For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble.
The final words of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The two wild west outlaws being taken to task after a string of train robberies – speaking those words as they ran into gun and cannon fire ultimately meeting their demise.
Cannon fire means something different in the hearts of Columbus Blue Jackets fans. The quote, too, should mean something different to the hearts of the Blue Jackets – particularly as projected three to five years from now when looking back on the current state of the Ohioan hockey team.
This is an ode to you, the panicked Blue Jacket fan. It’s a reminder that the trouble in this team right now, is not only okay but a sign of better things to come.
This is What Was Expected
This year was not supposed to be a good one. Let’s remember that.
Heading into the season, fans and pundits alike looked at this Blue Jackets season with the same sort of optimism as those headed to see the latest Star Wars movies. Slight optimism that the new version of a classic could be great, but armed with the knowledge that it could go off the rails at any second. And just like in that franchise’s sequel trilogy, this Blue Jackets season has shown some promise early on and has now started to completely unravel.
Columbus got off to a record start, with a 12-6 record and in a playoff spot months into the season. That start gave the fanbase lofty expectations. With four straight playoff berths from 2016-2020, now anything less feels like a loss for a fanbase that once felt just making the playoffs was a win. Then a skid ensued, most recently losing their last three games of 2021 and their first three of 2022 in dramatic fashion.
The marketing principle of an anchor price is one that you’re very familiar with, even if you don’t know it. The principle purports to make any price tag look better than it is, simply from a reduced price. For example, a jersey regularly priced at $200 when sold for $150 will look a lot more attractive to buy than the same jersey regularly priced at $150. A similar effect has been put on your perception of this season.
In this situation, the Blue Jackets’ strong start to the season may have anchored your opinion to believe that this team was a little more primed for success than it really is. Now that the team has returned to Earth, masses of the fanbase are quick to panic with concern for the future of the team. Had the Blue Jackets arrived at their current record, at just under a .500 points percentage in a more consistent way, it is fair to argue that the “worry” experienced by the fanbase would not be as prolific. If the drop-off is causing you to lose sleep at night, try and remind yourself that if you would have heard this would be the current record when you were in September it wouldn’t have been a surprise.
It Lets Blue Jackets’ Brass Make Decisions
Knowing this team isn’t a playoff team earlier on may be a blessing in disguise. Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is to make his decisions on the future of hockey in Ohio based on the performance of his team. The most prominent example is the decision not to sell Sergei Bobrovsky or Artemi Panarin at the 2019 trade deadline, and instead go out and buy the biggest piece on the trade market in Matt Duchene – eventually losing all three players for nothing in free agency. Now he’s got an idea where this season is headed.
If Columbus had continued their strong start and been in place for a wildcard spot, Kekalainen could more seriously consider keeping his valuable trade chips as opposed to taking serious offers on them. No guarantees that those players on expiring deals will be retained or traded, but team performance and the hunt to make the playoffs are slowing sliding away as a hurdle in the way of obtaining future assets for them.
Players who could fetch a pretty penny at the deadline feature the likes of 1B goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, versatile skill forward Max Domi, and maybe a few other depth players who could use a change of scenery. Have a look at Kekalainen’s track record and try to find a time when he didn’t maximize the return on assets to push the Blue Jackets towards their ultimate seasonal goal.
Greener Pastures Are Ahead for the Blue Jackets
Don’t forget the peril that was the Blue Jackets 2020-21 season. From that year, there is not really anywhere to go but up. The Jackets were boring. The big names weren’t clicking. The coaching was tired. The team was in dire straits.
Things have changed. The team is more exciting. Big names have been executing more regularly. There’s a new captain in town. The coaching staff has been replaced. They’re bringing a new style of hockey to the tenacious, blue-collar, Columbus identity. The new core looking to be built around dynamic, offensive talents – think Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski, and Adam Boqvist – is in stark contrast to their tradition of building around more two-way talents – think Nick Foligno, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and David Savard.
With two first-round picks already banked for the skilled 2022 NHL draft, each currently slated to be in the top-10 should net the Blue Jackets two more top talents to expedite the build. Those unnamed talents will join the growing pool of Blue Jackets talent making the new core of this team.
So far the new core is headlined by the following players – all on the roster and still under 25 years old: Werenski; Laine; Boqvist; Alexandre Texier; Cole Sillinger; Yegor Chinakhov; Jack Roslovic; and Daniil Tarasov. That’s not even mentioning non-roster players like: Russia’s Kirill Marchenko and Dmitri Voronkov; late first-rounder Corson Ceulemans; and fifth-overall pick and potential Canadian Olympian Kent Johnson – who is widely considered the organization’s most exciting prospect.
If that’s the core of the Blue Jackets moving forward, you as a panicked Blue Jacket fan should be able to rest easy. For a moment now, they are in trouble. However, know that this pain is only a fleeting moment in time, on the way to bigger and better things.
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Writer covering the Columbus Blue Jackets for THW since August 2021.
Co-host of the Blue Jackets’ focused “Union Junction Podcast” on The Hockey Writers’ podcast network.
Also, a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.