Should The Blue Jackets Bring Back Assistant Coach Brad Larsen?

By Dan Dukart on April 30, 2018 at 8:25 am
Brad Larsen
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The dust has settled on the Blue Jackets' season, and there's plenty of blame to go around.

Was Sergei Bobrovsky good enough? Where did the offense go? Were injuries a factor? Why didn't John Tortorella roll four lines, when before the series it looked like depth could be an advantage for the Blue Jackets?

But to me, the most glaring failing from the loss was the inability of the Blue Jackets' power play to capitalize on their chances, especially when contrasted with Washington's dynamic power play. 

The Blue Jackets started the series up 2-0 on Washington, going 2-for-4 in both Games 1 and 2. Over the next four games – all losses – they went 0-for-4, 0-for-3, 0-for-5, and 0-for-4. In those same four games, Washington went 1-for-4 and 1-for-3 twice each. 

In a series where four games went to overtime, it's not difficult to conclude that the difference between winning and losing was that one team's power play stayed hot, and the others was ice cold.

This didn't exactly come out of nowhere.

In December, we wrote about how the Blue Jackets power play wasn't just bad to start the year, it was historically bad. They finished the year 25th in the league at 17.2%, which is downright amazing considering that Columbus scored just six power play goals by December 1. They were at just 8.8% through the first 25 games of the year. From December 2 through the end of the season, the Blue Jackets power play scored on 21.1% of their chances, which was 16th in the NHL in that time span.

Even when the power play was "hot", it was league average.

What makes it all the more frustrating is that the Blue Jackets should have a good power play. As Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman's wrote earlier this month:

No. 1 wild card among Eastern Conference playoff teams? Probably Columbus’s power play, which ranked 25th. “I have no idea why it’s as bad as it is,” one scout said. “It has all the personnel and elements you need.”

A season ago, the Blue Jackets had five players with 18 or more power play points. This year, just two players – Seth Jones (24) and Artemi Panarin (21) – managed to eclipse 18. Coincidentally, Jones ran the second unit a year ago, and Panarin was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Alexander Wennberg had just five power play points, and while Cam Atkinson doubled that, it's not nearly the type of production that a team with this type of talent should be expecting. 

And while Panarin was exceptional all season, his patented one-timer just wasn't brought to the table nearly enough. While his seven power play goals tied for the team lead with Jones, it was still a career low (eight and nine in his first two seasons, respectively). 

Perhaps it's a time for a new voice running the power play. Brad Larsen has done an admirable job in his time in Columbus (he's been with the franchise since 2010-11 as an assistant with the AHL Springfield Falcons) but his time may be up.

Larsen is in charge of the power play for the Blue Jackets, and has been since 2014-15. In the time since then, the power play has converted on 19% of attempts, tied for 14th in the NHL. But it's gone from fifth best in 2014-15 to 21st, 12th, and 25th in the three years since. 

His contract expires this summer, and there's been no determination yet on his future with the club. It's worth noting that he was kept on as an assistant coach when Todd Richards was fired and John Tortorella was hired in 2015-16. That's not unusual practice, but typically head coaches like to bring 'their guys' with them. 

Tortorella wouldn't publicly admit it, but it's likely that he feels similar. He told reporters earlier this season: "I am tired of dissecting our power play. This is my last night that I'm speaking on the power play, OK, for all of you, because I'm tired of talking about it, so I'll leave it at that."

Look, I don't expect the Blue Jackets to be able to match that of the Washington Capitals. Over the past four seasons (the season's since Larsen's been on the staff), Washington has had the statistically best power play in the NHL and Ovechkin has more goals than any other player in that time span. The Capitals have arguably the best power play player in the history of the league, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov are both perfectly situated as elite, skilled guys that happen to be left-handed and therefore are positioned to always face Ovechkin, and TJ Oshie has perfected the slot position. Oh, and defenseman John Carlson had 36 of his league-leading (among defensemen) 68 points on the power play. A cardboard box could coach the Capitals power play.

Larsen being retained wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but for a franchise looking to take the next step, improving a unit that's been inconsistent at best and historically bad at worst would be a good step in the right direction. 

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