Report: Columbus GM, coach could be fired by Monday

Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Post-Dispatch is reporting the beleaguered Columbus Blue Jackets are close to making sweeping changes behind the bench and in the front office.

Sources have told Portzline that head coach Scott Arniel and GM Scott Howson “could be replaced by Monday.” According to the report, former Calgary GM Craig Button has already been contacted about taking over for Howson.

And guess who CBJ is looking at for the head coaching gig?

Ken Hitchcock.

“Hitchcock is still under contract with the Blue Jackets, due to make $1.33 million this season in the final year of his deal. He has watched several Blue Jackets games and practices with [Columbus team president Mike] Priest and Howson already this season, and has maintained a residence near Nationwide,” Portzline writes. “This would appear an act of desperation, but Priest has always held Hitchcock in high regard, once saying that ‘Hitch hockey is Blue Jackets’ hockey.'”

So in their time of need, the Jackets are turning to the best coach they’ve ever had — a guy they also happen to still be paying. Can’t argue with that.

Hitch coached Columbus from 2006 to 2010 and is best known for leading the Jackets to their first and only playoff appearance in 2008-09. (That year was also by far the finest of captain Rick Nash’s career, scoring 40 goals and registering a career-high 39 assists. He also finished plus-11, no small feat considering he’s minus-55 for his career.) Hitch holds all the notable franchise coaching records and is one of only two CBJ bench bosses with a winning record — the other being Claude Noel, who replaced Hitchcock on an interim basis in 2010.

As for Button, he and Hitch have history from their time together in Dallas (Hitch the coach, Button the director of player personnel.) Button was also shortlisted for the Jackets GM job back in 2007, which eventually went to Howson.

UPDATE: Button has addressed the speculation via Twitter.


Stars’ Lehtonen (upper body) day-to-day

Leave a comment

The collision that forced Kari Lehtonen from his relief appearance in last night’s loss to Ottawa could keep him off ice four a couple of days, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff confirmed.

Lehtonen, who entered the contest after Antti Niemi allowed three goals on nine shots, was injured just over a minute into the third period when d-man John Klingberg crashed into the Dallas net.

Ruff suggested a goalie would be recalled from AHL Texas in time for the Stars’ next game, which is on Friday against the Canucks.

While losing Lehtonen would hurt the Stars — he’s 9-1-0 this year with a .921 save percentage and 2.41 GAA — the club can fall back on Niemi who, despite the rough outing against the Sens, has been OK this year.

Niemi has a 8-4-1 record, though his GAA (.264) and save percentage (.907) leave something to be desired.

Bergevin agrees to multi-year contract extension with Habs

Marc Bergevin
Leave a comment

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has agreed to a multi-year contract extension that runs through 2021-22, the club announced today.

“This new agreement brings added stability for our organization and particularly for our hockey operations. It enables us to continue our efforts in giving our fans a winning team,” said Habs owner Geoff Molson in a release. “Marc is an excellent general manager who quickly made an impact in the league with his leadership skills and his ability to identify the needs and find the personnel to assemble a championship team.”

Bergevin was named GM in May of 2012. The Canadiens have made the playoffs in all three seasons of his tenure, advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in 2014.

Still, it’s going to take time before we can truly judge his work, as is the case with any GM that’s only been on the job a few years. The lone player that Bergevin’s drafted that’s made it full-time to the NHL is Alex Galchenyuk. How the likes of Michael McCarron, Nikita Scherbak, and Noah Juulsen develop remains to be seen.

For Bergevin, the lengthy contract extension is a nice reward, and a strong vote of confidence that he’s on the right track.

“I am very pleased with his work and the results he has achieved since his appointment as general manager,” said Molson.

We asked David Poile if he’d trade a defenseman, and you won’t believe what he said…

David Poile

“I’m supposed to tell you the answer to that?”

I was hoping he would. But I guess David Poile didn’t want to tell me all his plans for the Nashville Predators. How disappointing.

The question I’d asked him, in a phone interview Wednesday, was one he’d been asked before, and one he’ll surely be asked again — would he trade one of his star defensemen for help up front?

“We are very happy with our defense corps,” Poile said, like a politician repeating the party line. “It gives us a chance to be competitive and have a chance to win every game, along with our goaltending.”

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t consider it.

“You’re always trying to improve your team. That’s what a manager’s job is,” said Poile.

“When the right time is there, when the deal is there. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, the trade deadline, whether it’s in the summer, trade or free agency situation, we’ll do whatever we can to improve our team.”

Start the trade rumors! Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen? Now you come up with one.

I mean, who hasn’t looked at the Preds’ roster and not wondered? All those defensemen. No young, elite center. Teams that win the Stanley Cup always have an elite center. Right now, Nashville’s top center is 35-year-old Mike Ribeiro. Its second-line center is another 35-year-old, Mike Fisher.

And what’s worth remembering about Jones is that the Preds never expected to get him.

“In the draft three years ago, there were four outstanding players, three of which were forwards,” said Poile. “We had the fourth pick. I think everyone thought Seth Jones was going to go either one, two, or three. And we were very comfortable taking one of those three forwards, because that’s what we needed.”

But then Colorado took Nathan MacKinnon, Florida went with Aleksander Barkov, and Tampa Bay called Jonathan Drouin‘s name.

“There’s no regrets with that,” said Poile. “That just made a good defense even stronger.”

The Preds did manage to get some promising forwards in the next two drafts, including 19-year-old Vladislav Kamenev, currently with Nashville’s farm team in Milwaukee. Perhaps he’s a future number-one center.

“In our system, we have three or four pretty good potential forwards coming,” said Poile. “I think before you look outside the organization, you always want to look inside the organization.”

OK, fine, fair enough.

P.S. — Shea Weber to the Oilers?

Related: Nobody’s got a better blue line than Nashville

Calgary waives second goalie of the year — this time, it’s Ortio

Leave a comment

Many people — your author included — thought it was a bad idea when Flames GM Brad Treliving entered this season with three goalies on the roster.

Now we’re starting to see why.

On Tuesday, Calgary exposed another goalie to waivers — Joni Ortio has been placed on the wire, per TSN.

The move comes just over a month after the Flames put Karri Ramo on waivers, with no takers — and since being recalled from AHL Stockton, Ramo inherited the No. 1 gig from Jonas Hiller and ran with it, starting each of Calgary’s last 11 games while playing every minute.

Ortio, meanwhile, hasn’t seen any action since allowing six goals to Montreal on Oct. 30.

Today’s transaction likely means that Hiller is ready to return from the hip injury that’s kept him out since late last month. He skated with the club on Monday and could soon reconnect with Ramo to form the combo that backstopped Calgary to a surprising playoff appearance a year ago.

Of course, many wonder if that duo will still work.

The numbers on both goalies are pretty bad this year. Ramo’s 6-8-2 with a 3.12 GAA and .898 save percentage, while Hiller is 2-3-0 with a 3.67 and .861.

Things also don’t promise to get any easier for the Flames in the near future. They have back-to-back road games in Arizona and San Jose this weekend, then return home for three games against three of the NHL’s highest-scoring clubs: Dallas (most goals for in the league), Boston (fourth-most) and the Sharks (11th-most).

As for Ortio, it’ll be interesting to see if anybody takes a flier. He’s young (24), cheap ($600,000) and has shown very well at the American League level, earning a spot on the All-Rookie team in ’13-14.