It's safe to the say the Columbus Blue Jackets won't be a factor in the Western Conference playoff race this season.
They are 3-13-1 and frozen in a state of organizational paralysis. There is no digging out of such a hole in this conference.
Otherwise, just six points separate the teams standing fourth to 14th on this side of the NHL. Former Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock confronted that competitive balance after replacing Davis Payne as head coach of the St. Louis Blues.
“Even though we’ve gone 3-0-1 in the last four hockey games, we haven’t made up much ground,” Hitchcock said. “We have to deal with that reality. It’s going to be this compacted.
“What’s really surprised and thrown a wrench into it is some unsung teams have really had great starts and look like they are not going way. It has thrown 14 teams in the pack instead of 11 or 12. It’s going to make it even more difficult.”
As noted earlier, the Blues want to win this year. That is the primary reason GM Doug Armstrong opted to fire head coach Davis Payne and hire Ken Hitchcock, who won a Stanley Cup with the Stars.
Armstrong and Hitchcock developed a good working relationship while both were in in Dallas. There is a nice comfort level for both.
Once of Hitchcock's biggest challenges will be to get better goaltending from Jaroslav Halak, who has been a bust to this point of his Blues career.
Hockey News columnist Ken Campbell had this take: “On paper, the Blues have a team that should not miss the playoffs, even in the ultra competitive Western Conference. But the team Hitchcock left shouldn’t be the bottom feeder in that conference either. That’s the funny thing that seems to happen when you don’t get very good goaltending from the guy you’re relying upon most to stop pucks for you. Both Steve Mason in Columbus and Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis have been dreadful this season and they both have to take their share of the culpability for their teams’ early season woes. Now the question is, why would a team that seems to be screaming for a coaching change allow Hitchcock to go to a division rival for nothing more than the ability to get off the hook for the rest of his contract, particularly one that needs a coach such as Hitchcock more than ever at the moment?”
The Blues organization approached the 2011-12 season with an increased sense of urgency.
With franchise ownership in limbo, general manager Doug Armstrong sought near-term improvement by adding veterans Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Elliott, Scott Nichol and Kent Huskins. He sought to push team back into the playoffs and ultimately deeper into postseason.
That urgency fueled last season’s blockbuster trade of Erik Johnson and Jay McClement to Colorado for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk.
And that same urgency led to a coaching change just 13 games into the season.
Exit Davis Payne, who failed to deliver postseason glory with an injury-riddled team last season. Enter taskmaster Ken Hitchcock, a battle-tested coaching lifer with Stanley Cup credentials.