The Columbus Blue Jackets made franchise history on Sunday night in their 6-4 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Unfortunately for them, it’s not the kind of history they want to be associated with.
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With the six goals against, the Blue Jackets have now allowed 280 goals this season. That is a franchise record for the most goals allowed in a season eclipsing the previous mark of 279 in the 2005-06 season. Gerard Gallant was the head coach and Adam Foote was their captain.
The Blue Jackets have had some lean years. For this season to be the worst for them in terms of goals against gives you an idea how bad it’s been. With seven games remaining, allowing 300 is within the realm of possibility.
Blue Jackets Face Tough Questions
The Blue Jackets know the defense is an area of concern. They also know they must do something about it. Head coach Brad Larsen addressed that after the game Sunday night.
“It’s an area we’re going to have to clean up, right?” Larsen said. “We know that and there’s been some areas with guys that have played a lot of hockey. And we’re going to have to get better in some areas. We are. And that’s going to be whether that’s personnel.”
“We’re always looking at structure. And we’ve had some real good pockets where we’ve played real tight. But we’re going to have to get stiffer. I’ll tell you right now. There’s no magic system if you’re not stiff enough. And I know where we get in trouble. It’s easy to identify. And so we’re going to get better.”
That’s where the questions begin. Can this current group get stiffer like Larsen wants? Or will they have to look for external help to address the massive holes on this defense? Whatever it is, something has to give. The Blue Jackets cannot enter next season not doing anything.
A Roster Reset
Larsen expressed confidence that they will get better. So it seems reasonable that structure will be a main focus. But also there is a need for a top-four defenseman who can play more of the shutdown role. As we’ve talked about in the past, their interest in Jakob Chychrun was strong but they weren’t going to pay the necessary price that the Coyotes wanted. This at least suggests an interest in looking for outside help.
One look at the current defensemen on the roster and you can see that an upgrade would be welcomed. To be successful in today’s NHL, teams must have a minimum of two defensive pairs capable to shutting their opponent down. The Blue Jackets do not meet this threshold.
Let’s take a quick look at the roster and see what could happen in the near future.
- Zach Werenski: He’s their clear number-one defenseman although he has battled injuries throughout this season. He’s not going anywhere.
- Vladislav Gavrikov: He’s the closest to a shut-down defender the Blue Jackets have. He has one season left on his current contract. One would suspect the team would like to extend him. But until it’s done, it will be a question.
- Andrew Peeke: I’m not sure there’s been a player on the Blue Jackets who has grown more in the last year than Peeke has. He’s blocking shots and playing a physical style. He’s also been Werenski’s partner most of the second half. He’s primed to be a main stay for the next several seasons.
- Jake Bean: He scored twice Sunday night giving him a career-high seven goals. The offense has been good. The defense? Well not so much. This is one example of someone who needs to get stronger and play a stiffer game. Although he’s signed for two more seasons, there is always the off chance someone like him needs to be included in a deal to bring someone else on. He has term and his cap hit is friendly at just $2.33 million. He is one to watch into next season to see what his future will hold.
- Adam Boqvist: He is a pending RFA but does not have arbitration rights. He has 11 goals in 51 games this season which leads the Blue Jackets. The offense is tantalizing. But like Bean, the defense needs work. He too needs to get stronger in the offseason. With the higher offensive upside, one would suspect the Blue Jackets want to keep him for many seasons especially considering he was one of the main pieces that came back in the Seth Jones deal. An important offseason awaits Boqvist as he must prioritize the defensive part of his game.
- Nick Blankenburg: Three games in, Blankenburg has already been promoted to the top-four. It was Boqvist and Bean who started Sunday night on the third pair. Larsen loves what Blankenburg brings. “He didn’t get the memo that he was (short.)” As a pending RFA, Blankenburg is poised to be part of the team not just next year, but beyond.
- Dean Kukan: A pending UFA, Kukan seems destined to have a new home after this season. While he has had some moments, it hasn’t been enough to justify a full-time role.
- Gabriel Carlsson: A pending RFA, Carlsson hasn’t been able to carve out a full-time role. With Gavin Bayreuther having another year remaining on his deal, does Carlsson even have a future with the Blue Jackets at this point? If you consider the current top-six and then Bayreuther as a seventh defenseman, the depth chart is posing a significant challenge for Carlsson. With Jake Christiansen, Tim Berni and Billy Sweezey all under contract moving forward, Carlsson’s situation is worth watching.
So as you can see, this defense has both promise and significant questions rolled into one. If the Blue Jackets hope to take the next step, their current players have to prioritize becoming a better defender. But there exists the chance that one or more moves happen to bolster their blue line.
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If the Blue Jackets hope to add a significant top-four defender, they may have to be willing to move multiple pieces. Regardless of how they make changes, they have to do something.
Will it be a structure change, a roster change or some combination of both? After making dubious franchise history, they must decide their best path forward. It certainly cannot continue like this.
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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.