After the firing of head coach Brad Larsen, the Columbus Blue Jackets held their end of season availability at Nationwide Arena. In all, 11 players spoke about the completed season and what comes next.
Today, we will share meaningful quotes and takeaways from the availability and then add in our analysis. One thing is clear. The Blue Jackets are not happy being on the outside again and are ready to take steps to return to the playoffs soon. That means a big offseason is coming that could see other big changes coming.
We will go in the order the players spoke at the availability. The first one to the podium was Patrik Laine. No, he wasn’t wearing his cool shades from Friday night when he presented a check for $52,000 to the Community Shelter Board.
- “We just haven’t been good enough to make the playoffs the last couple years. That obviously needs to change and we’ll do everything we can to make that happen. At the end of the day, we might be missing a couple guys here and there. We just have to find a way to win. That’s really all that matters here and we just haven’t been good enough to do that.”
- On the next coach: “I feel like you need kind of a mix of everything and obviously you need to have the room behind you and want to play for you.”
- On his relationship with Larsen: “It was good. I really, really liked Lars. I feel he’s such a good human being and always willing to help whether it’s on ice or off ice stuff. He was always there to talk about it and listen. So I always respect him for that.”
- On playing center in the future: “I feel like from me and from management like it’s mutual that we’re excited about this opportunity. It was only two games but I think you would have noticed it right away if it didn’t work at all. It’s something I’m really excited about.”
- Laine is also “super excited” about continuing to develop chemistry with Johnny Gaudreau. “If this center thing happens, it might help a little bit.”
- This is a big summer for Laine. He needs to come in ready to go. He also needs to be available as much as possible coming off two seasons with various injuries. His numbers over 82 games look good assuming he keeps his production levels up. We’ll see about the center thing though. The new coach would have to be willing to see it through.
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- On Larson: “I’ve been with Lars 7+ years now. Obviously it’s a tough situation I think as players too and as competitors, it’s on us a little bit, right? We didn’t play to a standard and you never want to see someone let go because of on ice play, right?”
- “I think everyone’s just gotta look in the mirror and just say this year wasn’t good enough, myself included. It’s a freak thing but I can’t get hurt. It’s one of those things I gotta play 72, 75, 80 games. That goes for a lot of guys.”
- On the timeline back to the playoffs: “You only have so many years in your career. Obviously none of the fans, you guys (the media), management, no one wants to go through this. I think it’s on us to speed it up.”
- On what the leaders must do: “I think it’s on us as leaders to make sure guys are ready to go, come to training camp, have good offseasons. I don’t think we’re far off. It’s just making sure we’re all on the same page. We have to set the standard higher and we gotta make sure young guys know that this isn’t acceptable.”
- Werenski offered a challenge: “I would like to do a little bit more this summer. In terms of the other guys, I would challenge them to do the same thing. Everyone has a routine but let’s make sure we get a little more this summer so we’re not in this situation again next season.”
- Werenski was asked about the upcoming draft. On Adam Fantilli: “That Michigan guy, wouldn’t be so bad, right?” He and Fantilli have skated together in the summer before. He also mentioned Matvei Michkov and Will Smith by name too. I’m going to keep talking about it until I’m blue in the face. Smith is going to pick up a lot of momentum in the leadup to the draft in Nashville. Watch his tape.
- Don’t be surprised if one of Adam Boqvist or David Jiricek ends up with Werenski to start next season. Werenski said it is easier to play with a righty.
- On Larson: “I learned a lot from him. He’s a good man. He did some good things with us this year and learned a lot of stuff from him as a person. I just wish him the best.”
- On how quickly this can be turned around: “I think so for sure. It wasn’t the best year but just the way we were fighting injuries all year long. Before that we didn’t get off to a good start. I think we were 3-9 but had a complete new team and sometimes that takes a little bit of time to get to know the guys around the locker room. But we’ve got a lot of good players in our locker room and a lot of young players who came up and stepped up and was a big role in our team this year.”
- On Columbus the new city: “Even though it was a rough year for us with wins and not making the playoffs, I enjoyed my time here every single day I came to the rink. I had a blast and got to meet some guys that probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play on our team.”
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- On the immediate future: “I’m really excited. We’re not far off even with where we ended up in the standings. I think we have a really good group in our locker room and I’m really excited to see the way we come in next year. Cause it’s going to be fun.”
- Gaudreau admitted he didn’t even know how the draft lottery worked with percentages and where you end up. But he said he will definitely be paying attention to this one.
- Gaudreau and the cannon are officially on good terms now: “I think I’m good. You guys see me out there, I don’t jump anymore. I know when they’re coming. Start of the game, if we win at the end of the game and after every goal. So I did my homework. After the first few games I was good.”
- Gaudreau thinks he can be better: I could be better. I could be better in my own zone. Coming into this year (was) a completely new system.
- Gaudreau admitted getting caught out of position on a few occasions due to the system the Blue Jackets played. He always played man-on-man before where the Blue Jackets played a system that wasn’t straight man-on-man. “I got caught a couple times throughout the season in the d-zone just not knowing where I should go. It was frustrating at times because it’s been printed in the back of your mind that you’ve been doing the same things for nine years. So I’m going to have to definitely nip that in the bud and get better at that part.”
- On the immediate future: “After having a couple meetings already, it seems like there’s going to be some culture shift, culture change. I think that’s a step that might need have been taken.”
- On his season: “It was a struggle a little bit with all the guys that got hurt and who was playing at the beginning of the year and who was playing at the end of the year. It’s pretty crazy how everything unfolded.”
- Is there a quick fix? “We have a long road and we’re going to have difficulty still. I think with this whole new shift, it puts a light into players and hopefully sparks a fire for the guys and for me. Just gotta do everything that’s necessary in summertime and get ready to come back.”
- “You don’t want to be part of the problem. You want to be part of the solution. So I want to be able to pour it out. I want to get there. I’m not there yet. But it’s a goal of mine and it’s important. If we want to be good, I want to be a part of it and I need to be better just in general for everything.”
- I’d keep an eye on this situation in the offseason. With changes coming to the team, it will be interesting to see where the Blue Jackets believe he fits moving forward. He is coming off a career high in assists despite having an inconsistent season. Can a new voice behind the bench bring out his best?
- On having a higher standard: “If we don’t raise the standard, the results won’t change. We need these results to change. So how do you raise the standard? You act like a pro. Do what you need to do away from the rink. I think it’s different for every single guy. I think as a group we’re going to have to talk about what that exactly means. To me it’s mostly about little details and some things that seem like they might not matter…a culture of little things matter.”
- On the talent in the room: “There’s pieces there, there’s pieces in that room which is exciting as a player. We’ve got a ton of talent. We’re young and now it’s about putting those things together. With that comes a responsibility of how do we make these pieces work?”
- On the offseason: “Every player is going to have to take this offseason and do some serious reflecting. I’m gonna have to look at myself in the mirror and (ask) what can I do better to make this team better? And I think when you get a group all raising their own personal standard, the whole team standard can run. We’ve got pieces but pieces are only pieces unless you put them together.”
- On his season: “This season I think was great for me but not really great for the team. I played for Cleveland and Columbus and it’s a big experience for me because I think I (get) better. I know what to do to get better and how to work in the summer.”
- Marchenko says he is happy breaking the Blue Jackets’ rookie goals record but isn’t satisfied with that. “Just keep working because I wanna break more records in the future.”
- On living in Columbus: “For me and my wife, it’s perfect city I think because it’s no more pressure. It’s really cool because we just relax, think about hockey and more time we have with my wife. Great, great zoo here. We four or five times been in the zoo. It’s cool.” He likes the pandas there.
- Marchenko on Michkov: “I played with him two years ago maybe and one half. He’s a big talent. He has good vision and good position to score. He knows how to score (no matter the situation.) It’s important and he’s a good player. He will get better.”
- Jenner spent over a decade with Larsen. “It’s a difficult day for me personally going back a lot of years, 11-12 years with him started in Springfield as an assistant coach there and a head coach here. I’ve been through the ups and downs with him and learned a lot from him. He’s a great man and I truly wish nothing but the best for him and his family, his two kids and wife. Great man.”
- On opportunities to improve the culture: “A season like this, you gotta look at everything. I think we all have to look at ourselves in the mirror. It’s a difficult year, but if you don’t learn some things from it or make yourself better, it’s a waste. Now is our chance to fix it. It falls on myself, the guys in the room to take a step here and push ourselves.”
- Jenner is getting married this summer to his fiance Maggie. Planning has already started. “(We’re) right in the thick of planning all that, learning how much goes into it now but we’re pretty pumped so it’ll be a fun summer.”
- On Larsen: “Lars is one of the kindest people I have ever met. Had all the time in the world for conversation. He genuinely wanted to get you better. Waking up to that news, that doesn’t make for a good day. Nobody feels good about it. But we all had a piece to that puzzle. You got to look yourself in the mirror for that one.”
- On the culture: “I think it’s very much in its infancy. This is a young, excited group that needed some experience this year to kind of figure out how that culture, what the base of that culture’s gonna be. We made a lot of mistakes trying to build that this year. We’re going to learn from them going forward. The number one thing about that and the guys in the room is that there’s a lot of really good people, a lot of really strong hockey players and good minds that genuinely want to get better. This is going to be a huge offseason for us to keep adding bricks to that culture and get it going in a direction where execution, hard work and all those details, character, that kind of stuff is all at the forefront of it.”
- Gudbranson is an annual member at the Columbus Zoo. He has a leopard tattooed on his arm. That happens to be his favorite animal there.
- On where he made the most strides when healthy: “I think going out to battles at the walls and being more aggressive. Lars and Mac (Steve McCarthy) had a lot of meetings about that especially when I was scratched and hurt, about being more active in the (defensive) zone. That’s going to create more offense as well. So I think I did a few strides in that but I think I can be better at that, limit goals.”
- On McCarthy, who remains on staff for now: “I think he understands the players really well, when to be hard on guys and when to have fun. I think that really helps get you more comfortable and loose and play with less pressure on your shoulders. He’s been really good to me and to the rest of the team as well.”
- Can he play with Werenski eventually? “Yeah. I think this is going to be a big summer for me. Because I feel I took some strides this past summer with conditioning. Now I’m going to build up strengthening my upper body. I started off with Zach and I think that’s something I can do to help him be a better player and he’s obviously a great player so he can help me too be a better player.”
- If the Blue Jackets can fill the Vladislav Gavrikov void and can get Boqvist to the next level, now you might have something cooking on the blue line. But he’s right in saying a big summer awaits. He needs to get stronger and needs to be more available after a choppy season which included breaking his foot.
- On Manny Legace: “We’re gonna stay friends forever. He did so much to me and helped me out. Where I got today it’s thanks to him. I don’t have any hard feelings about that. I understand that’s a business.”
- On his role moving forward: “I am the key piece. Now I’m 29, not a kid anymore. It’s time to grow up. It’s time to step it up. I need to become a leader but I am excited for this summer. I’m going to torture myself and I’m going to come back this training camp strong and I’m going to work on everything what I can with our medical staff and our trainers. I don’t want to have injuries anymore. I want to play hockey. I want to enjoy the hockey and not being out and watching from TV.”
- Merzlikins is not partaking in the World Championships for Latvia despite part of the tournament being played in Riga. “Already called the GM. I said to them I’m not gonna go. I’m sorry but national team is not bringing the bread home. (The Blue Jackets) is who is paying me and paying me a lot. I need to give them back for what they’re paying for. I’m really mad at myself. I going to enjoy the summer, this weather, this beautiful, beautiful weather in Columbus. And I’m going to stay all summer here, get myself ready and start working hard probably from the end of May.
- On his season: “I definitely feel like I got better. Most rookies if you’re working hard and (have a) good mindset, probably going to get better. I feel like I’ve grown a lot this season and a lot more to go.”
- On what he wants to work on: “Getting stronger, getting body position on guys. You see guys like Johnny (Gaudreau). He’s obviously not the strongest guy. But he gets body position early and then he looks pretty strong. Sometimes I do that and just doing that more. I want to continue to work on my strengths a lot too, those can always get better and working my goal scoring a bit more.”
- Does he still think he can be a center in the NHL? “Yeah definitely. I think I can play the position. I was in there for a bit early in the year. I felt pretty good. I think faceoffs are something I can improve on. It’s just hard as a rookie. You have to lose a lot and learn a lot. I definitely think I can play the position. I talked to Boone (Jenner) and he played the wing in his first five years. It doesn’t mean I can’t do it earlier but I think I can play the position sooner rather than later.”
- The Blue Jackets are certainly saying a lot of the right things. But the reality is that there is a lot of work to do for them to get to where they want to go. They need a head coach. There may be a trickle down effect from that based on who they hire. Changes will be made. That comes with an adjustment period. There’s no question the prospect pool is in a good place and there’s reason for excitement. But this isn’t going to happen overnight. They must get the room to a good place. They must maximize every development opportunity presented to them. It took 92 points to make the playoffs in the East. That’s 33 points in which need made up if not more. They aren’t far off under one condition: if the right important decisions are made. Kekalainen is going to select a new head coach. He’s going to have his fingerprints on the upcoming roster. This is now on him to get the Blue Jackets to where they want to go. He said he welcomes the pressure that comes with it. Starting today, that’s exactly what he’s got.