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Hitchcock gone: He’s never had to coach a club like the recent Leaf teams

Good goaltending makes coaches look good; less strong goaltending can have the opposite effect, so it’s no surprise that Ken Hitchcock has been fired in Columbus.

I’m sure there will be fans who immediately will call for Hitchcock to ride into town to take over as their team’s new coach, because of his reputation as a “turnaround” specialist and a guy who can “teach” and motivate.

The thing is, he may well be an outstanding NHL coach. He’s certainly intense and is engaging with the media. He won a Cup with the Stars.

All this said, he’s also had great teams to work with. He’s never had to deal with the equivalent of the 2005-’06 through to the 2009-‘10 Maple Leafs.

When he took over from Gainey in Dallas, they were loaded with solid players. Mike Modano was in his prime and Guy Carbonneau was an outstanding checking center. They had an elite gunner in Brett Hull—not to mention a veteran, rock-solid defense and Eddie Belfour at absolutely the top of his game as an NHL’er.

In Philadelphia, again he had some great players, though not the goaltending he had in Dallas. He did a nice job but, as in Dallas, but without top-tier goaltending couldn’t take the team all the way.

He eventually wore out his welcome there, too.

In Columbus, everyone seemed to believe that he was taking the team to the so-called “next-level”, and he did to a certain extent last season—largely due to unbelievable goaltending.

But young Mason has struggled this season, and Hitchcock didn’t seem to have the answers. No coach does when goaltending goes south, as it has this season in markets like Toronto, Carolina and Edmonton.

What I find interesting is not so much that Hitch was fired, but that, if I’m not mistaken, this is the second time in his career that he has been fired just weeks before he was set to help coach Canada at the Olympics (it happened in 2002, as well).

Maybe that’s an advantage for Team Canada, as Hitch will have more time to prepare, scout and break down tendencies, something by all accounts he does very well.

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