Blue Jackets Happy With Return to Play Progress

We have progress. Not only that, the Columbus Blue Jackets are happy with the current progress of the NHL’s Return to Play plan.

GM Jarmo Kekalainen and captain Nick Foligno took time on Wednesday to speak on a conference call to discuss their thoughts on the plan. While they are excited for things that could happen in the future, many questions remain. For now though, the Blue Jackets are happy with where things stand.

Happy But Cautious

“It’s a good job by the league,” Kekalainen said of the return to play plan. “I think there are going to be some interesting matchups. The Leafs, we certainly know that they’re a very talented team and we’ll prepare accordingly. I think it will be a great matchup. There’s plenty of them around the league, even in the first play-in round, so it’s going to make it very interesting.”

“I am thrilled that we’re moving forward to try to play, but I also have a lot of questions and concerns like anyone else,” Foligno said of the plan. “If it ever comes to a point where it doesn’t make sense and safety is not at the forefront, then we can’t play.” 

Nick Foligno #71, Columbus Blue Jackets
Nick Foligno is happy with the progress but has questions just like everyone else. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Foligno is making light of the several questions we all have about a potential return to play. At the forefront, how does everyone ensure the safety of those involved? And will there be enough testing to go around? Foligno went out of his way to acknowledge that they shouldn’t be taking tests from the community and from those that need them.

“What’s going on is bigger than hockey,” Foligno said of the current situation.

At the end of the day, players want to play. Foligno is no different. His goal as it’s always been is to win the Stanley Cup.

“For me, it’s another opportunity. I’m 13 years in the league, and it’s a chance to win the Stanley Cup,” Foligno said. “I don’t care if you’re a young player or an old player, they don’t come around very often so when you get a chance for the dance, you want to make the most of it. If there is a reasonable and safe way to play the game, then why would you not want to give yourself an opportunity to chase the ultimate dream, which is the Stanley Cup championship?” 

The Healthy Blue Jackets?

Assuming the team is able to move forward and get the answers they are looking for, we will have dead of summer hockey to look forward to. How are the Blue Jackets injury wise at this time? Kekalainen admitted that only Brandon Dubinsky would be out with his injury. Kekalainen said “yeah, absolutely” when asked if there was a chance Josh Anderson could play. He had shoulder surgery and was scheduled to miss 4-6 months. If the games start later in July and he has healed enough, Anderson is an option.

Other players such as Seth Jones, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Dean Kukan and Alex Texier should all be ready for a potential five-game series. Should a series with the Toronto Maple Leafs happen, the Blue Jackets will have a full lineup of options ready to go.

Foligno was asked if he had any initial thoughts on playing the Maple Leafs. What does he think a key to that series is?

“Whoever gets to their game the fastest,” Foligno said.

The Blue Jackets want to play a defensive, tight-checking game. The Maple Leafs have offensive stars and they want to shine. Whoever can impose their will on the other should have the upper-hand. Still, these teams will have almost two months to prepare for each other so no stone will be left unturned when scouting each other.

Columbus Hopes To Be A Hub City

As for their desire to be a hub city, Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets believe they have everything the league is looking for. They hope that the league will give them this chance.

“We know we’re among the candidates and we think we should have a pretty good chance considering all the criteria that are required to become a hub city,” Kekalainen admitted. “I think we meet all of them and we’re hoping we will be one of (the hub cities).”

Columbus Blue Jackets Jarmo Kekalainen
Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen hopes Columbus becomes one of the hub cities. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Gary Wiepert)

Kekalainen also went as far as saying that Nationwide Arena, the Chiller Ice Rinks and the Ohio State facilities are potential places that can be used by teams. It’s a strong case that Columbus has. Now it’s up to the league to decide if it’s the best option available.

The Blue Jackets are happy with where things stand overall. They like everyone else will wait on the next steps. At least there is a format in place. Step one of about a thousand is done. They can focus on trying to get back on the ice for meaningful hockey without having to worry about other things like the draft.

Kekalainen admitted that they had a strong opinion about the timing of the draft. They are very pleased that the draft is not being held in early June. It’s clear the Blue Jackets were one of several teams not in favor of drafting now. There’s still a season to finish off.

In Conclusion

We won’t know for 3-4 weeks which cities will be the hub cities. If Columbus has their way, they would be one of the hosts and could host the Western conference teams in an effort to take away any perceived home-ice advantage. That’s still all being decided though. Many factors are in play including Covid-19 rates and availability of testing.

The Blue Jackets are ready to move forward, but only if it’s safe to do so.