One look in the locker room after the game said everything.
After suffering through another 3rd period meltdown against the Vancouver Canucks, there was 1 common theme that was shared amongst the Blue Jackets players as they were packing their bags and getting ready for a trip to Nashville. That common theme: frustration. They had the look of a team who was searching for answers. Nothing they were doing seemed to be working. There were some good “moments” mixed in, but the end result remained the same. When the team left the ice at the end of the 3rd period, another 2 points had slipped away. Couple that with the fact that the injury list continues to grow, and you have a team who is trying to overcome a very difficult and frustrating situation.
The sense around the Blue Jackets has always been that the team will turn the season around once the injured players return. But, given that the injured list hasn’t gotten any smaller, the question now has to be asked, will this season be turned around? The Blue Jackets currently sit tied for last in points with the Edmonton Oilers. It has gotten so bad that the talk around the team has started to involve Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. When your team has those 2 names mentioned as a possibility, you know things aren’t going well now. As frustrating as the season has been, there are some silver linings that exist. It is easy to look at the present and say that there isn’t much hope that exists. That is actually far from the truth. It might take a shift in thinking, but it will be well worth it. Let’s now look at the silver linings that exist for the Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets Front Office
When you look at the state of any team, one needs to start at the top. If there is anything that the Blue Jackets have going for them, this is it. Never at any other point in time has there been this much stability within the front office for Columbus. Look at the way that they are handling this difficult season. It would be easy to pull the trigger on a move in an effort to shake up the team. But is that really the right move here? As President of Hockey Operations John Davidson put it, “When you’re not winning, people want you to sacrifice things to put on a Band-Aid. This is a full-fledged open wound, a Band-Aid doesn’t help.” And that’s just it. What would a trade really do? Who would you move? What could you get back? Would that really be the thing that turns the season around? At this point, with so many injuries facing this team, the best approach, which has already been echoed by Davidson, is to just stay the course. They have said from the beginning that this will be a brick-by-brick approach. So why change that now? The fact that the front office is willing to stay the course no matter how bad it gets, is some of the best news Blue Jackets fans could hear. It may take some time, but the reward is very much worth the wait.
#CBJ front office is doing it right. The results may not be what we want, but just look at JDs track record. Don't panic, stay the course.
— Mark Scheig (@markscheig) December 1, 2014
The Springfield Falcons
Do you remember opening night when the Blue Jackets fielded a roster that included the likes of Alexander Wennberg and Marko Dano? Injuries forced the Blue Jackets to have them start with the big club. it was quickly discovered soon thereafter that they just weren’t quite ready for consistent NHL minutes. Now both are back with the AHL Springfield Falcons. Anton Forsberg was also called up to the Blue Jackets when Sergei Bobrovsky went down with a hand injury. Forsberg got in some game action, and did well for himself. Now he is back in Springfield. Did you know that the Falcons have won 9 straight games? Forsberg was named AHL goaltender of the month as a result. Wennberg and Dano are both now getting what they each desperately need. They are each getting precious big minutes. Kind of lost in the Blue Jackets struggles is the culture of winning that is being developed in Springfield now. They will be future Blue Jackets. This experience will only help them develop. Couple this with the fact that the Blue Jackets won’t trade any 1st round picks or prospects just to temporarily fix this season, and you’ll see that stability is being put into place.
A Hidden Opportunity
Despite all of the early struggles, there are opportunities that exist. With so many injuries, what is the rush to bring them back now? Historically, less than 10% of teams in this position have come all the way back to make the playoffs. Currently, the Blue Jackets have a 0.4% chance to make the playoffs at this point. In addition, when you are dealing with the kind of injuries you are dealing with, you want to make sure that the player returns at full health. This situation affords the Blue Jackets an opportunity to make sure players like Brandon Dubinsky, Mark Letestu, Ryan Murray, and Artem Anisimov are 100% when they return. There is no reason at this point to rush any of them back. Why risk further injury? I am not saying tank this season. I am saying make sure the player is ready to return at 100%. The team now has the opportunity to make sure the players return to full health before taking the ice again. Had the team been closer to playoff contention, the thought of bringing players back sooner would have been discussed. And if it does turn out the Jackets finish at or near the bottom of the standings, there could be a glorious prize waiting for them in Round 1 of the draft.
Letestu was close to returning from his original groin strain when he toe-picked while skating, #CBJ GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. …
— Shawn Mitchell (@smitchcd) December 2, 2014
No matter the issue, there is always a chance for something good to come from it. If the Blue Jackets continue to stay the course, though there may be lots of valleys short term, their long term outlook will be among the brightest in the NHL. A stable front office, a great AHL team, and making sure your players are all 100%, will ensure that the team stays the course. There are going to be frustrating moments. Maybe there will be many frustrating moments. But, there is too much evidence for me to ever give up hope. Stay the course, you’ll be glad you did.