When Pascal Vincent was formally introduced as the new head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, much of the oxygen in the room was - for good reason - focused on his short-term predecessor.
With training camp starting today, it's time to look ahead to what we can expect to see from Vincent. He'll have plenty of challenges off-ice, like ensuring that the locker room is galvanized. But what will he preach on the ice?
"I'm highly competitive," Vincent said on Monday. "That's one thing. But, I know that the process is what's going to bring wins at the end of the day. So I'm really focused on the process. But in a simple way, let's put it this way, if they work hard, or the players work hard, that's going to be easy for them. If they don't, then we'll have some chats. But we're going to be working hard. We're going to be fast. We're going to be structured. We're going to be disciplined. And then we'll deal with the issues one by one, and we're gonna stay in the moment. That's my approach."
A few things jump out from this quote, and I think it would be useful to address them individually. Put simply, what does a fast, structured, and disciplined hockey look like?
In today's NHL, "playing fast" is a requirement. But different teams play fast in different ways. Some teams, like the Colorado Avalanche, overwhelm their opponents by coming in waves in transition with players with elite foot speed. Other successful teams accomplish the same objective by letting the puck move decisively and authoritatively, stretching the ice, and stressing the opposing defenses by the mere threat of a dangerous chance. The Blue Jackets don't have a ton of 'burners' up and down the lineup and are probably league-average in overall team speed. So in this instance, playing fast more so relates to quick and efficient decision-making, which means it's imperative that all players are on the same page.
That leads right into structure. Aside from injuries, the team's lack of structure was the most obvious issue in last season's debacle. The word 'structure' is almost over-used as a catchphrase in hockey circles today, so allow me to try to define the term. A team with structure has a guiding set of principles that allows players on the ice the ability to quickly and correctly play as efficiently and cohesively as possible. In some ways, structure is entirely about 'Xs and Os'. For example, playing a '1-2-2 neutral zone forecheck' is a technical strategy and only works if all five players are paddling the canoe in the same direction.
But in the NHL, all the players are familiar with the concept that the team is trying to deploy. And frankly, there isn't a ton of difference between most concepts from team to team. The differences are largely in a coach's ability to get the team to commit to his cocktail of concepts and understand them so effortlessly that they can - wait for it - play fast.
Discipline is another classic buzzword, and like playing with structure, it's the kind of idea that you notice way more when it's lacking. Many would assume Vincent is talking about staying out of the penalty box when they hear the word, but the reality is the Blue Jackets took the 10th fewest penalties in the NHL last season. Instead, what I think Vincent means is that he wants his team to have the discipline to play hockey the right way. But here's the thing. You wanna know what's hard about playing hockey the right way? Everything. The commitment required to take zero shifts off, play suffocating defense, block shots selflessly and without a second thought, and do it for 82 games?
Vincent said all of the right things in Monday's media session. But now comes the hard part: getting this team to believe and commit to achieving those missions.