Hardship does not discriminate against anyone in the NHL. Everyone goes through it at one time or another. But for this season’s version of the Columbus Blue Jackets, this has been a very hard season on everyone.
Where do we even begin with this team? Their top center wanted out. Drama filled the room at every turn. Then on the ice, the team couldn’t find any consistency. Now two of their long-time mainstays are gone while others are dealing with injuries. New players are entering the lineup hoping to make an impression.
With just 11 games left in this forgettable season, the Blue Jackets are taking one in the chin. Thursday night’s 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars perfectly encapsulates the current state of the team. Despite playing well enough to carry a lead late in the second period, once the wheels fell off, they fell off to stay.
When you have a team of mostly youngsters auditioning for future roles, you are going to have many long, hard nights like Thursday. Once the score became 2-1, it felt more like 5-1.
Boone Jenner isn’t there to lean on for energy or a spark. Zach Werenski isn’t there either. Gus Nyquist hasn’t played this season. They won’t be back until next season. John Tortorella can only do so much with who he has available on the roster.
From top to bottom, the Blue Jackets are going through a very humbling experience. It’s a position that no general manager, coach or player wants to experience. With 11 games left in this season, there is no hope for the playoffs. That means playing out the string for pride and future jobs. It’s the ultimate dose of humble pie.
A Hard Reality
While the experience that some players will get out of this will be beneficial, it’s reasonable to expect the Blue Jackets to stumble to the finish line. With most of their games left against teams with all something to play for, it’s not out of the question to think they will lose eight or more of these games.
The Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers are all fighting for positioning in the Discover Central Division. Whoever does not finish first has to play each other in the first round.
The Stars have their sights set on the final playoff spot in the division. So do the Nashville Predators. Even the Detroit Red Wings are playing better of late. There is a real chance the Blue Jackets finish in last place in the Discover Central Division. There’s no greater piece of humble pie than a last-place finish.
With the Red Wings trailing by just one point going into this weekend, it’s the hard reality facing the Blue Jackets. It’s an awful place to be. What will be key is how they handle things after they take their lumps and bruises from this last stretch of games.
Motivation to Never Let This Happen Again
It is up to the Blue Jackets to try to make something positive out of these last 11 games. How can they do that? They of course can try to be competitive and win as many games as possible. This team will not quit from an effort standpoint. But the thing that everyone on the team needs to realize is just how much being in this position hurts.
Some current Blue Jackets have never experienced this kind of pain before. Oliver Bjorkstrand is new to this. Seth Jones is somewhat new to this outside of the first part of his tenure. Werenski is out for season but has never had a season end like this.
This is the time of year where teams are gearing up for the playoffs for their chance at the ultimate prize. Excitement is building as we get closer to postseason. But that’s not the case for these Blue Jackets.
Imagine for a moment what some of the veterans might be feeling. Nick Foligno and David Savard are gone. Riley Nash is gone too. Other regulars as mentioned above are injured. Being in this position is an empty feeling knowing that your season will end once those 11 games are finished. It’s a breaking up of the band of sorts. It’s fair to wonder what comes next for this team.
Sometimes feeling the pain of missing out is the thing that can jump start something positive. Perhaps feeling the emptiness firsthand will serve as motivation to never let this happen again.
We’ll find out as we go along here. We will learn a lot about who’s here based on how they handle their business now and in future seasons. They’ve been humbled now. Who’s going to come out from this in a better position?
Hockey does not care about past success. After four consecutive trips to the postseason, the Blue Jackets are going through a lesson in the reality of hockey when things don’t go your way. Nothing is ever guaranteed. Their immediate future success will depend upon how much they take this season’s lesson to heart.
These Blue Jackets have been humbled. We’ll soon see who if anyone benefits from it.
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 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.