By DAVE MAETZOLD
This hockey season was one filled with land mines for former Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel. some of those land mines were laid by opposing teams, others by untimely injuries, some by league mandated suspensions and some by his team's own poor play.
Arniel was fired late Sunday night after his team dropped a 7-4 decision to the Anaheim Ducks. As it turned out, that abysmal performance had little if anything to do with Arniel's fate behind the Blue Jacket's bench. General Manager Scott Howson had made up his mind to fire Arniel over the weekend but waited until after the game because he didn't want to make the move on a game-day.
In the end, it was not that final land mine dropped in SoCal, but rather the cumulative impact of not having any place left to step after a horrible stretch beginning in mid-December.
But why now? There were certainly other points in the season where a change would have seemed to be in order.
The 9-2 drubbing in Philadelphia would have been one possibility. The miserable December home stand in which the Jackets could secure only three of a possible ten points was another.
The low point of that stretch was the third period collapse against the rival Nashville Predators. Two weeks later, an even greater collapse against the same Nashville team was followed by Coach Arniel skipping his post-game press conference because he was so upset with the loss.
If ever there was a time to justify making a change, that would have been it.
The organization held firm though. A team meeting prior to the Calgary game on December 27th netted better play yet still a loss to the Flames. A solid road win at Dallas buoyed hopes but those hopes were quickly dashed with a party-pooping New Year's Eve collapse against the Capitals in front of a sold out, ready-to-celebrate crowd at Nationwide Arena.
The current road trip had some stellar moments including Curtis Sanford's 37-save effort agains the Sharks which was backed by the team's first shutout victory of the season. Sanford starred again in the 1-0 win over the Kings, but by that time, Howson was on his way from the World Junior Championships in Calgary to Anaheim and Arniel was on his way out.
"I thought we were going in the right direction (late November to mid-December) but it's gone off the rails since then." Howson said Monday.
Howson added, "Our play seemed to be regressing so I just thought it was time to move out team in a new direction."
That new direction involves former Minnesota Wild head coach and Blue Jackets assistant Todd Richards taking over behind the bench.
Richards said the number one emotion with Arniel behind fired was "disappointment."
"I've been the head guy getting fired and I've been underneath the head guy getting fired," Richards said. "I feel more responsible as an assistant, because you're their to support the head coach. You feel afterward like there's more you could have done, more you should have done."
"He'll bring a fresh approach," Howson said. "A new voice and we'll just move in the right direction."
All indications from people close to the situation are the Arniel took the news well.
Howson gave his former coach credit for giving it his best shot. "He did everything he could. He's a good coach, he's a good person. He worked very hard at it. The team was prepared under him. It just didn't work for him with this group."
Richards has been given the title of interim head coach until the end of the season, The Blue Jackets are currently 11-26-5 and in last place in the Western conference heading into Tuesday night's game in Chicago.