Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hitch heads to Columbus for a Blue Jacket Fitting

Unemployment didn’t last long for Ken Hitchcock. The former bench boss of the Philadelphia Flyers who was removed from his duties earlier this season has landed on his skates in Ohio.

He takes over a Columbus team that has been in a major tailspin that began before Gerard Gallant was fired and continued on as Gary Agnew took over on the interim basis on November 14. The open job seemed to be a competition between Hitchcock and Andy Murray, with Hitchcock apparently showing the Blue Jackets owners and management what they are looking for.

Eight days of deliberation led to the announcement today, as Hitchcock signed a three year deal to try and lead the Blue Jackets out of the bottom tier of the NHL West standings and into a playoff hunt. Reports have it that he’s making in the area of 1.2 million dollars a similar amount to what he made while working for Ed Snider in Philadelphia.

The task ahead for Hitchcock won’t be an easy one, the Blue Jackets were expected to be competitive this year and many felt that they would reward their fans with a playoff spot by the time May comes around.

But their start has been anything but positive; with loss after loss compounding the problems and making both management and the fans feel a bit nervous about their projected goals this season.

Hitchcock, who has had past success in Dallas and Philadelphia besides a rather respectable minor league and Junior A record, will be expected to try and get the likes of Sergei Federov, Anson Carter, Adam Foote and Frederik Modin to regain their pervious form. While at the same time teach Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev the joys of back checking and working in their own end. He's known as a tough taskmaster and for a team that isn't used to that kind of approach, the next few weeks should be a revelation.

It’s no doubt a tough assignment, for whatever reason the Blue Jackets have been rather abysmal this season so far, offensively they have been a bust with only 40 goals in their 19 games this year. One quarter of the way through the season and the Jackets find themselves firmly in control of last place in the West with 11 points, 1 less than the woeful Phoenix Coyotes. Ten points out of a playoff spot if the season ended today, the Blue Jackets would have to be turned in for golf shirts.

It’s now Hitchcock’s job to make sure that Columbus has no tee times to book in April or May. A large order for a coach who is used to being a winner and says he loves to teach. In order to get to the winning, he’s going to have to do a fair amount of the teaching.

His new students didn't send the substitute teacher off with a fond memory, the Jackets did what they've done a lot of these days, lose, letting a shootout against St. Louis get away from them.

Hitchcock now takes control with his first class coming up on Friday afternoon, when the Blue Jackets travel to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers, now that should if nothing else provide the motivation for both the teacher and his new pupils.

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