As it turns out, the past 24 hours for the Columbus Blue Jackets have been a lot crazier than many expected. They had offered their head coaching job to Guy Boucher late last week; Boucher asked for the weekend to “think about it”. It turns out that “thinking about it” really meant trolling for other offers. Boucher will be named the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning sometime Tuesday.
And so, as we updated yesterday, GM Scott Howson wasted no time in moving on to his second choice, Manitoba Moose head coach Scott Arniel. And, very quickly, Arniel accepted and became the seventh coach in Blue Jackets franchise history. According to Porty, there were sources that said the offer was made within the hour of Boucher’s rejection, and that Arniel accepted “without hesitation”. So, a little face was saved, it would seem.
So… who exactly is Scott Arniel?
First and foremost, Arniel, 47, is a former NHL player, which gives him a leg up in that respect over Boucher. He played in 730 games in the NHL over 11 seasons in Winnipeg, Buffalo, and Boston. It’s cliche, but often true, that professional athletes tend to relate better in many cases to coaches who have actually played the game at the professional level.
Arniel has been coaching the Manitoba Moose of the AHL (top minor league team for the Vancouver Canucks) for the past four seasons. In that time, he’s compiled a 181-106-33 record (395 pts) in 320 games. His teams won their division twice in that span, and qualified for the playoffs each year. In 2008-2009, his team lost in the Calder Cup Finals, which is the AHL Championship round. Whereas Boucher was this year’s AHL coach of the year, so Arniel was for the ‘08-‘09 season.
Prior to that, Arniel was an assistant for the Buffalo Sabres for four seasons. After last season, Arniel was a finalist for the Edmonton Oilers head coaching job, ultimately losing out to Pat Quinn. So, while he may lack in “sex appeal” compared to Boucher, he certainly makes up in both playing and coaching experience.
The Hockey Writers did a solid write-up on Arniel prior to the job offers flying for Columbus, and gave us a few tidbits about him:
Players who have served time under Arniel have had good things to say about their coach. Jason Krog noted that Arniel was “very innovative with his coaching and the systems we play,” and also said, “He doesn’t limit creativity. I think guys respect that.” Nolan Baumgartner said, “He knows his stuff and his biggest strength is how he can teach the systems that he puts in place.” If the Blue Jackets do hire Scott Arniel, hockey fans in Columbus are likely to see an offensively capable, defensively responsible team: In Arniel’s first three seasons with the Moose, they did not finish lower than third overall in goals against, and were in the top half in goals scored.
The Hockey Writers also got some great quotes about Arniel from Winnipeg Sun sportswriter Ken Wiebe:
“Arniel’s preference is to play an up-tempo, attacking game. Obviously, there is a defensive structure but he’s not a guy that likes his team to sit back and clog up the neutral zone. I would call him more of an offensive-minded coach but his teams always pay attention to detail in the defensive zone”.
“The most talented team he coached (and most experienced) was the one that went to the Calder Cup final in 2009. That team had plenty of offense and also did a nice job keeping the puck out of their net.”
“This season was filled with changes, constant insertion of new (often ECHL-calibre) players and the team still managed to make the playoffs, and nearly pulled off a big upset of the first-place Hamilton Bulldogs in Round 1. … I can honestly say that without Cory Schneider in goal and Scott Arniel behind the bench, the Moose probably would have missed the playoffs this season. Most players agree Arniel had to do a lot more teaching in 2009-10“.
“He’s a good motivator and he also does a great job reading the pulse of a team. Admittedly, he’s not a big motivational speech giver. But he’s not afraid to voice his concerns and he certainly knows when to tear the paint off the wall and when a player needs a pat on the back. … Regarding leadership, this is a guy who has been a captain often during his playing career and was also a player/assistant at various points, so he’s a pretty stable leader.”
As the Jackets zeroed in on their three main choices (since I don’t believe interim coach Claude Noel was ever really considered for the job on a permanent basis), I’ve often said in discussions that all three choices seemed to be solid ones: each had their areas of strength and potential weakness, but the all seemed to have a combination of traits that would seem to fit the Jackets at this point in their evolution. Boucher was probably the highest risk/reward candidate, and as we found out yesterday with risk comes potential disappointment.
Enter Arniel, who might have been the safest pick of the three.
How Arniel fares will be anyone’s best guess, but–considering his two main tasks will be to develop young talent and to be the leader that can get everyone onto the same page and pulling in the same direction–if the quotes above are a solid barometer of his career arc in Columbus, the Jackets look to be in decent shape for the short term future.
Thankfully, for Jackets fans, the long ordeal is over. The team can now move forward onto the entry draft, which begins on June 25th. The Jackets hold the fourth overall pick.