Welcome to the regular season. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, the beginning of the regular season comes with many questions.
While these are all valid and fair questions, when it comes to a season preview, all of these questions and more really boil down to one ultimate question given the current landscape. Starting Friday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Blue Jackets are going to start answering this question based on their play on the ice.
No more predictions. No more what if this happens or what if that happens. Any question you can think of regarding the Blue Jackets is rolled up into one. Here is that question. Just three words needed.
WHO IS RIGHT?
Yep. That’s all you’re going to have to ask yourself. Who is right? There are two sides to this story when it comes to how the season will unfold. It’s the Blue Jackets’ side. Then it’s the what others are saying side. One of these sides is right. As the season starts, we will start finding out the answer to this most important question.
We’ll lay out the scene for you from both the team and the outside perspective. Then you can decide for yourself which side of the pendulum you fall on. In this unique situation, there really is no middle ground. You either side with the team or you side with what others are saying about the team. Let’s lay out the case on both sides.
Side One: The Outsiders
You’ve seen the articles. You’ve seen the experts weigh in. Outside of a few examples here and there, the overwhelming feeling around the hockey world is that the Blue Jackets will be a lottery team. Why do they think this?
For starters, their three best players from the playoffs last season have new addresses. Artemi Panarin is a Ranger. Sergei Bobrovsky is a Panther. Matt Duchene is a Predator. If the Blue Jackets could barely squeak into the playoffs on the second-to-last day of the regular season, what makes anyone think they’re improved?
Couple the Blue Jackets’ losses with the gains of other division rivals and you have the recipe for a team who will occupy the basement of the Metro and would be a lucky bounce away from the services of either Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield.
Now let’s keep going. The goaltending is a huge question. Joonas Korpisalo has never been a full-time starter. His backup Elvis Merzlikins is new to North America and is still adjusting here. Think of the names of goalies on teams you’d generally consider a contender. Andrei Vasilevskiy is one. Tuukka Rask is another. How about Frederik Andersen? How about Bobrovsky in Florida? Carey Price is still one of the best in the league.
Over in the Metro, Braden Holtby is a Cup winner. So is Matt Murray twice. Henrik Lundqvist is a future hall of famer. Thomas Greiss was one on of the best duos last season. Cory Schneider if healthy is a good goaltender. Would you rather have Korpisalo/Merzlikins over any of these situations?
This isn’t me talking. This is what others are saying about the Blue Jackets and why they feel their season is doomed before it even starts. In their mind, even if some things go right, they need everything to fall almost perfectly to get a desired result.
This narrative has gone on since last season ended. Luckily for all of us, what other people say doesn’t dictate how the season will go. The Blue Jackets have the biggest voice when it comes to how their season will go.
Now we look at the other side of the story, the team’s side. Let’s see why they were ok allowing this situation to unfold.
Side Two: The Blue Jackets’ Side
I can tell you one thing with certainty based on conversations with players and coaches in the locker room. The Columbus Blue Jackets players, coaches and management are ticked. They’re mad because to them, it feels like they’re being disrespected.
The veterans in particular feel disrespected. Many of them who were involved with the sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning are back. Yes their stars might be gone. But have you considered the team knew this could happen and yet, they were ok with it if it did?
It’s true. Management knew losing everyone could happen. So why were they still ok with moving forward with their all-in approach? It was because of their confidence in the next wave of talent coming. That talent, at least some of it, made the opening roster.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen said if he had last year to do over again, he would in a heartbeat. His overwhelming confidence in his young players is something to take note of. It’s completely against what the other side is saying.
Kekalainen not only believes his young players will be good. He believes they will have a major impact. Otherwise, he’s not going all-in last season. He was willing to part with Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson in trades. He still felt good about his prospects.
You’ll notice the Blue Jackets didn’t add a veteran goaltender. They didn’t do as much as many had hoped in free agency. They did sign Gus Nyquist. But that was about it. Again, Kekalainen truly believes in his young talent or else other moves would have happened.
There you have it, two sides to this story and the ultimate question of who is right. Are the naysayers right or is Kekalainen right? Was Kekalainen right in trying to win everything knowing he’d be ok this season or is the hill too insurmountable?
No matter what happens, this season will be fascinating to watch unfold for the Columbus Blue Jackets as we will start to get an answer to the ultimate question. It could also spark something in the future if Kekalainen’s way gets them to the playoffs again.
Many have wondered what if someone went all-in one season and fell short. What would the ramifications be? We now get a first-hand look at this scenario playing out.
At the end of the day, the Blue Jackets do not care about what others are saying about them. They’re ready and highly motivated to show what they can do. Will Kekalainen’s faith in them pay off or will they pay the price for their actions of last season?
Finally on Friday, we will start to get the story. Who’s side are you on?
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 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.