Perhaps the most startling aspect of Scott Arniel's dismissal as Columbus Blue Jackets head coach, literally months after it should have happened, is that GM Scott Howson didn't follow him out the door and is still, apparently, allowed to make hockey operations decisions.
Todd Richards, who you may remember from such firings as "the end of last season with the Minnesota Wild," takes over on an interim basis.
Sunday night's 7-4 loss to the Anaheim Ducks was apparently the last straw, as the Blue Jackets got off to a terrible start, saw goalie Steve Mason pulled, made a series of mental mistakes defensively, got nothing out of their secondary scoring and lost a significant player (Jeff Carter) to injury.
So, basically, the last straw resembled pretty much every loss the Blue Jackets had since October.
How bad are the Blue Jackets this season? This bad, according to Aaron Portzline:
The Blue Jackets have been in last place in the NHL standings for all but 10 days since the start of the season in early October. At 11-25-5, they are already 20 points out of the Stanley Cup playoff picture.
Coaches that were fired this season before Scott Arniel: Davis Payne, Bruce Boudreau, Randy Carlyle, Paul Maurice, Terry Murray, Jacques Martin. Incredible.
Arniel's performance was as problematic as that of his team. He went scratch-happy with Derick Brassard, to the point where Brassard's agent Allan Walsh went public with his protest. Arniel made some curious ice time decisions, like giving rookie Ryan Johansen just 12:57 on average in what is a lost season. Also, Arniel could come across … ahem … a little hazy on the facts about his team's performance.
But in fairness to Arniel, he should have been fired months ago; we don't want to say Howson's a little slow on the draw, but he also just realized that NBC cancelled "ALF" (and is enraged about it).
Howson has also clearly built the worst team in hockey for him to coach. Yes, there have been injuries and other circumstances, like the James Wisniewski suspension. No, that doesn't excuse the fact that Howson entrusted this team's future in the shaky hands of Steve Mason, who is making Andrew Raycroft look like Patrick Roy, and didn't make the call in this coach until halfway through a lost season. Now, a coaching change means, at best, fewer ping-pong balls for Nail Yakupov.
Arniel's a good guy in a bad situation. He'll bounce back; at least now the Winnipeg Jets have more than one ex-Jet to choose from if and when Claude Noel gets turfed (Randy Carlyle being the other).
In a related story, Ken Hitchcock is 18-5-5 with the St. Louis Blues.
UPDATE: Howson spoke this morning about the firing, which he said he decided to do prior to Sunday night's game.
"I really divided our season into three parts. In the first part, I thought we had a tough start. I didn't think it was a fair basis for evaluation because of the Wisniewski suspension and all the injuries. Really, if you look at our record from the middle of November until December, it was pretty good: 7-5-3 in a 15-game period," he told the Blue Jackets website.
Let's just pick a random date in that range ... how about Dec. 8? The Blue Jackets were 11 points out of a playoff spot. How about Dec. 15? They were 13 out. Progress!
So why wait?
"I thought I answered that. I thought we were playing pretty good until the middle of December. We were going in the right direction. It's gone off the rails since then," said Howson.