The tremors from the management shakeup that saw Scott Howson ousted as Blue Jackets GM and replaced by Jarmo Kekalainen earlier this week were felt loud and clear inside the team’s locker room. Young players and veterans alike know personnel moves like this are almost always the residue of their play on the ice. And the change up top resonated with them.
“Well, it’s definitely a shock, no matter how it goes down, whether it’s something that takes you off guard, or if it’s expected, or anything, it’s always a wake-up call,” said 18-year NHL defenseman Adrian Aucoin. “I mean, clearly, it means that something wasn’t working.”
“We need to be better. I think every team until you win the Cup, you need to be better, whether it’s playing as well as you can or just up to your potential. It’s tough when you see a guy like Scott, who put his guts into this thing, let go. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
As Columbus head coach Todd Richards poignantly noted, he and his players are involved in a business that doesn’t monitor performance via quarterly or semi-annual reports. Their performance is measured every game. It’s a numerical progress report reflected every couple of nights or so on a big board, in high definition for all to see.
So far this season, despite a convincing win over San Jose on Monday, the performance reports haven’t been what was expected. The Blue Jackets are 4-7-2. Their 10 points is tied for second-worst in the NHL. It’s all reason enough to make a change. Howson, who had been GM for five-plus seasons, was fired on Tuesday evening in favor of Kekalainen, who became the first European-born GM in the league’s history.
Injured for the past several games, Aucoin has been watching his teammates from press level. He says he’s seeing progress in his team, although it hasn’t been quick or significant enough to prevent this week’s management move.
“I think clearly there’s a lot of transition going on, both on and off the ice, so that’s always a tough situation,” he said. “I think there’s always going to be a learning curve. I thought we started the season great, just coming out with our work ethic, and then we got away from it a little bit. Seven games in 11 nights may have taken a toll on us – not looking for excuses – but we definitely got back to doing what the coaches asked from us and playing like a team.”
Going forward, the Blue Jackets will be looking to build on the virtually impeccable efforts they put forth in the excruciating loss to Edmonton and the scintillating win over San Jose.
As they try to reach the level of consistency that potentially can propel them into the midst of the playoff chase, they will be accountable to a new boss, who will measure their performances, game by game, individually and collectively. According to Aucoin, the extent to which that accountability is embraced by the players will dictate this team’s fortunes.
“Well, there are so many levels of being accountable,” he said. “Just being respectful, first and foremost, to yourself; I think when you start kidding yourself a little bit it’s pretty obvious in this game now. Then it goes to your teammates, making sure you’re doing everything you can to help them, not only by keeping them accountable, but by being accountable yourself.
“It’s being a professional,” he continued. “I don’t care what your career is or what your job is; if you’re not doing a good job of it, you’re really letting somebody down, first and foremost yourself. So I always think if you’re brought up the right way and you want to do what’s right, you’re going to work your butt off to get it done.”
There’s no doubt the Blue Jackets have worked hard this season. Unfortunately, the level of their execution has sometimes not matched the level of their intensity. And it’s been that lack of consistency and subsequent spotty results that served as the catalyst for the shift in general managers.
No matter what happens next for this team, the players who continue to make up the Blue Jackets roster know they are responsible for its fortunes going forward. They know a good hockey man was replaced by another good hockey man, largely because of the way they have performed. And they know it’s a fact of life that changes will be made – sometimes management, sometimes coaches, and sometimes players – when expectations aren’t met in those 60- and 65-minute performance reviews.