New Jacket: Assistant Agnew interim Columbus coach

Updated: November 14, 2006, 11:04 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Gary Agnew hopes to give the floundering Columbus Blue Jackets direction after a 5-9-1 start this season.

Scott Burnside's take
Scott Burnside
And so the bell has tolled for Columbus 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.

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Agnew was promoted to interim coach Tuesday, a few hours after Gerard Gallant was fired.

"We're just going to see if we can get the ship going in the right direction," said Agnew, the coach of the Blue Jackets' top affiliate at Syracuse for six seasons before becoming an assistant this year. "Everybody's got to grab an oar and get this thing rolling the right way."

Columbus general manager and president Doug MacLean said he will prepare a list of permanent coaching candidates. He said Agnew would be on the list. No timetable has been set to hire someone.

"I'm going to do what I do best and hopefully get [to] the talent that's in there, because there's a lot of talent in that room," Agnew said. "We have a chance, still, of doing what we set out to do, and it'll be up to me to try and extract that from them."

Gallant was fired after one full season and parts of two others. The Blue Jackets, a team with lots of young talent who many considered ready to contend for their first playoff spot, are in last place in the Western Conference's Central Division.

MacLean, brought aboard to create the franchise seven years ago, said owners John H. McConnell and his son, John P. McConnell, have not told him that his job is in jeopardy.

"They haven't said that. But I don't think there's any question that that's the way it is. That's the way it is in the NHL, isn't it?" MacLean said.

The Blue Jackets, who play their first game under Agnew on Wednesday night at home against Nashville, have scored one goal in their last two games.

"As I said to Gerard last night, we lose two games 1-0. If we had won those two games we'd be .500 now and everybody'd be tickled pink," MacLean said. "But that's not what the case is."

The coaching change was not unexpected after a promising start deteriorated. Home attendance is down, although the team still draws an average of more than 16,000 per game.

The Blue Jackets scored points in the season's first three games, winning twice and fueling the excitement of fans. But since then, they have lost nine of 12 starts.

With stars such as Rick Nash, Sergei Fedorov and Nikolai Zherdev, the offense was expected to be a strength, but has instead been a major disappointment. Columbus has scored just 33 goals, the fewest in the league.

The offensive production has had a huge bearing on a team with a young goaltender, Pascal Leclaire. The Blue Jackets' 11 points are third worst in the NHL, ahead of only the eight points that Philadelphia and Phoenix have.

"There's six guys on that team that have scored 22 to 40 goals in the NHL and yet they haven't been able to score," said MacLean.

Agnew becomes the Blue Jackets' fourth coach. Dave King led the fledgling franchise for just over the first two seasons before MacLean took over. After posting a record worse than King's, MacLean stepped aside and elevated Gallant, who had been an assistant with the team since its inception.

"The owners have asked me to bring a list of names to them and we'll sort through that shortly and make a decision as to who the best candidate is," MacLean said.

No decision has been made on whether Gallant will remain with the club.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press