Thursday, April 19, 2007

The end is here
Blue Jackets turf MacLean

Doug MacLean was fired as president and general manager of the Blue Jackets tonight after a meeting of the club’s ownership group, a source told The Dispatch.

The decision to fire MacLean came less than two weeks after the Blue Jackets ended their sixth NHL season without a playoff appearance.
Well, I'd be lying if I called this a shocking development.

As with any expansion franchise in any sport, growing pains are too be expected when you're a new team entering the NHL. And it's certainly not a bad idea to pick an experienced hockey 'guy' and go with him long-term, allowing your 'guy' to assemble and build his team as he sees fit.

It's a strategy that's worked in Nashville, where the David Poile/Barry Trotz tag team has been on board since the beginning and built the Predators into a Stanley Cup contender (regardless of how poorly they played tonight in San Jose). The Minnesota Wild, the Blue Jackets' expansion cousins, have also kept the same GM/coach tandem and grown into a solid franchise over time.

In both cases, the crews in charge were allowed to wait out the early, losing seasons while signs of progress — and eventually wins — began to pile up.

In Columbus, that never happened.

The Blue Jackets were no closer to making the playoffs this season than they were in 2000-01, the franchise's inaugural, 71-point campaign. In all, MacLean's reign of error saw the team win just 172 games over six seasons (or 492 games), a .350 win percentage that is by far the worst in the league over that stretch.

But as bad as the team has been historically, it's been the past two, postlockout seasons that have been the hardest to watch — because as the team's payroll has ballooned and free agents have come in, nothing has changed. MacLean has essentially continued to frantically rearrange deck chairs on a sinking ship, firing and hiring coaches and making Hail Mary trades on whims. The team's draft record, one of the bright spots (relatively speaking), has been spotty given where they've picked — and especially considering the way prized peach Nikolai Zherdev flamed out this season.

Personally, I don't have anything invested in the Blue Jackets franchise. I've never been to Ohio, don't honestly know much about the city and hadn't given it much thought prior to the Blue Jackets arriving, but what's so mind-numbingly frustrating as an outside observer is how mistreated the fans of the team have been. I've written this in the past, but Columbus is obviously a good hockey market and an NHL club would be well-supported in any other circumstance — but the constant losing and mismanagement has begun to erode that fan base, slowly but surely.

For once, the NHL got it right in expanding to Minnesota and Columbus in 2000, and it would be quite a shame if anything as easily correctable as bad management managed to somehow sink one of those franchises. That MacLean was finally turfed now at least gives ownership an opportunity to bring in some fresh ideas, someone who can work with a top-notch coach in Ken Hitchcock and really get this team (finally!) off the ground.

It'll almost be a symbolic rebirth for the franchise as it hosts the 2007 entry draft this June, and the team's second GM makes his first pick, seventh overall in front of the hometown crowd.

It might even be a sellout.

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At 3:10 AM, April 19, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Hold your horses, Mirtle!!!

the Bee-Jays haven't dismissed McLean just yet!!

At 11:59 AM, April 19, 2007, Anonymous Bob said...

James, do you have any comments on who might be in the running for GM? There are so many rumors out about Bob Clarke heading here, but I just don't see that.

Also, any comments on the odd way this rolled out? The team spent most of the morning not commenting on the dismissal.

At 12:31 PM, April 19, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

They'll be looking for someone established, that's for sure. Steve Tambellini's name comes up every time there's an opening, as does Jim Nill's (although I doubt he's leaving Detroit). Others out there include Rick Dudley, Neil Smith, Mike Keenan and Craig Button — but it's really anyone's guess who they opt for.

Two things to remember: Hitchcock will get a say in who it is, and there are more than just the Jackets looking for a GM now with Phoenix on the hunt (and others, including the Leafs, maybe to come).

As for the way it came out — I'm not surprised. The owners probably agreed to keep it under wraps for a little while, until an official press conference could be called, but then one of the partners leaked the news last night. It puts team personnel in an awkward situation, where they can't comment — but that doesn't mean it didn't happen.

At 1:44 PM, April 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you should come visit our Cow City sometime! Catch a game in a fantastic arena.

Federov, Anson Carter, Jan Hrdina, Foote - these are some of the reasons why McLean rightfully ran out of clock. We began 2005 with a second line of Jaroslav Balastik, Hrdina, and Vyborny. That's going to get you to the playoffs?!?


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