Blue Jackets’ Christmas Mailbag: Where Do They Go From Here?

The Columbus Blue Jackets have one more game to play before Christmas against the Chicago Blackhawks. We thought this would be a good time to gather around one last time before the holidays. But this time, it’s the fan’s turn to ask the questions.

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We know you have a lot on your mind when it comes to the Blue Jackets. It’s been a nightmare season that has so much more to play out. It’s not fun for anyone involved. You are likely frustrated beyond belief. This was supposed to be the start of something special. Instead, you wonder who the next injured player will be.

In our last offering before Christmas, I will be answering questions that came in from fans on Twitter. What will set this apart is the brutal honesty I will answer some of these questions with. As our gift to the fans, there will be no holding back. You will get my unadulterated opinion.

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We had a lot of great questions come in. Kick back. Relax. See what other fans had to ask. And enjoy some brutal honesty from yours truly.

Blue Jackets Christmas Q&A

Question: Jarmo often mentioned Emil Bemstrom, Liam Foudy, and Alex Texier as the prospects “everyone asks about” that you could build around. Bemstrom and Foudy haven’t been able to carve out a role and Texier is overseas. Do any of them have a future in Columbus? -Leonard Farrell

Mark: While all of them have a chance still Leonard, I see only one of these three with a realistic shot. That’s Bemstrom. Although he didn’t last long in his most recent stint, there’s still stuff to like about him. What he needs to do is bridge the gap between the AHL and NHL. He needs to play with the same confidence he’s playing with now. The Blue Jackets do still believe in him. But he has to show he deserves another chance. How many chances has he had? He played on the top-six and couldn’t stick.

Emil Bemstrom Blue Jackets
Emil Bemstrom still has a chance to play an important role for the Blue Jackets. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As for Foudy and Texier, I’m very concerned. Foudy is where on the depth chart? He has yet to score a regular season NHL goal and has consistency issues. He’s becoming a candidate for a fresh start. As for Texier, I’m not sure we ever see him in a Blue Jackets’ uniform again. The door is certainly not closed but I am not confident he returns. Talk about a golden opportunity to shine if he was with the Blue Jackets now, eh? But in all seriousness, we hope everything is OK with him closer to home.

Question: How do you see the goalie situation going into next year between Elvis, Korpi, and Tarry? -Douglas (@TheBlueRogue)

Mark: Douglas, I see Merzlikins and Tarasov sharing the net in a 1A, 1B situation where the hot hand plays. If Merzlikins can get out of his funk, that could become a strong tandem in net. Big if though. As for Korpisalo, until the Blue Jackets prove it otherwise, I think he becomes a trade deadline casualty. But we thought that last year too, right? Tarasov is making things quite interesting in the front office as he’s been their best goalie this season.

Question: Given his suddenly booming ice time and move to center given the injuries, do you think Kent Johnson will possibly win the Calder Trophy? And do you think that this move to the middle could be a permanent one even as the middle gets healthy again? -Jonathan (@CBJCannonCrew)

Mark: Win it? I’m not there yet. In the conversation? Absolutely. If he stays in the middle when everyone is healthy, he could make a real race out of things. I am just not convinced he stays at 1C the whole season. If he did then I’d say he could win it.

Question: If there were 12 Days of CBJ, what would be gifted each day to the fans? -Scott Clevenger (@GoalieDad_35)

Mark: 1. Alcohol of choice. 2. Bubble wrap for the players. 3. One game without a new injury. 4. More alcohol. 5. A signed jersey of your choice. 6. Full refund of 9-4 Buffalo game for those that went. 7. A one-time ability to fast forward to end of season. 8. Patrik Laine top cheddar. 9. Johnny Gaudreau breaking Blue Jackets’ points record. 10. Even more alcohol. 11. Merzlikins finds himself. 12. Win Connor Bedard. Bonus gift: Could CBJ actually mean Connor Bedard Jackets?

Connor Bedard, Regina Pats
Connor Bedard could change a franchise forever. (Photo Credit: Keith Hershmiller)

Question: How do you feel management has been doing with the short term and long term goals with the player development? Do you expect David Jiricek any time this year? Seems to be doing well in Cleveland. Hope you have a Merry Christmas. -@PMike96608721

Mark: Merry Christmas to you as well, Mike. As for my take on management, they could do a much better job here on a couple of fronts. First, they need to be decisive about a plan for where certain players play. Second, they need to have a better read on what they truly have. Remember when they said the Foudy and Bemstrom were going to be a big part of this team? Yeah. This hasn’t worked out for them.

While the on-ice development falls on the coaches, management put this roster together. In order to have good and proper development, you need the right mix of players. Injuries are a factor and must be accounted for. But even when the team was healthy early on, it was a mess. They need a veteran or two that can fit in this group to help this young team achieve their potential. This affects both the short and long term. Get the right mix.

Related: Blue Jackets Present Most Attractive Fit for 2023 Top Prospects

As for Jiricek, they have handled him very well. They decided to keep him in Cleveland. That’s 100% the right move. He’s thriving away from the drama. Give credit where it’s due. He needs to stay there once he’s back from the World Junior Championship.

Question: Who do you think (has made) the most of their opportunity this season given the injuries? Who do you see as a guy who is playing into the future lineup? -Vince Stinnett

Mark: It’s a shame he got injured, but Nick Blankenburg did once he got a chance. He has started to skate again so that’s good news. As mentioned above, Tarasov has given something for the front office to think about. He could be ready sooner than anticipated. One more for now, Marcus Bjork went from way down on the depth chart to number-one defenseman playing on the top PP and alongside Vladislav Gavrikov. Talk about making the most of something. He’s done ok for himself too given the situation.

Question: When players get called up from minors, how are they housed? Does the team provide temporary housing, does team leadership bring players into their homes, or is it up to promoted player?

Mark: If you got some time to read, the CBA covers this topic. Specifically Article 14 gives the details of what all is included. It talks about rent/mortgage expenses, rental cars, hotel accommodations and much more. In short, a transferred player shall be provided a single room for up to 21 days in a new city. Straight from the CBA in 14.1: “For purposes of this Article, any transfer of a Player by a Club by way of Trade, Waivers, expansion, team relocation, Loan, or Recall shall be referred to as a “Transfer.” A Player subject to a Transfer shall be referred to as “Transferred.”

Question: When it comes to your fantasy league, why is my team so bad? -Jason Newland

Mark: Jason, had you drafted better players, your team wouldn’t be so bad.

Question: Who do you see winning the two lottery draws? -Gary Weinheimer

Mark: Chicago and Philadelphia. Sorry but until it actually happens, I don’t have much confidence in the Blue Jackets getting the luck they need.

Question: Can you break down REALISTICALLY maybe even with STATISTICS what our likely draft picks will be (like numbers not people)? What kind of equity do we have for each round, projecting our end of season likelihood of high first round? -Morgan Bennett

Mark: As we speak, the Blue Jackets have eight selections in the 2023 NHL Draft, six of which are in the first four rounds. They have their first, second, third and fourth and hold an extra third and fourth. While they traded away their fifth rounder, they hold their sixth and seventh rounder. Being that they are 30th in the standings, the worst they could do assuming they get jumped twice is pick fifth overall. That will help. But they want the big prize. First overall. Given the road schedule left, I think they finish last in the East and somewhere in the bottom-five overall.

Question: Is Brad Larsen an NHL coach? -@UnionBlue1789 Also: Do you expect coach Larsen to have the trsut of his players come opening night of the 2023-24 season? -Phil Hoffman

Mark: Yes he is. However I get why this question is being asked. He’s currently in an awful position given who all is missing. You can’t judge his record based on that. That’s not fair. The Blue Jackets played their game in Philadelphia with 10 rookies out of 20 dressed skaters. That’s absurd.

Now, there is the other side of the story. Lineup decisions, in-game decisions, structure and more. He’s still a newer coach and learning. He’s not new to the league at all. But he is fresh as a head coach. Quite frankly, so is the rest of his coaching staff. I actually think their patience is the correct approach. But he needs to be better too.

Brad Larsen and Pascal Vincent, Columbus Blue Jackets
Brad Larsen is doing all he can to navigate an awful situation. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Good practices. Good and constructive feedback. Getting the most out of players and having them respond to your style. All of these things fall on the head coach. Some players have done well under him. Others have struggled. Now what does he do to help his struggling players? That’s what needs to be watched. Let’s see how much development the team gets in these last 50 games. It’s on Larsen to maximize that, no exceptions.

As for trust, I do expect him to have it. Why? No one has quit. If you start seeing a trend of players showing signs of giving up, then worry. But we’re not there at this time.

Question: What would your perfect Blue Jackets’ offseason be for this year? And how long until we contend again? -@jbird8554

Mark: Three things, John. First, leave the 2023 draft with Bedard or Adam Fantilli. Second, address the blue line by finding a legit top-four defender. Third, whatever it takes to ensure no instability in net. That’s the perfect offseason. As for length of time until contention, 2-3 years. It could be quicker with luck from the lottery. But they have a lot of holes to fill.

Question: How much confidence does ownership have in Jarmo Kekalainen moving forward? Is his seat getting warm? -Aaron Kenney

Mark: Kekalainen’s seat better be warm, Aaron. No one is excluded from accountability. But we don’t know what ownership is thinking. They generally do not talk to the media about these kind of things. This season as I recently wrote about should call everything into question top to bottom. This includes Kekalainen. His results have been mixed. Great trades. Some bad signings. Some great draft picks. Some awful missed opportunities. And we’re 10 years in with him at the helm with just one playoff series win. They sit in 30th place while using long-term injured reserve. I can’t imagine ownership being thrilled with the spending only to be in this position.

Jarmo Kekalainen Columbus Blue Jackets
Jarmo Kekäläinen is facing his most important stretch yet as Blue Jackets’ general manager. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

I ultimately think Kekalainen returns next season as there is a plan in place. But it’s similar to Larsen where another rough start won’t be tolerated. They cannot stand pat despite the injuries. He will be judged on how he fixes the roster in the offseason. Does he recognize what this team needs? There needs to be progress. I will say one more thing. No one is quitting despite the situation. That does reflect well on management and coaching as to the belief in where they could eventually go. But without a doubt, this stretch is the most important of his Blue Jackets’ career.

Question: Seems like many callups from the AHL are being limited to under 10 games. Does Marchenko go down before 10? Does Bemstrom not come back this season barring injuries? -Mark Froling

Mark: At this point Mark, the Blue Jackets are just trying to ice a healthy roster. Several guys have been up over 10 games out of necessity. But other situations are different. Bemstrom’s is one. He had to clear waivers but then was sent back before his window expired. Had they waited, he would have needed to clear waivers again. In all, they will keep the players up that deserve to be up and handle from there.

Question: What does a Merzlikins buyout look like? -@hailthatcab

Mark: I do not see this happening. Not at the start of the contract like this. They must get him right whatever it takes. But since you asked, here is a breakdown of a Merzlikins’ buyout according to CapFriendly. Cap savings for four years and then dead cap for the last four years. I don’t think the Blue Jackets are interested in a dead cap hit like that.

Question: Thoughts on why Robinson-Kuraly-Olivier gets so much ice time? -@merzly4vezident

Mark: It’s actually very simple. They have the most trust from Larsen. They play against the opponent’s best and can defend. In terms of overall experience, that’s one of their most experienced lines. I don’t see this going away anytime soon. Although what I would like to see is them split up in the bottom-nine to give a different look. Why not try some things out with 50 games left? There could be some chemistry with guys and they don’t know about it. Only one way to find out if it’s there.

One last question for now…

Question: Is there concern about prospect development in this organization? What does good prospect development look like and who is responsible? Is it beyond coaching? -Brad Hirsch

Mark: If there isn’t concern, there should be. What happened to the promise of Foudy and Bemstrom? If they’re missing on these players, then that’s a concern. I do have a theory on this I will share.

I believe the best run teams are the ones in which new players come in, fit seamlessly into the structure and continue on the same course. They need to be surrounded by veterans who know what it takes to win. The other part to this is good decision making by management and the coaches as each situation is unique.

I look at a team like Detroit as someone who is good at development. They don’t rush guys to the NHL. They develop in Grand Rapids. When ready, they come to the Red Wings and are immediately ready to contribute. It’s beyond coaching. It’s the team’s culture. Steve Yzerman doesn’t get enough credit for this. Look at his work with the Lightning/Crunch and now the Red Wings. A good AHL team does a lot more than they get credit for.

Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings General Manager
Steve Yzerman doesn’t get enough credit for the job he does on multiple levels. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Until the Blue Jackets get back to having that culture around like they did when they were winning and making the playoffs, development will continued to be questioned. Let’s see how they handle these last 50 games. That will give us a good idea of where they’re at and what they need to do to improve. But I am concerned for sure. The results have been nothing but a downward trend for the last five seasons.

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As always, you ask great questions. Thank you so much for reading, engaging and following along. Enjoy your holidays. As we get ready to turn the calendar to a new year, the Blue Jackets will have many important decisions to make. We will be with you to guide you every step of the way.

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