The Columbus Blue Jackets are roughly a 10th of the way through the 2022-23 season, so it’s time to have a quick look at how things are going. If I were to describe it in a phrase, the words “not great” would probably suffice. However, there are a few things that we could dig into to break down exactly why things are “not great.”
As I write this, the Blue Jackets have just come off of an abysmal 6-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, which was a game that was surprisingly closer than the score would suggest. They currently sit in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 3-5-0. It’s not exactly the start that many expected after signing the top free agent on the market this offseason and locking up a star sniper for the next four years, but it’s where they’re at. Let’s explore why they’re in this position.
The Blue Jackets Are Immature
I could blame injuries for this situation or the coaching staff – as many have – but the problem has a root cause that some are hesitant to admit. A lack of maturity in the Blue Jackets roster.
Now before you jump down my throat: Immaturity isn’t a good or a bad thing, it simply is. This is a young team and that fact has been evident in their play. The one key indicator of that immaturity is the inability to sustain a high level of play for a full 60 minutes.
This isn’t a new problem for the Blue Jackets. You don’t even need to turn the calendar back a full year to see the ‘rock bottom’ moment of this trend. Do you remember when the Carolina Hurricanes scored seven goals straight to beat Columbus, who had a 4-0 lead? I sure do. Deja vu of that performance this past week when they had a 3-1 lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins and wound up losing the game 6-3.
Columbus has a very talented roster, but we only see it in flashes. Their intensity throughout the course of any given game is as inconsistent as Lady Gaga’s fashion choices. In the last 12 months, that inconsistency has been both a blessing and a curse for the Blue Jackets. I don’t have the exact stat over the last year, but the number of games that this team has either blown a multi-goal lead in or overcome being down by multiple goals is quite significant.
Related: Blue Jackets Missing Influence of Bobrovsky & Tortorella
Let’s look at this season. Through the first eight games the Jackets have overcome a multi-goal deficit to win twice, have blown a multi-goal lead once, and have lost by multiple goals in four other games – which accounts for seven games. The other game was the type of game that they want to win. They scored first and sustained a lead throughout the entire game, ultimately winning by multiple goals. One solid game out of eight is not ideal.
While big comebacks and blown leads make for exciting hockey to watch, it is a far cry from the kind of consistency required to be a legitimate championship-caliber team. Until they grow or make changes, the Jackets won’t make it to that level.
How Can the Jackets Be Better?
At the end of the day, what the Jackets need is the discipline and experience to play a complete game. That means at both ends of the ice for a full three periods.
The youth and inexperience on this team is abundant. There are only four Blue Jackets with over 500 games of experience. That stacks up against the dynastic Tampa Bay Lightning, who had 10 of those players on their 2020 championship lineup – with most of those players having been together for the better part of a decade. The cores of other recent championship teams had also been together for a significant amount of time before making it big.
Most of the Jackets’ other problems could also be solved with some time. A power play starring Patrik Laine, Johnny Gaudreau, Jakub Voracek, and Zach Werenski will be a success. They just need to figure each other out. Their team defense is another issue that could be solved with a little more experience.
So, there are a few ways that this could go. The Blue Jackets could go out and make some big trades to bring in personnel who have already matured into strong, multi-faceted, two-way players at the NHL level. Or they wait a few seasons and hope that the seeds they have sown will blossom into beautiful flowers. With general manager Jarmo Kekalainen’s long-term approach to each decision, I would assume he opts to stick it out with option two.
Why Not Fire Brad Larsen?
The Twitter-verse has run amuck with “Fire Larsen” chants, which at this point in time is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction from fans. The Brad Larsen hiring as head coach was the product of a well-thought-out process that will be given every opportunity to live or die on its own merit.
Kekalainen does not make staffing decisions on a whim. I will grant you the fact that Larsen, like the rest of the team, is a little green in his role as a head coach. However, that’s to be expected for a second-year coach at the NHL level. It’s also a level of experience that could make him the perfect coach to grow with his players.
Best-case scenarios of a first-time head coach joining a young team and growing with his roster can be seen in Tampa Bay, with Jon Cooper, and in the Colorado Avalanche organization, with Jared Bednar. Both of those coaches fared quite well despite some turbulence in their first year or two behind the bench. As of right now, Larsen still has the locker room and management on his side. I would predict that there is still a significant amount of leash for him.
The Jackets’ immaturity as an organization has been on full display so far and likely will be through the last nine-10ths of the season. With the type of thinking in play right now in Ohio, I wouldn’t expect Kekalainen to deviate from his plan of long-term growth for any short-term gains.