A game versus the Buffalo Sabres, last season’s worst team, couldn’t stop the bleeding.
Neither could a home date against the previously winless Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that purposely shed itself of its most talented player in the summer.
After winning 15 of their final 17 games in an injury-plagued 2014-15 campaign, adding Brandon Saad, and tearing up the pre-season, the Columbus Blue Jackets were roundly picked (yes, in this space too) as an Eastern Conference threat on the rise, but that was before actual regular-season hockey happened.
After Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackahawks, Saad’s former team, Columbus is 0-6, dead last, dropping each contest by an average of 2.83 goals. Not only have they yet to win, they’ve let to lose by one.
“This is getting old. This is getting frustrating. I don’t know what else to say,” veteran Scott Hartnell told reporters. “It’s embarrassing. A lot of people picked us to be there at the end, to make the playoffs, and we’re doing a pretty good job of ruining that right away.”
The obvious question now: Will the Blue Jackets make a drastic move and fire head coach Todd Richards?
“He’s working as hard as anybody down there to try to figure out how we get back on the rails,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told Hockey Central at Noon Friday. The team was only 0-4 at that point.
Kekalainen did not single out Richards, who has been tinkering with the lines, nor goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (.835 save percentage). Publicly he has criticized the team as a whole, pointing to team defence, but the relatively new GM has yet to use his fire-the-coach card.
And he is telling anyone with a microphone that his team’s play is not acceptable.
Kekalainen did not hire Richards. He inherited him from former GM Scott Howson, so rumours and speculation have already begun.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Saturday that the Blue Jackets and the Anaheim Ducks, who got on the board with a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild Sunday, won’t rush to hand out pink slips and would rather go the trade route to shake things up.
Twenty-one-year-old forward Kerby Rychel, a 2013 first-rounder, is one prospect whispered to be available.
Columbus’ team save percentage is .831 after six games right now. It was .915 and .910 the last two years. Todd Richards didn’t do that.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) October 18, 2015
The Ottawa Sun‘s Bruce Garrioch, however, figures former Cup winners John Tortorella and Randy Carlyle (still being paid by the Maple Leafs) and current Pittsburgh Penguins assistant Jacques Martin are possible candidates to replace Richards.
Tortorella is scouting players in preparation for his head coaching job with Team USA at next fall’s World Cup of Hockey and is still under contract by the Vancouver Canucks for three more seasons, including this one.
Other out-of-work coaches include Guy Boucher (currently coaching SC Bern in Switzerland), Ron Wilson, Ted Nolan and recent KHL casualty Mike Keenan. If the Ducks and Boston Bruins’ woes continue, it’s possible proven bench bosses Bruce Boudreau and Claude Julien enter the market as well.
We’re not even two weeks into the season, and Columbus is already six points out of the playoff picture. They next face the New York Islanders’ elite offence Tuesday and a tough test Thursday versus the defensively sound Minnesota Wild before things ease up and they draw the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils.
But does Richards last that long?
“If there was a change to be made on any level, where we thought this is the right change for our team and it’s definitely going to make the group better, we would have done it,” Kekalainen told the Columbus Dispatch on Monday.
“We’re not going to just blow it up because we’re going through a tough stretch.”