Blue Jackets get Hitched
Sources close to the Columbus Blue Jackets tell TSN Ken Hitchcock has agreed to a three-year contract to coach the Blue Jackets.It's interesting that it took exactly one month for Hithcock to find employment, which is quite likely the shortest amount of time between gigs for an NHL head coach. It speaks to a number of things — including Hitchcock's desirability and the willy-nilly way coaches are swapped in and out in this league — and makes you wonder if Gerard Gallant's number was up as soon as Hitch came on the market.
Hitchcock's got quite a challenge in front of him with Columbus, and you have to think the terms of his contract must have been quite lucrative given his initial reluctance. He's taken two NHL head coaching jobs on in his career, with Dallas and Philadelphia, and neither were as difficult a project as the hapless Blue Jackets (although the Stars missed the playoffs in Hitch's first half season after taking over from Bob Gainey).
Is there reason for optimism for hockey fans in Columbus?
I think so. At the very least, Hitchcock's going to bring his trademark no-nonsense, defence-first style to a team that has been a bottom feeder in goals against the last five seasons.
Of course, he can't make the goaltending better — and it needs to be — and he can't conjure a power-play quarterback out of thin air, but what Hitchcock will do is develop the young players on this team and get a much-improved effort out of his veterans.
It's strange that the enduring image I have right now of Hitchcock is just how befuddled he looked on the bench in Philadelphia — both this season an during last season's abbreviated playoff appearance — as if he had absolutely no answer for just why his team was as awful as it was. Ever since his first season in the WHL coaching Kamloops in 1984-85, he's essentially only coached winning teams.
Right now, Columbus is as far from that as possible — last place in the NHL with a record of 5-13-1 — and it might just be a foreign challenge for him.
Not that he's not up to it.
N.B. This is the second last-place team Hitchcock will have the pleasure of coaching this year, which means he's probably not looking at the standings too often.