Columbus Blue Jackets promote Gary Agnew to interim head coach

Columbus general manager and president Doug MacLean said he is planning to compile a list of coaching candidates. No timetable has been set for hiring a permanent replacement.

A source told the Canadian Press that the Blue Jackets received permission from the Philadelphia Flyers to interview Ken Hitchcock. Another possible candidate expected to be interviewed is former Los Angeles Kings coach Andy Murray.

“I’m going to do what I do best and hopefully get (to) the talent that’s in there because there’s a lot of talent in that room,” said Agnew, the coach of the Blue Jackets’ top affiliate for six seasons before becoming an assistant this year. “We have a chance, still, of doing what we set out to do and it’ll be up to me to try and extract that from them.”

Gallant was fired after one full season and parts of two others. The Blue Jackets, a team with lots of young talent who many considered ready to contend for their first playoff spot, are off to a 5-9-1-0 record that leaves them in last place in the Western Conference’s Central Division.

MacLean, brought aboard to create the franchise seven years ago, said owners John H. McConnell and his son, John P. McConnell, have not told him that his job is in jeopardy.

“They haven’t said that. But I don’t think there’s any question that that’s the way it is. That’s the way it is in the NHL, isn’t it?” MacLean said.

The Blue Jackets, who play their first game under Agnew on Wednesday night at home against Nashville, have scored one goal in their last two games.

“We’re just going to take it a day at a time and try to move forward the best we can and give everybody a chance to contribute and see if we can get the ship going in the right direction,” he said. “Everybody’s got to grab an oar and get this thing rolling the right way.”

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The coaching change was not unexpected after a promising start deteriorated. Home attendance is down, although the team still draws an average of more than 16,000 per game.

The Blue Jackets scored points in the season’s first three games, winning twice and fuelling the excitement of fans. But since then, they have lost nine of their last 12 outings.

With stars such as Rick Nash, Sergei Fedorov and Nikolai Zherdev, the offence was expected to be a strength but has instead been a major disappointment. Columbus has scored just 33 goals, the fewest in the league.

The offensive production has had a huge bearing on a team with a young goaltender, Pascal Leclaire. The Blue Jackets’ 11 points is the third-worst in the NHL, ahead of only the eight points that Philadelphia and Phoenix have.

“That’s the thing Gerard and I talked about more than anything lately. I think the team defensively has been fairly sound and solid,” MacLean said. “We’re both just mesmerized why we haven’t scored.

“There’s six guys on that team that have scored in excess of 22 to 40 goals in the NHL and yet they haven’t been able to score.”

Agnew becomes the Blue Jackets’ fourth coach. Dave King led the fledgling franchise for just over the first two seasons before MacLean took over. After posting a record worse than King’s, MacLean stepped aside and elevated Gallant, who had been an assistant with the team since its inception.

“The owners have asked me to bring a list of names to them and we’ll sort through that shortly and make a decision as to who the best candidate is,” MacLean said. “But Gary’s a good man and I know that he’s got a lot of respect in the (dressing) room.”

No decision has been made on whether Gallant will remain with the club.