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Blue Jackets fire Hitchcock
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A season after leading the Blue Jackets to their first playoff appearance, Ken Hitchcock has been fired.

Hitchcock, 58, will be replaced on an interim basis by assistant coach Claude Noel.

After helping rejuvenate the franchise over the previous two seasons, Hitchcock has been unable to stop a protracted slide, which began in late November and has the Jackets sitting 14th in the Western Conference standings. They are 10-20-7 since Nov. 19 and 22-26-9 overall.

"It's terrible news," Jackets captain Rick Nash said. "It's terrible news, it's terrible we couldn't play better, and the coach had to be fired. Hitch put this market on the map. We didn't really have an identity before he got here."

But Hitchcock has been criticized for his handling of young skilled players such as Derick Brassard and Nikita Filatov, who returned to Russia in early November citing a lack of playing time. Many of the Jackets younger players have regressed this season, at times, struggling to decipher the coach's mixed messages.

The club has lacked cohesion and resiliency most of the season. The Jackets have lost 14 games by three goals or more and were blown out by Colorado, 5-1, on Tuesday night, which proved to be Hitchcock's final game.

"This season has been very disappointing for the Blue Jackets organization and our fans and the responsibility for that rests with all of us from management to the coaches and players," Jackets general manager Scott Howson said in a release. "Hitch worked tirelessly to build an identity for this team that was missing before he arrived and deserves a great deal of credit for those efforts. He earned and received the opportunity to turn things around this season, but unfortunately that has not happened and it has become apparent that change is in the best interest of our organization."

Noel, 54, becomes a first-time NHL head coach after joining the Blue Jackets as an assistant coach on June 28, 2007. He spent four seasons as the head coach of the American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals, winning the Calder Cup in 2004. He has a 183-94-12-31 regular season record in the minors.

"Claude Noel is a good hockey coach with a proven track record in the American Hockey League," Howson added. "He knows our team and is deserving of this opportunity."

Hitchcock was hired by the Jackets on Nov. 22, 2006 after being fired a month earlier by the Philadelphia Flyers. He owns a 533-371-136 overall record in coaching stints with Dallas, Philadelphia and the Jackets.

He won the Stanley Cup in 1999 with the Stars and last season became the 13th coach in NHL history to reach the 500-win plateau.

Hitchcock will serve as an assistant coach on the Canadian Olympic hockey team later this month. Ironically, he was let go by the Stars in 2002 before working as an assistant for Team Canada.