- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2012

COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) - After weeks of lopsided losses and blown leads, the Columbus Blue Jackets fired second-year coach Scott Arniel.

In announcing Arniel’s dismissal and the elevation of assistant Todd Richards to interim head coach, general manager Scott Howson said the season had “gone off the rails.”

Under Arniel, the Blue Jackets were just 11-25-5 this season _ the worst record in the NHL.

Richards was 77-71-16 as head coach of the Minnesota Wild from 2009-11. His first game leading Columbus will be Tuesday night in Chicago.

Howson announced the firing Monday, the morning after the club’s latest dreadful loss: a 7-4 setback at Anaheim. The Ducks came into the game just one point ahead of the Blue Jackets’ league-low 27 points but dominated throughout.

Howson said things had spiraled out of control recently.

“We were playing pretty good (after a bad start) until the middle of December and we were going in the right direction, but it’s gone off the rails since then,” he said on the team’s website of the Blue Jackets’ 2-8-1 mark since Dec. 15.

The Blue Jackets have blown eight games in which they led heading into the final period, the most in the NHL by a wide margin.

Just before meeting with the players on Monday morning, Richards said he did not plan wholesale changes.

“I’ve got a list of to-dos,” he said. “I don’t think it’s big changes. It’s little tweaks, little things here and there.”

Arniel was hired as the fifth head coach in Blue Jackets history on June 8, 2010, and compiled a 45-60-18 record in 123 games.

In his first season, the Blue Jackets were a respectable 34-35-13 despite a lineup that included only one certifiable top-line player in perennial All-Star forward Rick Nash.

Last summer, Howson met the demands of many frustrated fans when he pulled off a major deal with Philadelphia to bring in high-scoring star Jeff Carter. Howson also traded for the rights to James Wisniewski and then signed him to a lucrative contract, locking up a puck-moving defenseman the franchise had long needed. Established veterans Vinny Prospal and Radek Martinek were also brought aboard.

But, for the most part, the season has been a disaster from the beginning.

Wisniewski sat out the first eight games for a head shot on Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck in an exhibition game, and Carter was injured and missed games while Columbus stumbled to a 1-9-1 start _ the worst in franchise history.

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