There’s no limit to the number of reasons why the Pascal Vincent era should have begun in Columbus much sooner than September 17; however, as we all know, the irresponsible hiring of Mike Babcock by the Blue Jackets front office ultimately delayed the first-time NHL head coach from being named the tenth – if you want to consider Babcock the ninth – head coach in Blue Jackets history. Vincent made it apparent during his media availability on Monday that the 78-day tenure of Mike Babcock, though it may have complicated some things, has not affected his excitement level to get things started.
The Task at Hand
It would be naïve to say that any person could enter their first NHL head coaching job without some anxiety – one can only imagine how the situation at hand has amplified that for Vincent. Let’s make one thing clear – Vincent is an experienced head coach who has found success at every level he has coached. Perhaps what is most true about this entire situation is that there may not be a single coach in the NHL today who would be prepared to face what Pascal Vincent will endure in his first few weeks behind the bench in Columbus.
It’s been a difficult few days, don’t get me wrong. We’ve been facing some adversity. As a team, as a coach, as a person, what do you do? You face it and you move on.Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Pascal Vincent
What does moving on look like for the Columbus Blue Jackets? Ensuring the locker room is united between those who supported Babcock and those who didn’t is paramount. Thankfully, this is a job that Vincent has some support with. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen began to lay the foundation for team unity when he addressed the team before Monday’s media availability, apologizing for the unintended consequences of hiring Mike Babcock in the first place.
The Road to Becoming an NHL Bench Boss
The phrase “this was a long time coming” is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly in the midst of Vincent’s hiring. Of course, as many know, Vincent was passed up by the Blue Jackets in 2021 when the team hired Brad Larsen to replace John Tortorella behind the bench. Kekalainen, being impressed by Vincent’s candidacy, did all that he could to get him into the organization, and he found that spot next to Larsen as the team’s associate head coach. Perhaps this summer was a little bit of a same song, different verse situation when Vincent was once again passed up as the front office turned the keys to Mike Babcock. In some ways, it’s a true testament to his character to stick it out with the organization in the midst of change and a lack of job security. Vincent could have taken a page out of Kenny McCudden’s playbook. McCudden left the team with one year remaining on his contract – same as Vincent before being hired as head coach – after the hiring of Babcock to join the Washington Capitals staff, and after everything that transpired last week, can you blame him?
Regardless of the circumstances, Vincent begins his tenure as head coach during an exciting time for the franchise. Its top prospects just dominated in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament, with a number of players demonstrating that they are ready to compete for an NHL roster spot and another group proving that they will be elite-level AHL players this season. Player development is an area that Vincent has long demonstrated success. Vincent’s head coaching career began in the QMAAA, a premiere development league in Quebec, during the 1995-1996 season. He later went on to coach in the QMJHL from 1999-2011, with general manager responsibilities from 2001-2011. Vincent was no stranger to personal accolades during his time in the QMJHL, as he was named General Manager of the Year for the 2006-2007 season and Coach of the Year for the 2007-2008 season.
Vincent’s opportunity to move to the NHL presented itself heading into the 2011-2012 season when he was named an assistant coach on Claude Noel’s staff for the Winnipeg Jets inaugural season after relocating from Atlanta. His opportunity to return behind the bench as the head coach came in 2016-2017, when he was named the head coach of the Jets’ AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. Just one year later, Vincent won the Louis AR Pieri Memorial Award for being the AHL’s top head coach.
A number of Blue Jackets fans would tell you that they’ve been asking for Vincent to be named the head coach since Brad Larsen was relieved of his duties, so the fan reaction to Vincent being named head coach in the wake of the Babcock controversy has been largely positive. Perhaps the more important endorsement, however, is from the players, and Patrik Laine, who has known Vincent since he entered the league in 2016-2017, couldn’t be more excited.
I’ve known him since I got to Winnipeg at 18 years old. I’m super excited. I told him that straight up. I haven’t been this excited in a long time. I’m super happy for him.Patrik Laine on the hiring of Pascal Vincent
Laine isn’t the only Blue Jacket that has been vocal in their support of Vincent being named head coach.
Knowing Pazzy, he definitely deserves this. He’s a really hard-working, intelligent coach that cares about everyone in that room. I’m super excited; I know the other guys are as well. It seems so quick that camp opens in two days, but we are not worried about Pazzy at all. We know we’re going to be prepared in every aspect. That’s a credit to him and how he goes about his business and how much work he puts in.Blue Jackets captain Boone Jenner
Blue Jackets defenseman and alternate captain Zach Werenski noted that Vincent’s experience makes him a “super smart” hockey coach, which has been apparent numerous times during Vincent’s tenure with the Blue Jackets. While the powerplay was far from elite the last two seasons, the team posted a 18.6% efficiency rate on the powerplay in 2021-2022 and a 18.3% efficiency rate last season, both up significantly from 15.4% in 2021, Vincent was not in charge of the powerplay. Additions such as Adam Fantilli and a healthy Werenski will help Vincent’s powerplay scheme tremendously, one can assume. Vincent also coached three regular season games in 2021-2022 when Larsen was placed in COVID protocol and two regular season games in Columbus last season during a personal absence taken by Brad Larsen to attend a family funeral. In the latter of the two stints, Vincent made what was originally viewed as a curious choice that has now turned into one with some merit – putting Laine at center. Laine expressed a desire to keep at learning the position, but time will tell if the “super smart” move by Vincent in 2022-2023 will carry over into the 2023-2024 season.
If anyone had doubts that Pascal Vincent is ready for an NHL head coaching gig, they were certainly put to rest by his media availability on Monday. Vincent spoke with great conviction about the direction he sees this team moving and showed a genuine understanding for the importance of player and coach relationships, something that his predecessor, if you can call Babcock that, failed to understand. That alone should be a breath of fresh air for Blue Jackets fans.
If this team works hard and competes, they will support us. And that’s what we need to do. We need to compete. There’s no other way to win hockey games anyway. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything. So we are going to compete, and they are going to see it. Words are cheap. I get it. But when they see us out there, they’ll see it.Blue Jackets head coach Pascal Vincent
The Blue Jackets will take the ice under Vincent’s leadership for the first time at training camp on Thursday.