Originally posted on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 11/8/11

By Alexander Monaghan
President

Photo Credit: Jay LaPrete / Associated Press

Coach Scott Arniel is a well respected member of the hockey community. A veteran of 730 NHL games, the Kingston, Ont. native made the leap from player to coach relatively smoothly. He braved the ranks as an IHL player/coach, NHL assistant coach, AHL head coach and finally NHL head coach over the span of 15 years. Arniel makes for a great story when succeeding — like he did when he won the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award as the top coach in the AHL.

Sadly, he has not worked out with the Columbus Blue Jackets. After taking over for Claude Noel at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, Arniel led his team to a 34-35-13 record which placed the team last in the Central Division — a feat they have surprisingly only achieved four times over their team history but twice in the last two years en route to a third straight last-place finish. In short, the state of their team is in shambles just three seasons removed from their first playoff birth.

Their struggles have led to much speculation that President Mike Priest would replace both GM Scott Howson and Arniel. In fact, just weeks ago Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch reported the team would bring in Ken Hitchcock and Craig Button. Well, those changes still have not been made but the Blue Jackets continue their free fall as they sit dead last in the standings with only five points earned over 14 games.

Perhaps Arniel gets a chance to see what happens once Jeff Carter, Kristian Huselius, Mark Dekanich, Jared Boll and Radek Martinek all return. However, we don’t feel the bench boss will be given all that time. Let’s take a look at the candidates to take his job for the remainder of the season.

1. Todd Richards

Richards has experience as a head coach in the NHL, manning the Minnesota Wild for two seasons. He led his team to a solid but unspectacular 77-71-16 record even though the team failed to make the playoffs in both years. As a former assistant coach of the San Jose Sharks organization he knows how to handle talented players like Carter and captain Rick Nash. More importantly he would know the Western Conference very well. If the team is looking for a guy to keep them respectable for the rest of the season, selecting Richards would be a decent choice.

2. Dan Hinote

Hinote may be raw as he joined the team’s coaching staff in July 2010 but he would certainly make for a player’s coach. Howson brought him on following a successful playing career which included a Stanley Cup ring as an energy player. Although never the superstar on any of his many stops, the US-born forward coach bring a strong work ethic along with some much needed team discipline. Considering the club is still very young — their average age is 26 which includes 32-year-old injured goalie Curtis Sanford — a fresh look could go a long way.

3. Rob Riley

Typically when a hockey club fires a coach, they look for internal options. While Hinote and Richards may be solid options, the organization may think outside the box and select their minor league head coach Riley. A former scout in the organization, Riley is certainly familiar with the stable of young players on the team. Even though the Springfield Falcons failed to make the AHL playoffs last season — his first year as head coach — he has their current roster playing .500 hockey. More importantly, he would add a face the team currently does not see on an every day basis and promote a worthy internal option.

4. Marc Crawford

From internal to external, Crawford represents one of the more out-of-the-box options. A win-now oriented coach, the Belleville, Ontario native most recently coached for the Dallas Stars, failing to make the playoffs in either of his two seasons there. Before that he did the same over two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. Nevertheless, he could work simply because this Blue Jackets team can probably win now and this coach has won with less. He motivated the Stars to be much better than their record last season, pushing them into their current direction. He may be able to do the same in Columbus if he gets bored of his cushy office job.

5. Davis Payne

As mentioned much earlier in the article, the team was rumored to be looking at Hitchcock. Well why not go after the guy he replaced? Payne would be motivated to go after the team that just spurned them and got solid efforts from veterans like Alex Steen, Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner as well as most of the blue line. If he could substitute those players in his system for Carter, Nash and Vinny Prospal while helping their depleted defensive corps, there could be some more notches in the win column. Also, it could be a way to stick it to Doug Armstrong, who supposedly stole Hitchcock at the 11th hour.

While we hate discussing a person getting the ax, these topics are the nature of the current media landscape. In these troubling economic times we can only hope nobody loses their job as unemployment rates skyrocket to the estimated 9 percent in the US. Regardless, should Arniel and Howson not be able to turn this season around, they likely both could be headed for analyst jobs or ‘advisory positions’ within the organization.

All the onus should not be solely on Arniel as Howson has assembled two of the worst teams in team history. Their expansion years were sadly more acclaimed simply because everyone expected much less from them. In fact, if you subtract a miraculous rookie season by Steve Mason, Ohio’s favorite hockey team could be looking at no playoff berths over their 11 year existence.

Speaking of Mason, a good deal of their problems could be blamed on him as well. The great Greg Wyshynski, via Twitter, explained that Mason allowed a goal in the first 1:38 twice this season in only 13 starts! Last year he allowed a goal in the first 2:11 of the first two games as well, helping them get off to awful starts in the early going.

This team is broken and needs some fixing. The first likely solution will be Arniel’s firing as they try to give this team some possible life. Trading for pivot Mark Letestu was a decent hockey move but the team will need a bit more help to get back to respectability.


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