Thursday, April 19, 2007

Blue Jackets Fire MacLean

The Columbus Blue Jackets have made a long needed change. They have fired Doug MacLean. He is the only GM in the history of the franchise and this is the only franchise in the NHL that has never made the playoffs. In fact, they do not seem any closer to their first playoff berth than they did when they first expanded in 2000.

I think the Blue Jackets owner, John McConnell is a good owner who has what it takes to have his team built into a winner. He was willing to hire a general manager and stay out of the way and let him run the show for several years. The problem was that he didn't know how to find a good general manager. McConnell, like most NHL owners, doesn't know anyone who is a good hockey man. He knew how to find a man with a good coaching resume who talked a good game and sounded like he knew how to be a GM, but apparently cannot actually handle the job at the NHL level. McConnell has a bit more experience as an NHL owner and he has some hockey people (most respectably coach Ken Hitchcock) with whom he can discuss this problem.

MacLean's problem was that he never really had a plan. He kept signing over the hill free agents who might have been able to help a solid team, but Columbus had too many holes for it to matter. He did not draft particularly well, given how many high first round picks Columbus had. The solid players that Columbus has drafted (Rick Nash and Nik Zherdev) have had stunted development (particularly Zherdev). He is criticized for his trade for an overpriced, over-the-hill Sergei Fedorov and for his cycling through a few coaches of mediocre talent. The hiring of Ken Hitchcock is the first solid proven coach Columbus has had.

This is an opportunity for the Columbus Blue Jackets to right their ship. They need to find and hire a good general manager now. I wish them well in their search for a new GM.

I am more optimistic with the Columbus situation than with the other team that has fired their GM since the regular season ended. Phoenix has fired GM Mike Barnett. I don't think he was the problem in Phoenix, he was a symptom of the problem. Phoenix's front office and player roster is full of people who are friends of coach and part-owner Wayne Gretzky. Former GM Mike Barnett had been Gretzky's agent. Phoenix needs to stop hiring people because they were Gretzky's friends. The GM needs to be a strong enough person to get out of Gretzky's shadow. That doesn't necessarily mean the next Coyote GM cannot be a friend of Gretzky (for example, if Phoenix hired Pat Quinn that would likely be a good hire - although I think Quinn would rather coach than GM). The next GM must be a good independent GM and not a good Gretzky puppet GM. Phoenix is less likely to hire the best possible hockey man and let him run the show without interference from management than Columbus.

Both Columbus and Phoenix have been on the fast track to nowhere. A new GM is a chance to turn things around. I hope both of them use this opportunity to their benefit.

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