The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night, 2-1, in a victory that probably looked better than it actually was given recent context: It wasn’t a 7-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, the nadir of the Jackets’ season from 24 hours earlier.
The bad news is that the Jackets are 8-11-3 on the season with a minus-11 goal differential and not exactly looking like the team that rocketed up the Western Conference standings last season, falling just shy of the playoffs.
The good news is that they’re not in the Western Conference anymore, where a start like this might have them calculating lottery odds. They’re in the Meh-tropolitan Division, where 19 points puts you two points out of the No. 3 seed. Which is some kind of cosmic realignment joke played on the Winnipeg Jets, we think.
Last night was an example of the best and worst of Columbus: The ability to clamp down and play a puck possession game, defending well in front of Sergei Bobrovsky. Yet even against a Calgary team that’s placed a welcome mat for visiting pucks in their crease, the Jackets could only generate one goal in the first 60 minutes – the seventh time that’s happened this season.
On top of that, Marian Gaborik will miss 4-to-6 weeks with a knee injury. Although that might actually increase his contributions to the offense during what’s been a dismal contract year for him ...
So what to do about the Jackets? Jarmo Kekalainen, the team’s second-year GM, has ruled out firing coach Todd Richards to the Columbus Dispatch.
“We still have the same coaches we had last year, and they had the team playing very disciplined, very hard-working. It’s up to the players to look in the mirror and see if they can play the game the same way they did last year. It’s about the individual,” he said.
This is all true, but two other facts linger on the mind: That assistant coach Keith Acton, who left for Edmonton, is missed more than expected; and that Kekalainen didn’t hire Richards, which is always something that portends a change in coaches at some point in that GM’s early tenure should adversity hit.
But if it’s about the players, what’s the move?
Kekalainen sees a lack of veteran leadership on a team that has several young players in prominent roles. From the Dispatch:
“I always think there’s a good lesson in everything. It’s hard to see when you lose a game like we lost (in Edmonton) last night. Yeah, leadership is being questioned right now. It’s certainly something that we’re looking at. Leadership is a full time job. It’s not a part-time job. It has to be there every day, in every practice and every game. You can never have too much of that kind of player, so if there’s a way to improve in that area by adding that kind of player from the outside, sure, we’d love to look at it. But at the same time, I think we have enough guys with that kind of potential on the inside. It has to start with doing things the right way on the ice.”
Leadership is a difficult thing to import. Like he said, it’s easier to find within a team. The Jackets’ history is littered with vagabond players who came to Columbus as veteran leaders and left without success. Their first and only playoff appearance in franchise history came after that succession of veteran captains from outside the organization ended and homegrown Rick Nash was given the ‘C’.
Offense is easier to import. And finding a veteran scoring winger would seem to be a necessity for this team at the moment.
There’s no reason for any time in the Metroterrible to hit the panic button now, and it doesn’t sound like Kekalainen will. But he’s shown to be an aggressive general manager with an equally aggressive boss in John Davidson when it comes to finding success for this team.
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