When your team starts a season with the highest expectations they’ve ever had, an 0-6 record is completely unacceptable. Yet, that’s where the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves after a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday.
The big question that everyone’s asking is, who’s to blame for all of this? Is it the players who at times look lost and out-of-place? Is it the coach who has consistently seen his teams start slowly since he’s arrived? Or what about management? Did they not properly address glaring needs in the offseason, leaving the team vulnerable?
Everyone is to blame here, in equal measure.
There are no more excuses here. Given the way that last season finished, and the improvement up front, many said that this was the best roster that the Blue Jackets have ever had to start a season.
To start 0-6 is one thing. But the way that they’ve gotten to 0-6 is what is the most disturbing. In their six games, they’ve allowed a total of 30 goals. The next closest team is Boston with 21 goals allowed. The Blue Jackets also have a goal differential of -17, by far and away the worst in the league.
To say anything else about the situation does not properly address how mistakes on all levels have affected this team. We are going to breakdown all three levels of the Blue Jackets, the players on the ice, the coaching staff, specifically Todd Richards, and management. Then we will address how this mess can get fixed.
Heads in hands, steely looks, visible anger. Have rarely, if ever, seen the #CBJ room quite like that after a loss.
— Shawn Mitchell (@shecky218) October 18, 2015
A Vezina-winning goalie with an under .850 save%, a defense that freely gives the puck away, a group of forwards that at least to this point, haven’t played a complete 60-minute game, all are a part of this dismal start.
Usually, you’ll see the goaltender cover up the mistakes of the defense and forwards and vice versa. This isn’t even close to happening. Sergei Bobrovsky is letting in goals that normally are routine for him to stop. The defense is making tape to tape passes to the opposition. The forwards seem to chase both the play and the puck. The team has mental lapses at the wrong times, which are game defining moments.
Bobrovsky told the media after the Ottawa game that he has zero confidence. This is the second highest paid goalie in the league saying that. Having trust issues now is a sign of a bigger organizational problem. Bobrovsky usually isn’t this bad. Why doesn’t he have any confidence?
#CBJ G Sergei Bobrovsky: "I have zero confidence right now. It's a tough time."
— Shawn Mitchell (@shecky218) October 15, 2015
He’s left exposed. Teams are able to go through the Blue Jackets defense like a hot knife through butter. Opponents find themselves near the net with not much resistance. They’re getting quality scoring chances in bunches. Bobrovsky then feels like he needs to do more since the team in front of him is letting him down. This causes him to lose focus. Bobrovsky is not in the right place mentally at this point.
When the team needs a big save, Bobrovsky is not giving it to them like in years past. This exposes the defense for how bad they are as a unit. This same defense made mistakes last season, only to have Bobrovsky bail them out. This year, the team is paying the price.
Add that to taking dumb penalties and making bad turnovers, and you have a fragile team. You have a frustrated team. You have a team that is quickly losing confidence by the loss. All that said, the players are just a part of the problem.
Many fans are calling for his job because of this start. Whether you think it’s fair or not is up to you. However, a coaching change is under consideration. While there are many things out of the coach’s hands, mental mistakes, bad turnovers, there are disturbing trends that deserve examination.
Coming into this season, one of the major focuses of this team was to avoid another slow start. They specifically took the preseason to have things ready for October. They felt like they accomplished what they needed to this preseason. They even had the New York Rangers where they wanted them late in the opening game.
Three goals and 77 seconds later, the Blue Jackets and their fans were stunned. A big, opening night win faded into the shadows of a gut-wrenching loss, so gut-wrenching in fact that they haven’t recovered from it.
This is where coach comes into play. It is up to him to get the team on the same page, in good times and in bad ones. It is up to him to have the team ready to play on game nights. The play on the ice is a direct reflection of the coaching staff and how they prepare the team.
The Blue Jackets lost 15 of 17 games last season in October and November. They have now lost their first six games of this season. This is a sign that the team wasn’t ready to start the season. The blame here for the slow starts is squarely on the coach. The Blue Jackets are 16-35-5 in October and November under coach Richards. This is completely unacceptable. They dig too deep a hole and can’t recover in time to make the playoffs. This unfortunately is a disturbing trend, not an isolated occurrence.
Like the players, the blame should not entirely go to Richards. Management is a part of this too.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen and President of Hockey Operations John Davidson have done wonderful things in their time with Columbus. They’ve helped bring the organization to a level of respect that nobody before them was able to do. But it is fair to question some of their decisions.
This starts with the way they handled roster decisions.
Many experts said that the Blue Jackets defense was their weak link, and needed addressed. The team knew that, even making the possible availability of Kerby Rychel public. Yet, no move was made. They couldn’t get a move done. Kekalainen said that Ryan Murray “is the best acquisition of the summer” if he can stay healthy.
He’s been healthy so far, but has played average at best to start the season.
Give credit where it is due. Management made a splash by acquiring Brandon Saad to help bolster their forwards. They’re constantly looking for ways to improve the team. But to not address your most glaring need for this season, can’t be overlooked.
The defense is among the worst in the league. Last season, injuries and Bobrovsky masked the defensive issues. Management cited injuries as the reason for last season. Given the 15-1-1 end to last season, it’s no wonder why management was confident in what this team could become.
Reports have surfaced that they may try to make a trade before firing the coach to improve the defense. This should have been addressed in the offseason. This decision is looming large now in the midst of their 0-6 start. But that’s not all.
As unfortunate as the Nathan Horton situation was, his contract was still uninsured. As long as David Clarkson is on the team, the impact of Horton will be felt. Horton’s contract was guaranteed, and an uninsured contract meant that the money was going out, no matter what. It also counted against the salary cap. Did this limit what management could do, given salary implications? You bet it does.
So instead of making improvements on defense, the team has $5.25 million/season tied to a third or fourth line player. This is a costly mistake. Coach can only coach who’s on the ice. Imagine the team if there were able to upgrade on defense.
To pin blame on just one player, one coach, one member of management, is wrong. This is on the entire team. Collective decisions on and off the ice have equally contributed to this 0-6 start. Now what’s going to happen?
Told #CBJ annual team dinner at majority owner John P. McConnell's home, scheduled for tonight, has been cancelled or postponed.
— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) October 18, 2015
The ball is now in management’s court. Will they or can they complete a trade for a defenseman? If not, will they fire the coach to shake the team up? Could something else be in the offing?
This management team is among the best and one of the most respected in the league. This coach is one of the better hockey minds in the game, and an even better human being. These players have a lot of talent and loads of potential. Even with all that said, this combination is not working now. Some dynamic has to change. At the end of the day, it’s the results that matter. Something needs to happen to change the current state of the team.
No matter what happens, the next few hours are shaping up to be a defining moment for this franchise. How they handle this adversity will decide how the rest of this season and beyond goes. Is it the end of an era? We will all soon find out.
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.