Blue Jackets Notebook: Finding Purpose For Rest of Season

The Columbus Blue Jackets are officially a seller this season. We haven’t been able to say that in a long time.

Thanks to their recent success making the playoffs, the Blue Jackets are accustomed to adding to their roster in preparation of the playoffs. But with so few points and games left, their chances of making a fifth consecutive postseason is all but over.

Recent moves have indicated that they are selling. Riley Nash suffered an injury and was expected to miss the rest of the regular season. On Friday, the Blue Jackets traded Nash to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2022.

David Savard was a healthy scratch on Thursday. This was asset management as it’s expected he will be traded by Monday’s 3 P.M. eastern deadline. Then news came out that Zach Werenski would miss the rest of the regular season with an inguinal/sports hernia that needs surgery.

Zach Werenski Columbus Blue Jackets
Zach Werenski will miss the rest of the regular season due to an inguinal/sports hernia that needs surgery. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With 14 games left, the Blue Jackets have to play out the string knowing that the playoffs will not be a reality this season. The challenge now is trying to find purpose for the rest of this season knowing that they’ve fallen short of their goal.

The Leaders Speak

Seth Jones has only experienced this a little bit in his Blue Jackets’ career. Cam Atkinson experienced this for the first four years of his NHL career. And Oliver Bjorkstrand has never experienced this in his short career. They are used to regular season success and getting to the playoffs. Now they have to help lead the team as this season winds down.

Each player spoke on Friday about falling short and how to make the best of the rest of this season.

“Not a good feeling at all,” Jones said. “We hold ourselves to a standard here and we didn’t seem to meet that this year and that’s definitely unfortunate. It’s a feeling in your stomach…it’s just not a good one.”

“Obviously not the situation we want to be in as a club. We haven’t been here in a long time,” Atkinson said. “My first four years here were pretty crappy times. (It’s) not fun to be a part of and then a lot of changes came.”

“It’s (falling short) definitely different. First time I’m going through this,” Bjorkstrand said. “I guess in some ways that’s a good thing that I’ve been fortunate enough to be on a team that’s been able to make the playoffs for a lot of years. But yeah it’s definitely different. I don’t know what to say about it. We’ll see how it goes here.”

Although the playoffs are unrealistic, it doesn’t diminish the importance of these games. No matter who you are, each player still has a lot to play for.

The leaders have to lead by example to show the younger players how to handle themselves when things are difficult. The younger players now get a chance to play in roles they likely wouldn’t have had if it was the thick of a playoff race. Everyone on this team is being evaluated on a daily basis. Jones has one piece of advice for those fighting for a job now and in the future.

“There’s one constant that has to be there and that’s work ethic. If I had any advice for any young guy coming up and playing this year is to give it your all every shift. It doesn’t matter if mistakes are made. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose the game. That’s how I think you build a culture is every guy knows the work ethic you’re gonna get from each guy in the room. That’s definitely my one piece of advice.”

Atkinson hopes that the younger guys take the opportunity and run with it.

“Everyone wants an opportunity. Now is a great opportunity for a lot of these young guys that don’t have that much experience or haven’t played enough games. Take it and run with it. (In) typical times where maybe you wouldn’t get these opportunities. Go out there, have fun, stay positive, just play your game and enjoy the moment.”

Thanks in large part to the injuries and trade deadline situation, all of a sudden Bjorkstrand will be counted on as one of the veterans of this team. He hopes to lead by example as this season winds down.

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“I’ll try to step up and set the tone here for the games we’re gonna play for the rest of this season. Obviously a lot of young kids now are going to get a chance to get more minutes and maybe a few guys get into the lineup. I’ll try to do my part and take that next step and try to be a leader.”

Who Wants It?

That’s the question for the rest of this season. Who steps up and who takes advantage of the opportunity available for this team? Who will bring the energy and who will make an impact? Evaluations are ongoing and could have an effect on what the team might look like next season and beyond.

Can some of the fringe guys not only get into the lineup but stay in the lineup? Can some of the established players show that they’ve learned what the culture is in Columbus and take the next step?

Will Patrik Laine find his confidence again in these last 14 games? Will Jack Roslovic make important strides defensively? Can Max Domi settle in and show what kind of player he can be consistently?

We might not have the playoffs to look forward to in Columbus. But that does not mean the end of the season doesn’t have purpose. It’s truly an important time in this franchise as some huge decisions will need to be made. These games could help make those decisions.

As for what will constitute a successful end to this season, it starts in the locker room. The Blue Jackets need to make sure that they are establishing what the culture is. As John Tortorella recently admitted, the culture is not what it used to be in the room given who has departed. It’s up to the likes of Jones, Atkinson, Bjorkstrand and others to each play their part in getting the room to where it needs to be.

Cam Atkinson Columbus Blue Jackets
Cam Atkinson will be depended upon to help lead the team through a tough end to the season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s not all about wins and losses now. It’s about playing the right way and continuing to learn what it takes to be a pro. Those that handle this part the best could have a more defined future with this team for next season and beyond.

Side Dishes

  • More on the Nash trade. The Blue Jackets will get a sixth-round pick in 2022 instead of a seventh if Nash plays in more than 25% of the Maple Leafs’ playoff games. It’s a good trade that makes sense for both sides. The Maple Leafs get a depth center for cheap while being able to add to their LTIR cap. The Blue Jackets save cash and have the cap hit off the books while getting something for Nash when perhaps it was thought they wouldn’t get anything after the injury.
  • Nick Foligno was given a maintenance day Friday. We’ll see if he plays Saturday against the Blackhawks. It will depend if a trade can be worked out. All indications are that the price is high. So it’s still 50/50 if anything even happens here. Again, the teams I’m watching here are Colorado, Toronto, Boston and Minnesota. The Foligno brothers playing together would be fascinating.
  • Expect some roster moves in advance of Saturday’s game. The team as of Saturday morning had just 11 forwards on the roster. Also with Werenski done for the season, expect Gabriel Carlsson to play.
  • Who will the goalies be come Monday? It’s not 100% guaranteed it will be Joonas Koprisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Goalies around the league could be moved by the deadline. So you’re saying there’s a chance? There is a chance, though I think the offseason is more likely.
  • TSN announced on Friday that their TradeCenter show will air in the United States this Monday on ESPN2 and ESPN+. That’s a huge win for everyone involved now that fans won’t have to scramble to find out where to watch this. ESPN+ will stream the whole day while ESPN2 will go live from 2-4 P.M. eastern.

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