Miscellaneous thoughts on a lost season for the Columbus Blue Jackets

They say that if a team is out of the field by American Thanksgiving, they are unlikely to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs. Through the November 20 games, the Columbus Blue Jackets have a record of 7-10-1 and a points percentage of 0.417. This puts them in a tie for 25th in the league and 14th in the East, seven points off playoff spot. The turkey hasn’t been thawed yet, and it’s safe to say that this bird is cooked (so to speak).

I’ve had a lot of chatting in person and online in the past few weeks, trying to wrap my head around how the jackets got to this point, and what the future holds for them. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts on all of that.

We are not supposed to be here today

Through 18 games last season, the Jackets were 12-6 and were in a wild card position. They calmed down and achieved 81 points, 19 points ahead of the eighth seed. It wasn’t a surprise or even a disappointment for this team to miss the playoffs. This year’s edition was still facing an uphill battle in a deeper Eastern Conference, but the addition of Johnny Goudreau and the growth of young talent led me to believe/hope that this team can still take a step forward. Maybe finish 90+ and then improve another 10+ points in the playoffs in 2023-24.

Instead, the Jackets are well behind last year’s pace and are currently on track to finish with 68 points. That’s even behind the woeful 2021 team, which played a blistering 70 points. The Achilles’ heel of last year’s team was the defense, which set a record for goals allowed (297, 3.62 per game). The new defensive system should have solved the problem, but it seems like the players lost more and the results say it all: 4.33 goals are allowed per game, against an increase of 0.71 goals. That’s too bad!

This team has been struggling with its problems at full strength, but is now facing more difficulties with eight players on injured reserve, including four of the seven best defenders, the starting goalkeeper, and two of the most prolific forwards from last season. In total, more than $38 million US dollars are on the injured list.

give tanks

With everything that went wrong, many fans are already starting to turn to next summer’s draft pick for redemption. After a few years of question marks at the top, this category is believed to have at least three generational talents, and there are still more types of permanent stars in the top ten. , and the best chance of moving to the first or second place.

I myself can’t get excited about it yet. There are a lot of things that can change between now and then, whether it’s the Blue Jackets playing better or worse, or the other bottom teams going through their ups and downs. We can’t control that, and we can’t control the outcome of the lottery project, which has historically failed to be of any help. We’ve only gone up once: in 2016, from fourth to third, and we’ll likely end up with Pierre-Luc Dubois either way.

What I really can’t get behind are fans who are now so sold on the idea of ​​a draft lottery that they were disappointed when the Blue Jackets won a game (as they have in four of their last six games, by the way). I got paid to write about this team, so I have to watch most of the games. I’m a quarter-season ticket holder so I get one or two games a month. I even traveled halfway around the world to watch this team in action! So, as a consumer, I ultimately want to be entertained. Victories are fun! Explosion losses are not. I can accept my hard-earned losses, but until then I want the team to get a reward when they play well. They need to reinforce that playing the right way is worth it. They need to learn how to win.

I also fear that rooting for a loss is bad karma. I can remember how many fans in Arizona and Buffalo ran to the bottom in 2015 to win the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. In the end, neither of them landed that major prize and both have been stuck at the bottom of the league ever since (with the exception of Arizona’s appearance in the 2020 Bubble Playoffs). It’s not like this is a list that gets dumped after the draft anyway. Most of the pieces are here: proven players in long-term deals like Gaudreau, Werenski, Laine, future stars of ELCs like Johnson, Sillinger, Jiricek, and so on. They can’t get used to losing.

Finally, a slight improvement over the Jackets’ current pace still makes them comfortable in the lottery pick range. Looking at the last five draft picks and the teams that won their first two draft picks (not including the second-place Seattle expansion in 2021), five out of nine have had better point percentages than they currently have. Last year, Montreal won 22 games. The Jackets can overcome their share of bad teams and still be able to finish comfortably in the bottom ten.

Montreal (2022): .335
New Jersey (2022): .384
Buffalo (2021): .330
New York (2020): .564
Los Angeles (2020): .457
New Jersey (2019): .439
New York (2019): .476
Buffalo (2018): .378
Carolina (2018): 506

The Cleveland Monsters list has been hastily compiled

Some want to send the best young players currently under contract to the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL. The idea is that losing their skills makes the Jackets worse and helps lower their scores, and that the Monsters — currently 8-5-2 and third in the North Division — will get talent that can play big minutes and get them used to winning together.

My main objection to this has to do with the viewership factor I mentioned earlier. For my money, I want to be able to watch Igor Chinakov and Kent Johnson. I don’t want to watch even more Brendan Jones or Gavin Bayreuther.

Beyond that, though, he misses an AHL point. It’s not just for parking players, it’s for player development. Cleveland is a great place for players out of their teens, the NCAA, or Europe who need to adjust to the North American professional game before making it to the NHL. It is important for players to develop certain skill sets against easier competition. A player like Kent Johnson has already shown that he is a player of NHL caliber. He has no proof in the AHL. To the extent he needs to advance his skills, that sharpening has to happen against the high-level competition you find in the NHL.

People cite the merits of those players who were part of the 2015-16 Monsters team that won the Calder Cup. Two of the players on this team who continued their playoff success in Columbus are Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand. But these guys were mid-round draft picks, and they needed that AHL time out. Zach Werenski was the only last pick in the top ten for the team, but he was only a short term addition. He was only there for the playoffs.

So if you want Johnson to go out there for center reps, I can accept that but I don’t think it has to take an entire season; He can play for a month and then come back. Now, if you want to make roster moves so that players like Johnson, Chinakhov, Bemstrom, etc. are eligible for the Calder Cup playoffs next spring, that could be helpful. But that wouldn’t come until after they had played most of the NHL season.

Take off over Lars Bar

Another reason to send the young stars to Cleveland is to keep them away from coach Brad Larsen. If that’s a real concern, it’s pretty appalling for Larsen’s performance this season. If he harms young players, he should be expelled immediately. But if you want this team to scramble, that’s a reason to keep them around for the rest of the season.

There seems to be a lot of affection for Larsen among the management, so I don’t think they’ll make a move in the middle of the season. However, I think a change should be made after the season. There is plenty of time left in the season for Larsen to change my mind, but it would require a drastic change in results and style of play that I think is impossible.

I knew making the playoffs was the best case scenario at the start of the season, so my goal was more focused on building on what the team accomplished last season. I gave Larsen credit for how hard this team played, and how it exceeded expectations. Many players have had career years or bounce back seasons. However, this season we witnessed a decline or stagnation in many players. More disturbingly, this team is much softer. Last season’s team was one of the league leaders with consecutive wins. This season’s team often folds at the first sign of adversity. How many games have you conceded a series of goals in the second half, followed by 30 minutes of lifeless hockey?

The most disappointing thing is how much Larsen relies on veterans in these situations, despite the team being one of the youngest in the league, by average age. Six forwards aged 23 or younger have played this season. All averaged less than 14 minutes per game.

Cole Selinger (18 GP) 13:23
Igor Chinakov (18 matches) 13:11
Emil Bemström (6 GP) 13:05
Kent Johnson (15 GP) 12:39
Tre Fix-Wolansky (1 GP) 12:08
Liam Foddy (10 GP) 11:10

I should note that Chinakov (10 points) and Johnson (9 points) are third and fourth on the team in scoring. Imagine what they could achieve with more transformations and/or better companions!

It is also important that we get the best minutes from potential clients so we know what their potential is. Is Bemstrom among the top 9 forwards in the NHL? Is Johnson focused? The answers go a long way in determining how the roster will be built next season and beyond. Larsen urges “patience” with someone like Johnson, but he constantly changes lines from game to game or period to period. Johnson makes great plays when he’s with Gaudreau, but it’s not enough to earn him a longer look on that streak.

minimum

For those who want tanks, you don’t have to worry too much. The number of major injuries significantly lowers the team’s ceiling. The challenge of the Eastern Conference means it will be difficult for this team to get past 70 points even if they show improvement. Finally, the mismanagement of the roster by the head coach should also play in favor of the tank.

After this season? Everything needs to be reevaluated, from GM Jarmo Kikalainen to head coach Brad Larsen to the strength and conditioning coaching staff (I think injuries are mostly bad luck and headed the same staff in some healthy seasons, but also others like this where everyone got injured). There is a core group of players here that could be a playoff team next year, especially if they can add a Conor Bedard or Adam Fantelli type player. But the question is whether the right leadership and supporting pieces are in place to allow this center to reach its potential.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: