This morning the Columbus Blue Jackets relieved head coach Scott Arniel and replaced him with former Minnesota Wild bench boss Todd Richards. Even though the Blue Jackets are currently the worst team in the NHL, the firing has some interest in our fantasy hockey oriented minds.
What does this mean for the team’s offense? Will they allow more goals or be more stingy in their own end? Does Steve Mason finally get back into his Calder winning form? Let’s take a crack at the first two questions and answer a confident ‘no’ to the third as we analyze the two different bench bosses.
Last season, while coaching the Wild, Richards got decent seasons out of top-line center Mikko Koivu and secondary winger Martin Havlat. The two never meshed together, forcing him to play both talents on separate lines which either helped break up defensive assignments or prevented the team from generating enough offense. Both players tied for 62 points which is below each of their career highs, indicating Richards isn’t getting the most out of his players.
Even though they were able to score with some frequency, they did so in spite of Richards’ system, which ranked quite poorly against the rest of the league.
To further our hypothesis we will be using two advanced statistics to quantify the two coaches’ systems against each other. The first statistic is Corsi percentage which measures the total number of shots, missed shots and blocked shots as a percentage of these three stats both for and against. The second statistic is Fenwick percentage, which is the same thing but does not count blocked shots.
Here’s how the Wild performed last season under Richards (courtesy of TimeOnIce.com):
|Fenwick Percentage||Corsi Percentage|
To put these percentages in perspective, a dominant team has a Corsi percentage around 55 percent or higher while their Fenwick likely tops out around 55 percent. Despite finishing only 11 points out of a playoff berth it is safe to say the Wild were pretty poor at filling the net last season. This statement can be further proved by the team ranking 25th in goals forced last season.
So, where does that put Richards with the Blue Jackets?
Well, for one, this Blue Jackets team is not that bad defensively. Actually, they are pretty mediocre when it comes to the offensive side of the ice. Let’s take a look at where they compare with our advanced metrics (again, courtesy of TimeOnIce.com).
|Fenwick Percentage||Corsi Percentage|
Comparing the two teams looks like night and day. You could argue that the Blue Jackets have a very healthy offense and assume that they are in the middle-of-the-pack offensively. However, that assumption would be incorrect as they rank 26th in the League offensively with only 96 goals forced thanks to a 28th ranked shooting percentage of 7.6%. Nevertheless, their Corsi and Fenwick indicates that the team is a little unlucky so a second half push should be expected.
Another alarming statistic to look at is their sieve of a goaltending situation. Also ranked 26th, the Blue Jackets allow on average 3.19 goals per game — even when the Blue Jackets score three goals they only have an 80 percent chance of taking the game to overtime. Considering Mark Dekanich is still a few rehab starts away from challenging for a roster spot, the team is forced to keep shuttling Steve Mason and Curtis Sanford between the pipes which is a recipe for disaster.
A change in coach could help change the culture in Columbus but it won’t change the fact that the goaltending can’t stop a beach ball. GM Scott Howson admitted that he would trade away a few players by this year’s trade deadline which could open up some more ice time for promising young players like Ryan Johansen, Derick Brassard and Tomas Kubalik. It could also make this team even worse.
The bottom line in Columbus is that this ship will likely only continue to sink until it hits the ocean floor. While Richards is a fully capable coach, only stud veterans like Rick Nash and Jeff Carter (out indefinitely with a separated shoulder) would really benefit from the change in regime. Forty-one games is certainly not enough time to implement a new coaching system but it is enough time to reevaluate for next season.
In summary, look for a little more production from the remaining vets. The defense may tighten a bit but that hasn’t been the problem. Without capable netminding, the Blue Jackets will not be a team to take seriously in any regard, regardless of the coach.