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Hitchcock has ten crucial days to right Jackets’ ship, or he will be out

By Peter D. McAlister

There are very few people in hockey that do not have the utmost respect and admiration for Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock. He is the ultimate competitor, strategist and mentor who deserves better than the play his team has exhibited after a franchise best start (5-1-0, 10 pts.) to the 2009-2010 NHL season. Since October 18, the Jackets have won only eight of twenty three games (8-10-5, 21 pts.) while playing a level of hockey that is no where near Stanley Cup playoff caliber. With the condensed schedule to accommodate the Vancouver Winter Olympics in February, time is of the essence for Captain Rick Nash and company to perform up to their ability or Hitchcock will not be in Columbus to celebrate the holiday season.

Fair or not, the business of professional sports often times can be cruel. The fact that Hitchcock has greatly improve the Jackets during his tenure, led the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup, Canadian national teams to gold and will be part of this years’ Olympic contingent, will have no bearing on whether he keeps his job. The next six games, four on home ice, over a ten day period, determines the direction of the franchise and this is the harsh and unfair reality that faces the organization and general manager Scott Howson. Nationwide Arena attendance is mediocre at best this season and a solid fan base grumbles louder with each poor outing. If the Blue Jackets tank this next stretch of contests and find themselves on December 17th last in the Central Division and near the bottom of the Western Conference standings a change behind the bench has to be made. Blockbuster trade aside, call ups from Syracuse and the continued shuffling of lines won’t alleviate this reality unless it starts showing up in the win column.

It is clear that the Columbus Blue Jackets’ ownership group, entire front office and fans are behind Coach Hitchcock; who isn’t? Nothing would be sweeter to Jackets nation than to see this team make a deep springtime run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Winning cures everything. The fact remains that unless the likes of Nash, Kristian Huselius, Jan Hejda, Jason Chimera, Raffi Torres, Mike Commodore, Sammy Pahlsson and R.J. Umberger up their play and exhibit leadership for the roster’s young additions, those very same players may be looking over their shoulders on December 19, in Colorado at the beginning of a four game road trip, and see an unfamiliar face in a suit and tie behind the bench.

On the other hand, when Rostislav Klesla comes off of injured reserve in six weeks it’s hoped that he will be looking over his shoulder getting directions from Hitch and all is well. Unless play improves dramatically between now and then that scenario seems very unlikely.

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