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and we want the team to perform the best
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Watch, now that everyone has gone cold on the Columbus Blue Jackets after several years of overvaluing them, theyll prove all the detractors wrong and make the playoffs. Or maybe not.Still, its hard to get a read on the Blue Jackets, who looked like a team on the rise following their 2014 playoff berth but has had so much go wrong in the two seasons since. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen, given a contract extension this fall, surprised many by eschewing Finnish prospect Jesse Puljujarvi with the third overall pick at the 2016 draft and taking forward?Pierre-Luc Dubois?instead. I get the thought process behind the decision: Dubois can play center and, having traded franchise center Ryan Johansen to Nashville last January for Seth Jones, Columbus needed to fill that void.Still, it was a risk for a franchise that has fallen off the map the past couple of years. But its worth remembering that the Blue Jackets still have offensive depth, a young and mobile blue line, and a former Vezina Trophy winner in goal. How bad can they be?Biggest new facesGiven Columbus relatively quiet offseason, at least in terms of adding veteran players, Dubois is likely to be the biggest new face in the lineup -- but he may only be around for a while. As Kekalainen told us in a recent interview, the process of nurturing a young player like Dubois is a marathon, and were in the first mile. If Dubois stays with the Blue Jackets beyond nine games this season, hell play meaningful minutes.Jones isnt new, although this will be his first full season with the Blue Jackets. He likely will pair up with Ryan Murray as the teams top defensive unit.?Watch for rookie Zach Werenski, who is coming off a monster year with Columbus championship American Hockey League affiliate, to make an impact as the Blue Jackets try to inject speed and mobility to their blue-line corps.John Tortorella -- who took over for Todd Richards in Columbus last season after the Blue Jackets miserable 0-7 start ?-- is coming off a disappointing turn as head coach of Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey. But the upside was that the United States early exit allowed him more time at his first training camp with the Blue Jackets.Biggest unknownsThe Blue Jackets were a mess in their own zone -- and often in goal -- for the first part of last season, and they never crawled out of that hole. They finished 29th in goals allowed, but there should be an asterisk there, as netminder Sergei Bobrovsky once again was dragged down by injury and inconsistent play. He looked like a different player or, more to the point, like the old Bobrovsky of Vezina Trophy fame at the World Cup of Hockey. If hes that player, the Blue Jackets will be right in the mix. Its that simple.Can the remade blue line, which will rely heavily on Jones, Murray and Werenski, emulate what we saw out of the?Pittsburgh Penguins?last season, moving the puck quickly and smartly to a group of potentially explosive forwards? Assuming Dubois is the future franchise center, what does the present look like down the middle? Can Boone Jenner, a 30-goal scorer, fill the void as a No. 1 center? Can captain Nick Foligno regain the form that saw him register 31 goals and 73 points two years ago -- only to see those totals crumble last year to 12 goals and 37 points? And can Sam Gagner make a last career stand with the Blue Jackets?Sure thingsHmm. OK, were still thinking. Just kidding. The surest thing about Columbus is to expect the unexpected. As Kekalainen pointed out, if the Blue Jackets arent where they want to be, they cant blame the expectations, which are pretty much nil for this team to start the season.In terms of personnel, I continue to be so impressed with the evolution of Brandon Saad, who is entering his second season in Columbus after a shocking trade in the summer of 2015. Tortorella is going to ask Saad to do even more, including killing penalties -- which should help refine his two-way game. Saad is a two-time Stanley Cup winner who is coming off a 31-goal campaign and a team-best seven game-winning goals. This is about to become his team, and whether hes wearing a C or not, if the Blue Jackets are going to climb out of this rather sizeable pit, itll be Saad who leads them.PredictionSeriously, it wouldnt shock us all that much if the Blue Jackets become one of those Cinderella, worst-to-first kind of teams vying for a playoff spot next spring. But seeing is believing, especially with this team. 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The 26-year-old Ireland striker, who has four goals this season, has signed a three-and-a-half year contract with his new club. WICB chief executive officer Michael Muirhead has said there was no one specific reason for the termination of coach Phil Simmons contract, nor was it a sudden development. In a nutshell, Muirhead said, Simmons vision did not align with the strategic approach of the WICB and the divide widened over the past few months, reaching a point where a final decision had to be made.The decision to relieve Simmons of the job was taken by the board of directors at the quarterly WICB meeting last weekend in Dominica. It is understood the directors were asked to vote on the matter, but Muirhead would not reveal whether it was a unanimous decision to terminate Simmons contract. It was the boards decision. Let us leave it at that, Muirhead told ESPNcricinfo.Asked whether it was his appraisal that eventually led to the decision, Muirhead did not reveal much. I hired him, so therefore I have to release him but that is on the recommendation of the board, he said. He did point out though that the WICB and Simmons had been deliberating on quite a few contentious issues behind the scenes. The coach has an opinion and the board collectively had another opinion, and that had happened on more than one occasion.It is a whole number of things over a period of time. I cant say it was really one thing. There is no one thing that defines what may have taken place. I think things came to a climax when a decision needed to be made.Simmons track record as West Indies coach was mixed. Appointed after last years World Cup, the high points of his tenure were West Indies draw at home against England last summer, and the World T20 win in India in April. Importantly, the players seemed to be on the same wavelength as Simmons. But Muirhead and the board of directors remained unconvinced. Ultimately it is performance of the team, and we want the team to perform the best it can do, Muirhead said. Was it [doing so] is a question that is still unanswered.Technically, Muirhead was not Simmons boss. That was Richard Pybus, the WICB director of cricket. Simmons had mentioned in an interview that he and Pybus were not on the same page. Relationsship is a difficult word, he had said of Pybus, soon after the World T20 triumph.ddddddddddddHe communicates via emails but he has not spoken to me since the suspension. Its sad because this is not about him or me, this is about West Indies cricket.At last weekends meetings, the board discussed several reports including the Cricket Report submitted by Pybus and the CEOs report prepared by Muirhead. Pybus report was an overall review of cricket across the Caribbean, not limited to the West Indies teams and coaching staff.Reiterating the lack of alignment in strategies, Muirhead said: It has been an ongoing thing where I think Phil, in all that he has said and done, he has not aligned… the relationships were breaking down. I think he himself had ideas for a different strategic approach, notwithstanding one already having been approved and adopted by the board. I dont think he was aligned with that.In a media release sent out on Tuesday, the WICB had pointed out it had identified differences in culture as one reason behind the friction between both parties. Muirhead elaborated: The other thing was the work culture was a little different. It was how we do business, how we execute things. It was an organisational culture. It was not the difference in ethnic culture as has been pointed out elsewhere.Muirhead said he had had conversations with Simmons, and he had to intervene on quite few occasions to resolve issues. The last time they had met was about two months ago, he said. When he called Simmons on Tuesday to reveal the boards decision, he said the chat was cordial and not hostile in any way.Muirhead pointed out it was a matter of coincidence that the Simmons termination was announced the day the West Indies limited-overs squad left for the UAE to play Pakistan. The sanctions and other things could not be discussed without the board meeting. We have board meetings every three months, where we discuss everything including the performance of the teams and the coaching staff. ' ' '
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