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Ken Hitchcock guided Columbus to its first-ever playoff berth last season. ((Christian Petersen/Getty Images))

The Columbus Blue Jackets have fired head coach Ken Hitchcock, general manager Scott Howson announced Wednesday afternoon.

Assistant Claude Noel was named interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

Hitchcock arrived in Columbus in November 2006 and guided the Blue Jackets to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season. But the team is in danger of missing the post-season this year, ranking 14th in the 15-club Western Conference with a record of 22-27-9.

"The team was not responding to the message and this is a change we felt was necessary in order to move forward in the right direction," Howson told reporters.

Columbus got off to a decent start this season, but things began to turn in late November. The Blue Jackets went just 3-14-7 between Nov. 21 and Jan. 7.

Columbus was drubbed 5-1 by Colorado on Tuesday.

Howson had praise for Hitchcock, and said that he deserved the chance to work out of the team's prolonged slump.

"We wanted to be patient, we felt we owed that to him," the GM said. "We know he's an excellent coach and we kept hoping he'd find the solution ... but as time wore on it just seemed like that wasn't going to happen."

Known as an expert in defensive tactics, Hitchcock, 58, is part of Team Canada's coaching staff for the Vancouver Olympics. He'll serve as an assistant to Mike Babcock.

Prior to joining the Jackets, Hitchcock was a head coach in Philadelphia for four years, and Dallas for seven. He steered the Stars to a Stanley Cup championships in 1999 and a Western Conference title the following year.

He boasts a career regular season record of 511-323-61, with 88 ties.

Noel, 54, was hired as a Columbus assistant before the 2007-08 season after spending four campaigns as the head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League. He was named the AHL's coach of the year after Milwaukee won the Calder Cup in 2004.

"You're going to see some changes, but I'm not going to reinvent the game," said Noel, who'll make his debut Thursday at home against Dallas.

Prior to his coaching career, Noel spent several seasons as a forward in the minors, playing seven NHL games with the Washington Capitals.