Hindsight is the best 20/20 out there. No more is that clear than in the world of professional hockey. Were the right decisions made? What should they have done instead? It’s easy to analyze when you have more information available. That’s what makes the role of management that much tougher. Decisions have to be made with limited information.
With that said, talk a walk for a moment in the shoes of John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen as last season unfolded.
There was excitement for the team. They had a taste of playoff hockey. The city was on fire for the team and what the future would hold. Then, before you could blink, injuries devastated the team. If you consider who the team lost, devastated is a major understatement.
Davidson admitted that he had seen nothing like that before in terms of the amount of injuries the Blue Jackets endured. How can one properly evaluate the team when you don’t have a complete lineup? Then, once everyone started getting back, they were winning. They finished 15-1-1 to end last season.
It’s easy to see why management had faith in this team. In the limited amount of time a healthy team was together, they played well. Granted, there was no pressure on them. But they still won games at an alarming rate.
They knew the defense was a major point of emphasis in the offseason. So it did come as a bit of a surprise that it wasn’t addressed at that point. They knew they were getting Ryan Murray back. Their stance was that Murray would be one of the summer’s best acquisitions assuming his health. The Blue Jackets tried acquiring a defenseman. In their estimation, the right deal wasn’t there for them. I’d rather see no move than a dumb move any day.
This season began. The team is healthier. There is more information to draw from. As it turns out, the defense needed much more than Ryan Murray back there. The 15-1-1 run turned out to not accurately reflect what kind of team this would be. Changes had to happen.
Judge On What’s Coming, Not What’s Happened
I’m likely in the minority here. I do not blame management for thinking this season could have been special. Look what they did after last season. They acquired a proven winner in Brandon Saad. Players on the roster were older with more experience. Many experts, myself included, thought they had a shot at the playoffs and more. Those that thought the playoffs were in store saw the same thing. It was a popular opinion. The logic was easy to see.
While I won’t blame them coming into this season, I will watch very closely what they do now and moving forward. They should be judged more on how they handle this situation as opposed to last year. They have more concrete information to work with. They’ve both been around the game long enough, that they know this time is crucial for them and the organization. Fans are frustrated. Will Columbus ever get a winner?
Kekalainen made his first major statement of this season by sending Ryan Johansen to Nashville, and acquiring a potential number one defenseman in Seth Jones. This deal could define Kekalainen’s tenure in Columbus. But there is so much more to play out here.
The trade deadline is coming soon. The Blue Jackets are a team to watch. They have assets that other teams will want as they prepare for the playoffs. How the Blue Jackets handle the rest of this season and the offseason will tell me a lot. Is this on the players? Could management have done more? This is their big test. The spotlight is clearly on them now.
Now this is not to say they have been perfect to this point, in fact they have been far from that in this recent stretch. The Nathan Horton situation still looms large to this day, as long as David Clarkson is on the team. The team also lost two defensemen to waivers for nothing. There have been some very questionable decisions. There have also been some outstanding decisions.
The first is the draft. The highlight moment was drafting Zach Werenski in this past draft. As well, the minors now has some nice talent, led by Sonny Milano, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and others. This management team thus far has drafted well. Now it’s time to see them positively impact the big club.
To blame management for everything that’s happening with the Blue Jackets is wrong. Players have to perform. Coaches have to coach. They were in a strange situation last season. It’s not time to call for Jarmo or JD’s jobs, yet. But, if poor decisions are made moving forward, then all bets are off. There is pressure on them to make sound decisions given how this season has gone. They know what’s at stake. It’s time for them to show this fan base that “in Jarmo and JD we trust” is more than a slogan, it’s a way of life in Columbus. The stage is your’s boys.
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.