A week ago, nobody could have predicted that Pascal Vincent would be the Blue Jackets head coach heading into training camp, which begins on Wednesday with physicals.
A lot can change in a week.
On the morning of Sept. 12, the newest episode of the Spittin' Chiclets podcast was released, and it included an allegation from co-host and former NHLer Paul Bissonnette, who alleged that then-head coach Mike Babcock had "been asking various Blue Jackets to see their phones then AirPlaying their photos on his office TV."
Fast forward five days, which included a joint investigation by the NHL and NHLPA which found players on the team were indeed uncomfortable with what Babcock was doing, and you get to a Sept. 17 announcement from the Blue Jackets that Babcock had resigned.
Monday, Vincent was introduced as the 10th full-time head coach in franchise history, and he has support from the team's general manager, Jarmo Kekalainen.
"He was the perfect choice," Kekalainen said. "He was very close to our first choice (in the coaching search that led to Babcock's hiring.) He's been with our organization now for two years. He was interviewed for the head coaching position two years ago, and we were very impressed with him. [We] hired him as an associate head coach at the time. And he's a perfect continuation to what's been a long-term plan all the way."
Vincent is no stranger to being a bench boss. While this is his first NHL coaching job, he was a head coach for the AHL's Manitoba Moose for five seasons (155-139-31, .526 PTS%) and won AHL Coach of the Year in 2017-18.
He also spent 12 seasons as a head coach in the QMJHL, compiling a record of 407-278-33-52 (.584 PTS%) and winning QMJHL Coach of the Year honors in 2007-08.
"It's been a difficult few days," Vincent said in his opening statement. "Don't get me wrong. And we've been facing some adversity. And as a team, as a person, as a coach, what do you do? You face it, and you move on. And that's what we intend to do. We're going to move on."
While this is an abrupt change, Vincent believes his familiarity with the team will serve as a positive.
"Well, the advantage that I have is I know those people, right," Vincent said. "I've been with them for two years. And I know they care. They really care about the team. They're not happy about the last year and our results. We have a good room. We really do. And the team concept is not an issue whatsoever. They really care about that team. So to me, that's not an issue at all."
Vincent said he never had any issues with his experiences with Babcock, but reiterated that it was only his personal experience. While he said his vision of how hockey should be played is similar to Babcock's, Vincent said to not expect the same team to be similar to last year.
"So there's going to be some changes what you've seen last year and how we play," Vincent said. "We're going to tweak quite a few things. It's gonna look different."
There's nothing I can say today that can convince anyone. I want them to come here and watch us. That's how we're going to convince them."– Pascal Vincent, Columbus Blue Jackets Head Coach
The Laval, Quebec, native also spoke about his process.
"I'm highly competitive," Vincent said. "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."
On the issue of feeling comfortable enough to speak to the coach, Vincent said that part is up to the coaching staff.
"We have that connection with the players," Vincent said. "And we have a lot of people that are supporting us, the coaching staff, Steve McCarthy, Jared Boll, and all those guys. They have really good relationships with the players. I do as well. The one thing that we need to do is, we have a plan, we're going to agree on a plan, and we're going to evaluate the players on those concepts and keep the door open. I mean, it's an open-door policy, I've always worked that way. We have good conversations. Sometimes they're hard conversations, [but] they need to happen. But if the player knows that you have his best interest at heart, the gray area disappears."
"They know we care about them," Vincent continued. "We're going to keep the door open, as we always did. And we're just going to be honest with them. I have no secret plays in my game. Like I have no secret plays. It is what it is. We're going to be honest, we're going to tell the truth. And that's what they expect. NHL players, elite professionals, that's what they expect. They want to know the truth. But they want to have a conversation and [know] why am I doing this wrong? Well, this is why and how can we fix it. We need to have a plan to fix the issue."
The Blue Jackets are coming off a brutal season where they finished with the second-worst record in the NHL, but Vincent knows the fans will support the team despite their record.
"I've had that conversation," Vincent said. "Jared Boll lives here. He's played for the team. He wore the Blue Jacket jersey. He's bleeding Blue Jacket. You know what I mean? Like, he's a Blue Jacket. And we talked about the fans. And we were saying how amazed we were with people supporting our team. And the fifth line. And I know our marketing people, they're doing an amazing job."
"But what we realized is, if this team works hard and competes, they will support us," Vincent added. "And that's what we need to do. We need to compete. There's no other way to win hockey games. If you don't have that, you don't have anything. So we're going to compete and they're going to see it. I mean, words are cheap, I get it. But when they see us out there, they'll see it. We're going to compete, we're going to work hard, we're going to be structured, and they'll see that the team is improving. The goal is to win as many hockey games as possible, to make the playoffs, and from there who knows what's gonna happen. So that's what we're gonna try to do. There's nothing I can say today that can convince anyone. I want them to come here and watch us. That's how we're going to convince them."
Vincent will look to lead the Blue Jackets to the playoffs for the first time since 2020.