Fired coach says Blue Jackets on the right path
A day after he was fired as head coach of the Columbus Blue
Jackets, Ken Hitchcock declined to take any parting shots at the
club’s management and said he is eager to see how the franchise’s
young talent develops.
His biggest regret is that he won’t be an integral part of the
“My message is that these are the actual growing pains that
every organization goes through to get to a high level,” he said
of the Blue Jackets’ disappointing 22-27-9 record a year after
making the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time. “If you look
at the Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose, Chicago – this is the natural
growth things that go on. Now, coaches come and go and so do some
players. But there’s a core group of guys here that by the time
they’re 25 or 30 years old, eveybody’s going to be marveling at how
good they are and how sound they are. They’re doing it the right
Many fans think the young Blue Jackets didn’t respond to
Hitchcock’s checking, defense-oriented style.
If that’s the case, Hitchcock was not apologizing.
“If checking is my style, then I’m guilty as charged. Because
that’s the only way you can win,” said the man with a 125-123-36
record in Columbus. “But it’s going to take a big buy-in. You have
to check to score. Every coach who has a winning program knows
that. If you’re capable of doing that, you’re going to have real
Another theory for why the team went belly up, winning just
three of 24 games after starting out 12-6-2, was that Hitchcock
could not relate to young players.
Hitchcock had won 408 games in Dallas, where the Stars captured
the 1999 Stanley Cup, and in Philadelphia before he took the Blue
Jackets job in November of 2006. Coming into a job without a
tradition of winning and with a mix of budding young stars and a
few journeymen was something new for him.
“I came here to Columbus with my eyes wide open,” said
Hitchcock, who will be an assistant coach for Team Canada at the
Vancouver Olympics. “I’d never started anything on the ground
floor. I wanted the challenge. We made obviously significant
progress in moving this thing forward. We took a step backward this
year in some avenues. But in my thought process, the step backward
was visible and natural when you try to integrate more, younger and
new players into the program. We struggled at times and we had
success at times. We were inconsistent.”
Assistant Claude Noel was tabbed as interim head coach on
Wednesday. Hitchcock said he called Noel and wished him well in the
rest of the season.
The players were uncertain of the impact of the firing.
“Claude’s going to bring out some different things to our
game,” captain and top player Rick Nash said. “There really isn’t
that much time. It’s tough to change things when you’re 50- or
60-some odd games into a season. We’ll see in the long haul how it
changes. … But it’s an easy change. Bringing someone in right now
will shake up the room pretty good.”
Hitchcock, who said he’ll be choosy about his next opportunity
to be an NHL head coach, expects marked improvement out of the Blue
“I would be just devastated if this team doesn’t have
success,” he said. “Because I came here for the right reasons and
I want to see the job get finished. I think these guys are more
Just a year ago, the Blue Jackets and their coach were the toast
of the city as the club made its first run to the playoffs. They
would eventually get swept in the first round by the Western
Conference champion Detroit Red Wings, but the game at Chicago that
clinched that long-awaited trip to the postseason stands out as one
of Hitchcock’s proudest moments.
“It’s interesting because it’s the first time I’ve ever coached
in my life where the coaches on the other bench were clapping for
you. Usually they’re swearing at you,” a smiling Hitchcock said of
the Blackhawks staff. “They weren’t thrilled with the players on
the ice for their own team, but when that game went to overtime and
we had the point (to make the playoffs), their whole bench looked
at ours and started clapping. It was pretty impressive.”
And with the memory of that moment hanging in the air, Hitchcock
nodded his head and walked away.