Doug MacLean: The overdue firing


Let’s get one thing clear here — Doug MacLean’s firing in Columbus was long overdue. Sure, the affable MacLean is a great hockey personality, full of self-deprecating wit and enough snarkiness to be a great radio interview. Still, that doesn’t do a hell of a lot of good in the standings, and that’s all that matters. Under MacLean’s watch, the Blue Jackets record has pretty much stayed the same:

2000-01 71 points
2001-02 57 points
2002-03 69 points
2003-04 62 points
2005-06 74 points
2006-07 73 points

Considering that every team’s point totals are inflated post-lockout due to the shootout rule, that means that the best Columbus team was essentially the first roster.

Yikes. Teams usually need a five-year cycle to show some tangible improvement. That doesn’t mean a guaranteed playoff berth in that fifth year, but at least movement in the right direction. By that time, high draft picks usually have some time to mature into burgeoning star players.

Nashville, though on the brink of first-round elimination, is on paper one of the strongest teams in the league. Minnesota’s made the conference finals. The Atlanta Thrashers had a strong 2005-06 season before collapsing, and made the playoffs this season. Columbus, under MacLean’s watch, couldn’t even break the 75 point barrier.

MacLean’s history showed a number of quick-fix free agent purchases. Early on, signing Ron Tugnutt, Lyle Odelein, and Geoff Sanderson made sense. After all, the team needed some stability to get off the ground. After that, though, the focus should have been on development. Instead, MacLean had a history of acquiring talent that would have been spectacular three seasons ago. Commiting big bucks to an aging Sergei Fedorov in the salary cap era was a bad move, plain and simple — especially considering the fact that they sent Francois Beauchemin the other way. Adam Foote may be a gritty, tough veteran, but he’s not fleet of foot and not built for the post-lockout NHL. Bryan Berard may have put up a reasonable point total in his time with the Jackets, but his whopping -29 in his half-season during 2005-2006 indicated just how the last two seasons were for Columbus: reasonable individual talent slapped together with duct tape and video clips of past glories.

The very fact that the Blue Jackets seemed to be treading water instead of showing real signs of improvement during the course of their existence should have put MacLean on the hot seat coming out of the lockout. The decision to build a team through aging free agents of retooling for a faster, skill-based NHL should have been strike #2. The ridiculous Sergei Fedorov deal should have been the third strike.

Still, MacLean endured and even went on to give it another go. Getting Fredrik Modin for Marc Denis was a reasonable deal; what really sunk the Jackets this season, however, was the trio of doom that was Rick Nash, Nikolai Zherdev, and Fedorov. When your three best supposed players combine for a point total that barely eclipses Sidney Crosby‘s, well, that’s a big problem.

Sure, you can’t really blame that directly on MacLean, but he’s the one overseeing the big picture. Getting Ken Hitchcock was a step in the right direction, but there’s still a huge hole to climb out of. And really, MacLean hadn’t done anything significant to move things forward in that time. He tried, yes, but those big moves were ill-advised and lacked foresight.

Columbus begins a new chapter in their franchise history and Columbus fans can say goodbye to season upon season of mediocrity and aimless movement; what they’ll get has to be better — it can’t really be much worse. And besides, they’ll probably get to see MacLean crack wise on TV in the near future.


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