COLUMBUS, Ohio – Almost seven weeks into his search for a coach, Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson is in no hurry to complete the task.
“If it takes well into June, then that’s what it takes,” Howson said while on a scouting trip to Toronto on Wednesday. “We’re prepared to make sure that we’ve looked at all opportunities before we make a decision.”
The club has been seeking a new coach since the final game of the season April 9. The Blue Jackets fired Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 3, elevating assistant Claude Noel to interim head coach.
Noel, who led the team to a 10-8-6 record the rest of the season, is one of at least four candidates for the job.
Now Howson is searching for a coach at the same time that at least three other teams—Atlanta, New Jersey and Tampa Bay—are also trolling the market. He said he’s not troubled by the competition.
“Well, you certainly respect what the other teams need, but we have to do what’s right for us,” he said. “We’re not going to rush into a decision because there might be another team out there that’s looking for a coach. We have to continue with our process and see it through.”
All four known candidates have had long and distinguished coaching careers in the AHL.
Hamilton’s Guy Boucher was AHL coach of the year this season; Manitoba’s Scott Arniel won the award 2009; Portland’s Kevin Dineen in 2006 and Noel in 2004 while with Milwaukee.
Noel coached at several outposts in the minors before becoming an assistant coach with the Blue Jackets three years ago.
Late in the season, Noel said he had a very simple coaching philosophy.
“I’m governed by getting better every day,” he said. “That means I expect the individual to get better every day and I expect our team to get better every day. If I help the individual, then he will help the team.”
Dineen is a former Blue Jackets player and hockey operations employee. The 47-year-old has a 219-131-23-27 record in five years with Portland. In 1,188 games playing for Columbus, Ottawa, Carolina/Hartford and Philadelphia of the NHL, the forward had 355 goals and 405 assists from 1984 to 1993.
He is also one of only eight NHL players to have more than 300 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes in a career. His brother, Peter, is a pro scout with the Blue Jackets.
He said it helped that the Blue Jackets gave him an opportunity when he retired from playing.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better, that you go from the playing aspect into the management part,” Dineen said. “I got a really good feel for the business aspects of it and the decision-making that goes into a lot of it. Certainly when I was given the opportunity by (current Toronto GM) Brian Burke to take over here in Portland as a coach, it really struck to the passion and that incredible enjoyment of being right back into the day-to-day part of the game.”
Arniel, 48, often played against Dineen. He is 181-105-10-19 in four seasons as the head coach of the Moose. He played in 730 NHL games with Winnipeg, Buffalo and Boston from 1981 to 1992.
Boucher, 38, is considered one of the hottest young coaching prospects in North America. After a virus cut short his playing career, he began coaching at the college level and spent almost a decade working in Quebec major junior hockey. He was an assistant at Rimouski when Sidney Crosby was on the team and is well known as an excellent teacher of young players—a huge drawing card for the youthful Blue Jackets.
In just his first season coaching at the professional level, he guided Hamilton to a 52-17-3-8 record. His Bulldogs are meeting Texas on Wednesday night in Game 7 of the AHL’s Western Conference final.
Boucher has three degrees—bachelor’s degrees in history and biosystems engineering from McGill—and a master’s of sports psychology from the University of Montreal.
Howson hoped to have a new coach in place before the draft on June 25-26 in Los Angeles. He stressed that getting the right person was more critical than meeting a self-imposed deadline.
“It’s not something that any organization wants to go through on a regular basis,” Howson said. “But it’s clearly extremely important to our team and our organization and we’ll put everything into it, make sure we don’t rush into anything and pick the right person.”