The Columbus Blue Jackets are at the crossroads of their 2017-18 season.
They enter Tuesday night’s game against the New York Islanders tied in the standings with the Islanders at 60 points. They are both one point from the playoffs as well as one point from last place.
It’s not often that regular-season games in February mean everything to a team. This game Tuesday means everything to both the Blue Jackets and Islanders. The winner could potentially climb back into a playoff spot. While losing doesn’t mean the season is over, it makes the climb up the standings that much harder.
Considering the Blue Jackets have the fewest ROW in the Metropolitan division, these games take on extra importance. If they hope to regain themselves and a playoff spot, they need wins. Getting to overtime and just a point is not good enough. They’ll lose the tiebreaker to every team in the Metro if the ROW numbers hold.
Game Goes Beyond Two Points
This game Tuesday however goes way beyond just two points available. It could shape the way the Blue Jackets and Islanders handle the trade deadline. That could have a domino effect on their futures as well.
In other words, the Blue Jackets’ performance in this stretch of games leading up to the trade deadline will not only define this season, but we’ll feel the effects of this stretch in future seasons as well.
Look at this upcoming schedule before the Feb 26 trade deadline. The Blue Jackets play at the Islanders and Maple Leafs. Then they host the Flyers and Penguins. Then they play in New Jersey, in Philadelphia, and host Chicago.
How will this play out? Who the heck knows? The Blue Jackets have a range between losing every game and winning every game. Let’s look at the extremes.
Let’s say the Blue Jackets win five or more of these seven games. They’d stay in contention for the postseason. That likely means they buy at the deadline.
But if it’s the other way around, then they likely sell. No matter what the result is, these seven games will decide how the Blue Jackets look starting with their game Feb 26 against Washington. That’s the first domino of several. Then we sit back and watch to see the forthcoming results.
Specifically, if they buy, they could potentially give up a roster player, prospect, or draft picks in order to bring someone in who can help now. That player could be a rental or someone with term. No matter who they acquire, they will have an impact of some kind with the Blue Jackets.
If they sell, they could acquire prospects or draft picks that would help their future. But that’s never a guarantee. So many possibilities hinge on the outcome of just a few games.
Staying Focused Amid Tough Decisions
The Blue Jackets are just focused on themselves and making sure they are ready for their next game. They hope to continue the momentum of a 6-1 win over New Jersey. That was the first game in a long time where the offense clicked on all cylinders. That makes this situation even more blurry.
Can the Blue Jackets buy in the hopes that their veterans recover from their slow start? These are the kinds of questions the team must answer. They have up to seven games to decide.
These are not easy decisions. The very direction of the franchise is at stake. Given that the summer of 2019 is full of major decisions including the contracts of Artemi Panarin, Zach Werenski and Sergei Bobrovsky, this trade deadline will be memorable for a long time no matter what decisions they make.
To buy or to sell? That is the question. For Jarmo Kekalainen and company, they have a very difficult decision to make. This deadline will be remembered for years to come.
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 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.