In many ways, this season presents a fresh start for the Blue Jackets, thanks to the many new faces around the locker room – a list that doesn’t just include players.
Assistant coaches Keith Acton and Craig Hartsburg are the latest additions to the Blue Jackets coaching staff, joining the staff last June roughly a month after head coach Todd Richards was promoted to head coach.
Richards took over the reigns last January as interim head coach and led the team to an 18-21-2 record through the end of the season. A few weeks after shedding the interim status, he brought Acton and Hartsburg to Columbus as assistants alongside Dan Hinote.
For Richards, choosing Acton and Hartsburg was an easy decision and both are “great hires,” thanks to their combined knowledge and coaching experience in the NHL.
“They’ve been around the game, they know the game extremely well and you’re looking for their opinions and their advice,” Richards said.
Acton has spent more than ten years as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs while Hartsburg has experience as both a head coach and assistant coach with several NHL teams, including the Calgary Flames, Anaheim Ducks, and Ottawa Senators.
“Craig’s been a head coach at a lot of different levels," Richards said. "He’s been a coach at this level, so he has run training camps, and I think you’re always looking for guys like that. At least, I am."
Hartsburg said that being in Columbus presented an opportunity to be a part of a new start for the Blue Jackets.
“I looked at this as a situation that’s going to continue to grow and get better, and we can help Todd build this team,” Hartsburg said. “I think from being a head coach, I understand the importance of having good support staff, good people to help with different ideas and things that happen.
"We’ve all had success in this league, we’ve all had failures in this league.”
The coaching staff has quite a few obstacles to overcome in order to “build the team.” An abbreviated training camp means less time to get to know the players, identify the best line combinations, and teach new systems – a situation that Acton acknowledges as a challenge.
“The hard part for me is I haven’t known really any of the players," Acton said. "You have a one week training camp where you’re trying to get to know them and know their strengths and all of the attributes, so that’s been the difficult part because normally you have ten exhibition games."
“It’s been really interesting to see the players and work with the players that we’ve been talking about for months,” Hartsburg added. “The players have been great, they’ve worked extremely hard, they’ve been real receptive to the changes being put in place.”
Yet, the overall transition to Columbus has been an easy one for Acton and Hartsburg. Like the players, they have been preparing for the puck to drop, working with Richards and Hinote to go over all aspects of the game. As a result, they have a plan.
“We know how we want to play, we know how we want to treat the players,” Hartsburg said. “We’ve all been around long enough that we feel comfortable with working with the players and teaching the new systems. The way we want to play is a collaboration of all of our thoughts and our experiences."
“We’ve spent a lot of time together in the summer and July and all of September together, so we’ve gone over all the aspects of the game, and Todd is very, very thorough and very knowledgeable, and he asks us our opinion on all of the things, all of the aspects of the game,” Acton added.
“I think as a coaching staff because of the time that we did spend talking about all of the strategies, and there are many in this game, we are really comfortable with each other and we’re really ready to go.”