The Pittsburgh Penguins flexed their muscles on Friday night. The Tampa Bay Lightning did the same on Sunday afternoon. In both cases, the Columbus Blue Jackets had no answers.
This past weekend showed that the Blue Jackets have a long way to go before we can look at them as a contender. Pittsburgh played a good second period on route to a 3-2 win on Friday. Tampa Bay converted many Blue Jackets mistakes into goals en route to a 4-0 win on Sunday. The Penguins and Lightning showed what it takes to win games in different fashions against a team they should beat.
Pittsburgh used speed and defense to win. Tampa Bay converted opportunities in spite of playing the third period with just nine forwards to win. Columbus couldn’t keep up.
The Penguins and Lightning seem likely to take part in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Blue Jackets seem not. Time to get excited for the draft, right? Well, it’s not as good as it might seem.
As of this writing, the Blue Jackets sit in 26th place overall in the NHL standings, which would be the fifth overall pick in June. That could change depending on what happens the rest of the season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs occupy the bottom of the standings and it’s not close. If they finish last, they can’t pick worse than fourth. The Blue Jackets could get a top three pick from the fifth spot if they were to win the draft lottery. The odds, however, do not favor this outcome for them.
As a result, if the Blue Jackets don’t get a top three pick they’ll find themselves in a bit of a dark place. They’ll miss Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Jesse Puljujarvi. The Blue Jackets are still ways away from contending. They sit in the middle, the worst possible place in hockey. This is hockey purgatory.
Hockey Purgatory: The Worst Possible Place
Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Alexander Ovechkin. Patrick Kane. Jonathan Toews. Steven Stamkos. John Tavares. Connor McDavid. Jack Eichel. These kind of players are not available outside the top three in the draft. The teams who picked these players got to do so by being in place to do so. They weren’t in the middle of the pack. Outside of McDavid and Eichel (that will change soon), their teams have either won the Cup or have gotten good playoff runs.
The Blue Jackets have never won the draft lottery. Their only number one pick came as a result of trading for it. Rick Nash was a great player for them, but the team was never able to get it together. Why? They picked in the top 10, but not at the top. Even worse, their draft picks didn’t pan out, setting them up for years of failure.
Yes, the current Blue Jackets are young. But after seeing them this weekend against true contenders, the gap is big. They NEED a player like Auston Matthews to bridge this gap. Sure, they might go on a run and get into the playoffs in future seasons without him, but the contenders have the best players on them. I’d rather have Edmonton and Buffalo over the next five seasons than Columbus despite their young talent. The reason why is simple: give me McDavid and Eichel.
I’d rather have whoever lands Auston Matthews than Columbus, even if it is Toronto. You need top-end impact players to build around. The Blue Jackets have a young, talented defense. They have other pieces in place. But without that top-end player like Matthews, they will have limited upside. The goal is to not only make the playoffs, but win in them. It’s for this reason that hockey purgatory is the silent killer in the NHL.
Malkin was the difference Friday. Stamkos was the difference Sunday. Columbus had no answers. This offseason is important for many reasons. The biggest thing Blue Jackets fans need to hope for is favor on draft lottery night. That will start the rise to prominence. If not, prepare for more, endless frustration. The Blue Jackets must find their way out of hockey purgatory, whatever it takes.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.