By Rick Gethin
“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt
There’s comes a time in every teams’ existence when the status quo has run it’s course. That time is fast approaching for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Eight months removed from their first ever playoff appearance, their identity and competitive fire are largely listed as missing in action. Can the blame be pinned on only one facet of their game? I think not.
The definition of progress, from Merriam-Webster, is a gradual betterment. There were expectations of playing with more cohesion and making a deeper run into the playoffs. That feeling has come crashing to the ice, only to be replaced with the hope of something, or anything, happening to help this team get back on track. Conventional wisdom would have you believe that the team would have gradually gotten better from where they left off last season. There were very few changes to the roster made during the off-season to warrant what’s happening on the ice. The team identity had been thought to have been found; that of a hard-working, blue collar hockey club. The team chemistry at this point should only have to be tinkered with, not lost.
Every team goes through normal ups and downs in an 82 game season. That is to be expected. What was looked at as a slump not too long ago, has become a full-blown slide. The team, from players and coaches to management, have mouthed the right words regarding their struggles. Unfortunately, those words ring hollow with a fan base that doesn’t see progress. Not one fan in Columbus expects this team to win the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup. Even the most hardcore fan will admit that is not realistic. Rather, all they want is a team that shows up to play and wins some games along the way.
The myriad problems facing this club are fundamental problems that can be fixed through hard work. The question is this; will the players be willing to put in that hard work? The hue and cry for GM Scott Howson to make a trade are rumbling louder in the Arena District by the day. Calls of every ilk can be heard; from “fire the coach” to “bench Mason”. At this point in what’s turning out to be a dismal stretch of play, these calls cannot be called a knee-jerk reaction any longer. The most glaring example of the symptoms of disarray is the lack of a veteran voice in the locker room. This is an intangible the team desperately lacks.
While head coach Ken Hitchcock was given a very long leash by the late John H. McConnell, that leash has gotten shorter as the losing continues. I’m not advocating the firing of a future Hall of Fame coach, but the fact remains that you can’t fire the whole team. Unfortunately for Hitchcock, I believe that his time in Columbus is getting shorter by the day. No one is above the whole of the team, including the coach. Sometimes for the betterment of the team, one person is made an example of. For whatever goes on behind the closed doors of the locker room, the message that Hitch brings is falling on deaf ears. The players have not bought into his system completely, and that is truly a shame, for “Hitch Hockey” is a proven winner in the NHL.
Personally, I like the coach; he’s witty and knowledgeable anad not above cracking a joke at his own expense. All of these are commendable traits. And while hindsight is always 20/20, the team needs to progress. He was the right coach at the right time when he was hired by the Blue Jackets. He helped to instill a competitive and winning attitude in the team. And if this team doesn’t start playing better and more complete games (along with winning), he’ll be known as the former head coach. That, to me, would be a shame.