired with the idea of replacing Howson during or at the end of the season. That is not to say that a decision is made somewhere down the road that Howson should go and Patrick would be a logical first person to turn to. But brought in with the idea of replacing Howson? Does this strike anybody as the way the McConnell’s would do business? No. Not John H. and not John P. Even more, Craig Patrick has given no indication that he wants the job. He continues to live in Pittsburgh, where his family is at, and he has reached the stage of career and life where he does not need to wait around for any job opening.

The most logical view is that Patrick was brought in to do what he we have been told his there to do, provide advice on hockey matters to the GM. A function this franchise has sorely lacked. Look at the shots of the boxes full of team execs in high profile and/or playoff games and most teams have a group of suits with years of experience and a lot of hardware. The Jackets have Howson and couple of guys who keep him company up in that box. The franchise is not decades old and does not have a stable of winning veterans to hire back in as trained observers, it has to go out and get some. It would not be surprising to see another one or two such advisers be hired in. I advocated on Twitter yesterday the resigning of Prospal for another year (if he wants to stay) and a front office job if he is ready to hang it up after next year.

So even if Patrick is not waiting in the wings to take Howson’s job, the question remains does Howson keep his job? Yes. Once again, the McConnell family shows incredible patience with its management employees, trusting good people to do their jobs. This trust burned the franchise when Doug MacLean was allowed to hang on too long. But comparing the two tenures, Howson has made rational moves that have improved the team over the long run, whereas MacLean was all over the map but willing to sell any move as the one that made everything better. Face it CBJ fan, the reason why you are so made at Howson right now is because he made such good moves over the summer that our expectations were raised.

Coaching – It is apparent now that Scott Arniel was out of his depth as an NHL coach. Last season the team came out fired up and had some wins under that new coach bump, but as the season progressed the loses increased dramatically. Almost at no point this season did Arniel have the team playing well despite a revamp in the off season that gave him a more talented team. A review of the internet comment world would have one believing that Arniel was better off without the Jackets, that he just needed a better team or that the country-club atmosphere was what hurt him. If there was a country-club atmosphere, it was his job to change it.

Enough about that guy. Todd Richards has had three games and the team has a 1-2 record. Not great, but not bad considering. The first game was a game in Chicago, at the end of a road trip, on which the head coach had been fired, and was played a little more than 24 hours after Richards was named the interim coach. The Jackets looked a little better and Brassard all the sudden looked a whole lot better. The first home game for Richards was a win, featuring offense from rookies and game winning goal from a resurgent Brassard. The third game was a close one but a loss to one of the better teams in the league. A game that was the second night of a back to back, when so many of the guys who are supposed to carry the team are injured. At times the Jackets looked like they just trying to hold on, but they did hold on for a while. All in all, what I hear about Richards’ practices is encouraging and the on ice product is improving. Time will tell if it is just another new coach bump or of he really does have a better grip on this coaching thing. To be honest I will trade having a top draft pick for knowing Richards is the right pick for permanent head coach, if management is going to give him real consideration for the job. If he can keep improving the team, particularly the play of the younger guys, then take the interim tag off. A number one pick is nice but right now a good head coach does us more good.

Mason – Time to wrap this up, but a quick word about Steve Mason. It is easy to look at him riding the pine for the second night of a back-to-back and conclude Richards has no confidence in him. It is even easier to look at his stats and play and guess his time in Columbus is about up. I can’t argue with that. But, just to throw this out there. Atkinson and Calvert have played will in Springfield, but management has acknowledged that they are going to try and leave those two down in Springy to develop this year. Mason can’t be sent to Springfield without hitting waivers, but what if he is being held out of games for much the same reason? Is he working closely with Ian Clark to get his issues cleaned up? Will we see Mason benched for a while only to see him get some game work after the trade deadline, to build his summer trade value or see if he can play with the Jackets next year?

Roster – Yes somebody is going to get traded by the deadline. But with Richards at the helm I feel more confident that it will be a measured movement of players rather than a salary dump for prospects. Don’t get me wrong, prospects and draft picks are fine, but they are what you use to build the depth of a winning org. or begin building the foundation of a bad outfit. The Jackets have foundation, I believe that we are about to find out it was being used poorly. Its time ti start building a roster that is ready now. Don’t move Umberger or Vermette for a prospect and two draft picks, if you are going trade them away bring back a guy who is an impact roster player day 1 next year.