It’s hard for him to see at the moment, but Scott Arniel’s luck got a lot better with his dismissal as Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Monday. He was allowed to sink, eyeballs-deep, into the competitive quicksand that is the Jackets organization right now, and although it might sting to have GM Scott Howson yank him out by the hair, he at least emerges with his dignity and reputation still salvageable.
Can the same be said for the Blue Jackets? Not for this season, it can’t. And there’s no convincing evidence that any of Arniel’s choices as coach had anything to do with it.
Don’t believe me? Try this sometime: collect the DNA of Scotty Bowman, Toe Blake, Jacques Lemaire and, for the hell of it, Vince Lombardi. Then create a clone out of them. Then assign that clone to coach a team that (a) had its marquee acquisition at defense (James Wisniewski) suspended for the first eight games of the year; (b) had its marquee acquisition at forward (Jeff Carter) miss 10 of their first 15 games with a fractured foot; (c) a goalie who most times couldn’t stop the giant rolling boulder from Raiders Of The Lost Ark; and (d) all the depth of an average Los Angeles “model-actress.” That super-coach couldn’t do any more with the Blue Jackets than Arniel did since he became Columbus’ bench boss at the start of last season.
In a fairer world, the can would have been tied to Arniel much earlier this season. To string out Arniel as long as he did will not go down in history as one of Howson’s career highlights. Neither will having former coach Ken Hitchcock watching from the stands and hovering over Arniel earlier in the season before Hitchcock was hired by St. Louis, a move that could do nothing but undercut Arniel’s effectiveness in the dressing room.
Arniel leaves with a 45-60-18 record in 123 games, as well as the patience of Job, and as a former American League coach of the year, he’ll find employment as a head or assistant coach soon enough. He can look to the example of Todd Richards, the guy who drew the short straw to replace him in Columbus, as evidence of the likelihood of a second chance.
Unfortunately for Richards – the former head coach of the Wild from 2009-2011 who missed the playoffs both years while compiling a 77-71-16 mark – this second chance won’t be pleasant and could be extremely limited. The Jackets are dead last in the Western Conference, dead last in the entire league, 20 points behind the eighth-place Dallas Stars, and just lost Carter again (this time to a separated shoulder). Ergo, this season is a write-off with 50 percent of the schedule still to be played – and with every likelihood Howson could be dismissed come summer, new management will want its own coach in place. Richards is there neither for a good time nor a long one.
But don’t cry for Arniel. He’s no longer in the select club that allows only 30 members in each season, but he’s also mercifully been booted from an even more exclusive club – leader of the NHL’s least capable team. Free from last, free from last, thank god almighty, he is free from last.
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