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Columbus Blue Jackets fire coach Brad Larsen, part with goaltending coach Manny Legace

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Larsen was informed Saturday morning of the decision, after the Blue Jackets’ season ended in a 5-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Friday.

The remaining staff, including associate head coach Pascal Vincent, assistant Steve McCarthy and skills coaches Kenny McCudden and Jared Boll, are staying.

Larsen, 45, finished his first head coaching stint with a 62-86-16 record in 164 games. Both seasons were marred by injuries that limited key players for long stretches, including Patrik Laine and Boone Jenner in each one.

This season, the Blue Jackets set injury-related franchise records in man-games lost (563), goaltenders used (six) and players who suited up for at least a game (47). General manager Jarmo Kekalainen told the Dispatch on Friday that wins and losses wouldn’t be the main criteria used to evaluate the performance of the coaching staff, but declined to discuss deeper specifics of the evaluation Saturday.

“It’s obvious what we went through with the injuries, and it’s an unfortunate situation for all of us,” Kekalainen said. “We do our evaluation every day here. We watch every practice. We try to watch closely what’s going on in the locker room. We’re communicating with the coaches every day. That’s how we do our evaluations on what goes on with our team, and especially the direction we want to take with our team.

“We came to the conclusion that this was absolutely a necessary change that we needed to make.”

Larsen played parts of eight NHL seasons for the Colorado Avalanche and Atlanta Thrashers before starting his coaching career with the Blue Jackets in 2010-11 as an AHL assistant with the Springfield Falcons. After two years in that role, he took over the Springfield head coaching role for two seasons before moving up to Columbus as a Blue Jackets assistant in 2014-15 under former coach Todd Richards.

Tortorella took the reins after the Jackets’ 0-7-0 start in 2015-16 led to a coaching shift away from Richards. Larsen remained on Tortorella’s staff for all six years of that coaching era in Columbus before replacing his mentor June 11, 2021 as the Blue Jackets next head coach.

Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella talks to his team against Washington Capitals during the the 3rd period in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series at Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. on April 15, 2018.  [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

Less than a month into his new role, Larsen and the rest of the organization was shaken by the tragic fireworks-related death of rookie goalie Matiss Kivlenieks on July 4, 2021 at the Novi, Michigan home of Manny Legace – the Blue Jackets’ goaltending coach. Larsen drove to Michigan the next morning to grieve with the Legace family and Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins. 

Two months later, his tenure as the Blue Jackets’ top coach officially began.

It started strong with a 12-6-0 record through the first 18 games, but Laine strained an oblique muscle in the 10th game and missed 19 games dealing with that plus the death of his father in Finland. The Jackets’ good start vanished by the time he returned and it took a couple weeks for their leading goal-scorer to get back up to speed. 

Laine eventually got hot, but the Blue Jackets’ playoff hopes were on life support and faded quickly. This season, Laine was injured three separate times, including a sprained elbow in the second period of the season-opener at the Carolina Hurricanes. It turned out to be the first of many key injury losses for the Blue Jackets.

Feb 16, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (70) turns away a shot from Winnipeg Jets left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois (80) defended by left wing Patrik Laine (29) during the second period of the NHL hockey game at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

The Blue Jackets also sustained season-ending injuries to forward Justin Danforth (shoulder surgery) after six games, veteran playmaker Jakub Voracek (concussion) after 11 games, top defenseman Zach Werenski (shoulder surgery) after 13 games and defenseman Jake Bean after 15 games.

While missing Laine and Danforth, the Blue Jackets started out 3-9-0 and were blown out in three straight games — first at the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 30 and the next two against the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in Tampere, Finland. 

It essentially ended the Blue Jackets’ hopes for joining the playoff race in the Eastern Conference and a slew of injuries that followed sealed their fate. Now Kekalainen and John Davidson, the team’s president of hockey operations, are looking for Larsen’s replacement.

Blue Jackets president  John Davidson, left, and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen have three first-round draft picks to use on Friday, including the fifth overall.

Among the available coaching free agents are veterans Bruce Boudreau, who was fired by the Vancouver Canucks mid-season, and Peter Laviolette ― who mutually parted ways with the Washington Capitals on Friday after three seasons. 

Laviolette, 58, ranks eighth all-time and third among active NHL coaches with 752 wins in a 21-year career coaching five teams. Boudreau is 20th all-time and sixth among active coaches with 617 wins for four teams over 15 years.

“Out of respect for the coach that’s still in place, we don’t start any searches. They have a tendency of leaking and creating a bad situation if we were to do that,” Kekalainen said. “We have not (started the search), but we will start evaluating that situation immediately, with a deep look at all the best candidates that may be available. (We’ll) give consideration to the staff that we have here. The rest of the coaches are in place. They’ve done a good job. We evaluate this whole situation as we move forward here. That starts today.”

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

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