In a shocking mid-August announcement, Columbus Blue Jackets’ young forward Alexandre Texier stated he will not be returning to Ohio for the 2022-23 season. It’s the continuation of an issue that began last season, after he left the team to deal with a difficult personal situation and spend time with family in France.
“During the past year, I have experienced some personal issues and challenges and I feel I need to be close to my family at this time,” Texier said in a statement. “I have love and respect for the city of Columbus, the Blue Jackets, and the fans as everyone has always treated me first-class. I truly appreciate the support, help and empathy I have received from team management, the coaching staff, doctors, trainers and my teammates. This was a hard decision, but it is the best one for me right now.”
The move clearly came as a bit of a surprise to Blue Jacket general manager Jarmo Kekalainen who had said earlier in the offseason that he expected Texier would be back in time for training camp this year. They’ve suspended him and worked out a deal with the NHL Players Association that will allow him to play in another league for next season. He has signed a one-year contract with the ZSC Lions in the Swiss League where he will be much closer to his home in France.
While on the surface, this is bad news for the Blue Jackets who were counting on him to be a big part of their team this season. However, this split gives some benefits to both Texier and the team in the longer term, which should not be overlooked when evaluating this unexpected scenario.
Texier Isn’t Gone Forever
Let’s start by saying: this is a separation, not a divorce.
There is no reason to believe that this is an “Alexander Radulov” situation. Radulov was a young star with the Nashville Predators, who left before the third year of his entry-level contract to return home to Russia and play in the newly formed Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). It took four years before he came back to fulfill the final year of his contract before he went back to Russia for another four-year term.
Texier and the Blue Jackets seem in an amicable situation and due to the circumstances involved he shouldn’t be gone for such a long time. The team has been outwardly supportive of his decision and ready to welcome him back with open arms.
“Alexandre Texier and I recently had a very long conversation in which he indicated to me that he was not ready to resume his career in the NHL at this time,” Kekalainen said. “While we are disappointed Tex will not be joining us for the 2022-23 season as we anticipated, his mental health and well-being remain our top priority and we will continue to support him in any way we can.”
This situation is very different than that of Radulov and the Predators. Blue Jacket fans should not have concern that Texier will not return to Ohio. This separation will give him a chance to take a breath, and then give him the chance to return to the biggest stage in the hockey world.
Blue Jackets’ Cap Situation Gets a Helping Hand
Texier is still under contract with the Blue Jackets. His deal was set to expire this year, but taking a leave like this slides his contract’s end date back another season, which should actually be a benefit to the team. They find themselves dealing with a tighter than expected salary cap situation after signing Johnny Gaudreau to his mammoth contract. With little money coming off the books next offseason, it was looking like the team may have to make some tough decisions. Sliding his new contract back another year opens up some money, as he was due for a raise from his current $1.5 million cap hit.
That raise was set to be a couple million dollars, which should be enough to retain the big names who will be in need of new contracts heading into next season. That includes Vladislav Gavrikov, who has been the team’s second-best defenseman over the last couple of seasons. He’ll get a substantial raise over his current $2.8 million cap hit. Also, defenseman Andrew Peeke, who became a mainstay in the top-four defense core, and veteran Gustav Nyquist, who seemed the likeliest cap-casualty looking ahead to next offseason.
Texier’s Confidence Could Improve
For a brief time last season, there was a legitimate argument to be made that Texier was the Blue Jackets’ best forward, Kekalainen even said so. Taking all of that talent to a place where he can take off could do wonders for his confidence level.
Even a mediocre NHLer who goes to a European league dominates, so there is a real possibility that Texier could be the top player in the Swiss League this season. He’s playing with the powerhouse ZSC Lions, who could go on a deep playoff run. Being on that team, in what is bound to be a top-line role, will be a positive experience for sure. He has an opportunity to be “the guy” as opposed to being pushed down the lineup behind the likes of Gaudreau, Laine, Nyquist, Jakub Voracek and more.
The Swiss league also has a less intensive travel schedule, where he will get the chance to reset his mind in a more familiar setting. There is really so much opportunity for this year to be one of the most important decisions to benefit him in his next step of development.
Texier Clearly Needs a Break
It might suck to not have one of your best young players on the roster for a full season, but you have to give props to Texier for putting himself first. This is a league where players do not put themselves first enough. They often play through significant physical and mental pain for the glorification for some primal macho ideal, which normally puts them at a net-detriment through a long-term lens.
It’s the old adage of putting your oxygen mask on before your children’s when on an airplane. How could he be counted on to play his best and be a good piece in the locker room if he was not at 100 percent mentally? If he is in a poor mental space, he won’t play his best, he will be distracted, and might even sour on the idea of playing in Columbus altogether.
Clearly there are some things left unresolved for the player, and it is okay for him to say that he’s not ready for a return. You have to admire the gumption that Texier has to take on that level of risk to his career development, in hopes of improving his mental well-being. And on the other side, you have to appreciate the integrity shown by the Blue Jackets being clearly supportive of him.
At 22 years old, he will bounce back. Taking the year, working things out mentally, and coming in fresh to training camp in 2023-24 will set him up to bounce back with positive results.
More Opportunity for Young Blue Jackets
There will be some benefits to those players who are remaining Stateside. One of those is opening up a top-nine forward role to a young forward looking to crack the roster full-time. The wings on the Blue Jackets’ forward corps are jammed with players capable of exploding in that role.
Kent Johnson, Kirill Marchenko, and Yegor Chinakhov are all candidates to benefit from the chance to settle in to an NHL role and get used to the rigors of the game with less threat of being demoted or scratched.
Texier was also counted on as a center in Columbus and there was a real chance that he could have been slotted in between Gaudreau and Laine. Him not being there gives more opportunity for someone like Jack Roslovic who exploded when given more responsibility at the end of last season.
This part isn’t a boost to Texier in any means, but it is to Columbus who will get a shot to see more of what they have. This is a year without legitimate championship aspirations. While they could have a real shot at squeaking in to a final wild card spot, there are no expectations to do so, which gives them more wiggle room to experiment.
I am definitely not arguing that him taking the year in Europe is even close to a best-case scenario. The Blue Jackets would love to have a healthy Texier on their roster this year. Taking the year off just when he was finally starting to get some traction in his development will be a setback, yes. However, it’s not a lost year, and there are some opportunities afforded to both sides that would not have been there if he was lacing up in Ohio this year.