Another coaching vacancy in the NHL has been opened up as the Blue Jackets announced that they have fired head coach Brad Larsen. Additionally, they will not be renewing the contract of goaltender coach Manny Legace. GM Jarmo Kekalainen released the following statement:
This season has been extremely disappointing and the responsibility for that lies with all of us. These decisions were difficult and not made lightly given our respect for both Brad and Manny as coaches and people. Brad has been part of our organization for more than a decade, and we are extremely thankful for his hard work and many contributions – both on and off the ice – during that time. We wish nothing but the best for Brad and his family in the future.
While Larsen hadn’t been the head coach for long (just two years), he had been with the organization for close to a decade. Prior to being promoted to the top job in 2021-22, he had served as an assistant under former bench bosses Todd Richards and John Tortorella.
When Larsen took over the top job, it looked like Columbus was embarking on a bit of a rebuild. But the Blue Jackets got off to a hot start last season and while they eventually missed the playoffs, there was some optimism that they could turn things around a little quicker than expected. That resulted in a surprisingly aggressive summer last year, one that saw them land winger Johnny Gaudreau in free agency in an effort to bolster their attack. In doing so, expectations were heightened for 2022-23.
However, things didn’t go as planned. Not even close, in fact. Instead, the team set a franchise record with 563 man-games lost to injury, many of which were to some of their key performers. That played a big role in their offensive production dropping sharply by 50 goals in total, moving them from 14th in that category a year ago to 30th this season. Meanwhile, with several key blueliners missing (including Zach Werenski who was limited to just 13 appearances), the defense struggled mightily as well, putting extra pressure on the goaltending which also had some challenges with starter Elvis Merzlikins having a year to forget, posting a 4.23 GAA and a .876 SV% which played a big role in Legace’s deal not being renewed.
The end result was a 25-47-9 record, putting the Blue Jackets last in the Eastern Conference while bringing Larsen’s record as head coach to 62-86-16, good for a points percentage of just .427, paving the way for this change to be made.
Columbus now joins Anaheim and Washington as teams that will be looking for a new bench boss for next season. After a 2022 summer that saw them try to accelerate their rebuild, Kekalainen will need to decide if that’s the path they want to continue to go down or if they’ll take a step back once again. Which direction they intend to go should influence if they look for another first-time bench boss to lead them through the rebuild or if their preference will be a veteran bench boss with more of a proven record of short-term success.