With MacLean's job on rocks, Agnew not the answer

Updated: November 14, 2006, 12:25 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

And so the bell has tolled for Columbus Blue Jackets coach Gerard Gallant.

No surprise. That bell has been waiting to be rung since the start of yet another lamentable season for the lamentable Blue Jackets.

But the bellman is readying his rope one more time, and the next tolling will be for GM Doug MacLean unless he makes one last, very good decision after a history of poor ones. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Monday's firing was made by owner John H. McConnell, "but Doug's going along with it."

Assistant coach Gary Agnew will take over as interim coach. But with all due respect to Agnew, this team needs a real head coach and they need one yesterday, if not sooner.

We've seen how things have worked out for replacement coach John Stevens in Philadelphia, where the Flyers have shown no indication of turning around their season from hell.

It may be too late already to save the Blue Jackets' season after a 5-9-1 start good for 14th place in the Western Conference. It may also be too late to save MacLean's job, too. But if there's still a chance for him, he's got to find the right coach and he's got to find him immediately.

If the Blue Jackets stick with Agnew for the rest of the season, they can kiss the playoffs goodbye, again. And they can kiss goodbye what used to be significant goodwill from the paying customers in the Columbus area.

The obvious choice to succeed Gallant would seem to be Ken Hitchcock, late of the Flyers, although you could also run Pat Quinn's and Andy Murray's names up the flag pole, too.

Bottom line: MacLean has assembled a team that should be miles better than it is and he'd better find a coach who can coax more out of a team that has never made the playoffs and is in danger of screwing up one of the best fan bases of any of the NHL's newer franchises. Whoever takes over has to have a strong personality, the opposite of Gallant's low-key Prince Edward Island style. The new coach must be forceful and inventive and able to shake a talented team out of its current lethargy.

Attendance has already taken a hit as Gallant stumbled and bumbled through his 22½ months as head coach.

No question Gallant had some terrible luck en route to a 56-77-9 record.

The Blue Jackets have suffered terrible injuries to key players in the past couple of years. And Gallant did get a better effort out of the Blue Jackets in the latter part of last season. But it's always hard to gauge whether this was a case of a bad team getting better or just a bad team managing to squirrel away a few points when it didn't matter anymore.

Offseason moves that included the addition of Fredrik Modin and Anson Carter and the re-signing of Nikolai Zherdev should have given Gallant the best chance at success any coach has had since the team entered the league in 2000.

But Nash, who tied for the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2004 for the most goals in the NHL, has just four through 15 games.

Carter, who led Vancouver with 33 goals last season including seven game winners, has just two goals.

How can that be?

Only the Phoenix Coyotes have scored fewer goals than the Blue Jackets.

And so Gallant, who'd been with the team since the outset and was a buddy of MacLean's from PEI, had to go.

That the decision was apparently made by ownership is not a good sign for MacLean. Now the question is whether MacLean can make the one, final decision that may save his job.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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