Over the next two weeks I'll have a 5 part series previewing the upcoming Blue Jackets season.
Part 1 - Management & Coaching
Part 2 - Offfense
Part 3 - Defense
Part 4 - Goaltending
Part 5 - Special Teams
GENERAL MANAGER - Scott Howson
Overview: Since taking over the Jackets in the offseason before the 2007-2008 season Jackets GM Scott Howson has transformed the Jackets from laughing stock to blue chip stock.
Under his watch the Jackets have compiled a 75-67-22 record. They made their much publicized first ever post-season appearance last year.
Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: The expecations for Howson this year are for everyone to have higher expectations. Everyone will be expected to take that next step from the GM right on down the list.
As far as GM duties I expect him to address the void of a puck moving defensemen at some point this season. He will continue to do what is best for the short and long term futures of the franchise and just as important - it's players.
He won't deviate from the blueprint or try to shortcut the process but if there are opportunities to improve this team we've seen that he will not hesistate.
HEAD COACH - Ken Hitchcock
Overview: Since taking over the Jackets 20 games into the 2007-2008 season "Hitch" has racked up a 103-96-27 record and coached this team to it's first ever playoff appearance.
Those numbers of course don't tell the whole story. The job Hitch inherited I believe he'll look back on and consider it the greatest coaching challenge of his career. That is how dysfunctional this franchise was at that stage. I compare it to taking a D league fanboy like myself and transforming me into an NHLer -- a feat that I would call impossible.
In just over 2 1/2 seasons Hitch has done it. The country club has been closed. The losing stigma that surrounded this team for years erased. The flawed foundation was been torn down and rebuilt. In it's place a team with a clear direction and stability behind the bench.. a team that is competitve, in shape, responsible, accoutable and now respected throughout this league.
From what I'm told, many in that front office consider him the savior of this franchise.
Really someone should write a book.
Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: I expect Hitch to raise the bar and push the team to places they never thought they could go this year.
He isn't kidding when he says he wants to make Detroit "bleed".
He will expect this Jackets team to be right in the mix with the Detroits and Chicagos of this division.
He will expect them to not only make the post-season but find success in it.
He will expect his coaches and players to go "all in" as he would say. Long hours, lots of meetings, lots of video review sessions and a whole lot of emotional and physical investement.
To get there he will have his fair share of challenges. The powerplay will be a major issue for him to address. He'll also have to closely monitor his sophmores for the "slump". The biggest challenge of course is to build off of last year's success and make sure his team does not get complacent and take the foot off the gas.
ASSISTANT COACHES - Gary Agnew, Gord Murphy & Claud Noel
Gord Murphy is the senior assistant coach out of this group. Somehow he managed to survive the coaching carousel that spun in the Doug MacLean years. If my math is correct this will be his 8th year with the team in a coaching capacity.
Gary Agnew was promoted up from the Jackets farm club the Syracuse Crunch in 2006. If you recall he also coached 5 games after Gallant was fired and before Hitch was hired. This will be his 4th season in the bigs.
Claud Noel came aboard in 2007 as a specific Hitch hire. He spent 4 seasons as the head coach of the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals. This will mark his 3rd season with the Jackets.
Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: We know Murphy will be in charge of the defense so that is as good a place to start as any. Things could be a little interesting for Murphy out of the gate if Hitch does indeed stick to changing up the pairings from last year. We know a Commodore-Russell pairing will get a long look for instance. It could be a little tougher to "hide" guys in the lineup however.
Agnew and Noel will each have their roles. Last year it was Noel who was in charge of the powerplay (who could forget the Noel PP Meter) so maybe this year it goes back to Agnew. Often one is behind the bench while the other is the "eye in sky" from the pressbox. They also each do their part with pre/in-game interviews which is always a "pleasure" for us viewers.
GOALTENDING COACH - Dave Rook
The only shakeup on the coaching staff was the hiring of goaltending coach Dave Rook. Rook was Steve Mason's in London so it doesn't take a high school diploma to connect the dots here.
Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: Keeping Mase on his game will obviously be Rook's main focus but his responsibilities include all Jackets goaltenders. He'll spend his share of time with Garon but being the vet he won't acquire a lot of attention. After those two he'll take his turn on the Syracuse shuttle to work with Lalande and LaCosta down on the farm and make sure these two are progressing in their development archs.
DEVELOPMENT COACH - Tyler Wright
This former Jacket came on board in 2007. Wright was the perfect hire for this job not only because of his committment he played with as a Jacket but also because of the peaks and valleys he experienced on his road to the NHL.
Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: Wright will continue to work with the various prospects throughout the NHL. That goes from major juniors, college and of course Syracuse. Having a guy like Tyler to lean on as prospects try to blaze their own path to the NHL is invaluable.