The Columbus Blue Jackets fired head coach Ken Hitchcock Wednesday in the midst of a disappointing season that has seen Columbus fall from a playoff contender to an also-ran.
Hitchcock, who assumed head coaching duties mid-season in 2006, compiled a 125-123-36 record in his time with the Jackets.
Addressing the media, new interim coach Claude Noel, who looked poised and eager, sat next to Jackets general manager Scott Howson, who looked very much like a man who had just fired someone.
“We’re all responsible for the performance of this team,” Howson said. “It has become clear, that despite the efforts of ‘Hitch,’ the coaches and the players to find a solution, it wasn’t working. The team was not responding to the message.”
When asked about the timing of the firing and whether or not it could have come earlier before the season was lost, Howson rejected the notion that he had given up on the playoffs.
“We don’t consider the season lost. We’re going to play hard and see what happens,” Howson said. “We all felt that ‘Hitch’ deserved the opportunity to try and work out of this. We wanted to be patient and we kept hoping he’d find the solution.”
It was clear that Hitchcock’s job security was tenuous at best for some time now. The change started to manifest itself right after Christmas, according to Howson.
“That’s when I started really thinking seriously that this isn’t going to happen for us, but you keep hoping,” Howson said. “If you look at the [Los Angeles] game and you look at Wednesday night (a 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche), there just wasn’t much pushback.”
‘Not much pushback,’ corporate-speak for a lack of heart, nearly always falls on the coach’s shoulders.
Much was made about the young players on the club and Hitchcock’s tendency to not allow them to play through mistakes. His gruff style was often at odds with a younger team supposedly finding its way.
“The young players have to take some accountability,” Howson said. “Claude is going to try to get them to do that. Try to get them excited because some of them have lost confidence and the hope that they had coming into the season.”
Noel has a tough job ahead of him. He has been an assistant coach with Columbus since 2007, after spending four seasons as head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals in the American Hockey League.
He sounded up for the task.
“At the end of the day, you want to be proud of the way of you play,” Noel said. “The players are going to want to give me their best, because I’ll be making assessments. I can’t wait for training camp, I have to look at each day who didn’t play well and who’s coming out.”