The Columbus Blue Jackets have relieved head coach Ken Hitchcock of his duties behind the bench and named assistant coach Claude Noel as the club's interim head coach, the team announced Wednesday.
"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," said general manager Scott Howson in a statement.
"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. Claude Noel is a good hockey coach with a proven track record in the American Hockey League. He knows our team and is deserving of this opportunity."
After being fired by the Philadelphia Flyers early in the 2006-07 season, Hitchcock took over the reigns in Columbus a month later and almost managed to get the club to the .500 mark in 62 games.
The following season, the Blue Jackets finished with a record of 34-36-12 and he was rewarded with a three-year extension. He has two full years remaining on his contract.
Last season, the Blue Jackets (41-31-10) broke through the playoff barrier for the first time in franchise history but were swept in four games by the Detroit Red Wings.
Hitchcock, who first made his mark as head coach of the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, started his NHL coaching career with the Dallas Stars in 1995-96 and led the team to their first Stanley Cup three years later. His next stop came with the Flyers in 2002-03.
Hitchcock leaves the Blue Jackets as the sixth-longest tenured coach in the NHL, trailing only Anaheim's Randy Carlyle, Buffalo's Lindy Ruff, Detroit's Mike Babcock, Nashville's Barry Trotz and Vancouver's Alain Vigneault.
Hitchcock is an assistant coach for the Canadian Olympic team competing at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Noel, 54, joined the Blue Jackets as an assistant coach in 2007 after spending four seasons as the head coach of the American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals.
The Blue Jackets are 22-27-9 this season and are 11 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.