In a surprise move, the Columbus Blue Jackets announced Thursday that assistant coach Brad Larsen has been promoted to head coach, signing a three-year deal prior to the official announcement.
When news broke last month that he would be granted an interview, Larsen did not seem to be a serious contender for the job in the eyes of many Blue Jacket fans. The front office saw things through a different lens, however, and the former assistant now becomes the 8th head coach in franchise history.
While some Blue Jacket fans sullied Thursday's hire, there are several reasons to believe that the franchise made the right move both for this season and for years to come. Here's why:
- Consistency & Familiarity Isn't A Negative
With the hire, the Blue Jackets keep some degree of consistency within the franchise. That would not be a great thing if we count only the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, but let's not forget that Columbus had made the postseason in four consecutive seasons with Larsen as the lead assistant. During his seven total seasons with the franchise, Larsen amassed a record of 269-208-59 with the Blue Jackets. For a team that spent most of that time flying under the radar, the more-wins-than-losses-even-when-you-include-overtime-losses record isn't too shabby.
- Larsen Is A Players' Coach - And Who The Players Wanted
Despite having a reputation as a tough guy, former head coach John Tortorella was well-respected by former players. That doesn't make him a players coach, though, but that term is far more likely to apply to Larsen. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen stated numerous times in recent weeks that he would use input from current players to help make a decision. With his contract up, the Blue Jackets players and organization had their chance to bid farewell to Larsen, no hard feelings on any side. The fact that they didn't speaks to what he's shown both sides over the last several seasons. There is far more that goes on behind the scenes than what we actually see.
- Power Play Problems Weren't All On Him
Larsen took all the heat for a power play that has long-struggled. He coaches the power play, but as our own Dan Dukart pointed out two years ago, teams led by Tortorella have historically suffered on the man-advantage; even when they were otherwise good enough to wind up being Stanley Cup champs, as Torts' 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning were. So, one of two things must be true: Either Tortorella routinely hires assistant coaches that aren't good at coaching the power play, or blaming an assistant coach can only go so far. Let's also keep in mind that Larsen wasn't purely the power play coach; it was one of many roles he had with the team. Passing this responsibility on to his own team of assistants and letting Larsen put his focal point elsewhere could prove to pay dividends across the board.
- He's Had Success As A Head Coach
When he retired as a player, Larsen immediately went into coaching, and in 2012, became a head coach for the first time. That was with the Springfield Falcons, the AHL affiliate of the Blue Jackets at the time. In two seasons as head coach, Larsen had a record of 92-45-15, with playoff berths in both years. Not going unnoticed, Larsen was promoted to a job with the big club in time for the 2014 season.
Assistant coach and head coach are vastly different roles, and it's at least possible that Larsen is simply a better head coach than assistant coach. Before that notion is scoffed at, apply the concept to a real-world example: how many people in our day-to-day lives have, at some point in their career path, felt like they were with the right group, but in the wrong role? Or in the right role, but at the wrong time?
Larsen has proved that being a head coach can be the right role for him.
Now let's find out if it's the right time, and with the right group.