"Damn The Torpedoes!"

By Dan Dukart on February 26, 2019 at 11:02 am
1 Comment

The year was 1864.

In the midst of the Civil War, David Farragut, an officer in the Union Navy, was engaged in what what looking more and more like a suicide mission. A line of mines (torpedoes) had already destroyed the Tecumseh, and Farragut's Brookyln could be next.

Warned of mines in the water ahead, Farragut uttered the now famous, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

The rest, as they say, is history. The mines failed to explode. The rest of the fleet successfully followed and forced the Confederate Tennessee to surrender. Farragut's bold decision to push forward paid off.

Pardon the Civil War reference, but it seemed almost too apt to pass up, given the Blue Jackets' crest and name. 

I'll be honest: From the start of the year, I wanted the Blue Jackets to trade Artemi Panarin. As early as last summer, I didn't want the Blue Jackets to re-sign Sergei Bobrovsky. By nature, I will always be pragmatic and risk-averse. If every UFA on this roster leaves on July 1 and the Blue Jackets flame out in the first round (or, gulp, miss the playoffs), it will be easy to criticize the asset management from the past six months. But now that the trade deadline has come and gone, a strange sense of relief has come over me, and I think that sense extends through much of the fan base. 

As a 'draft and develop' organization, it can take years – decades – to bear fruit. The Blue Jackets, under GM Jarmo Kekalainen and President of Hockey Ops John Davidson, have taken the franchise to new heights. There are now expectations, when for many years, 'not being embarrassing' qualified as a mild success.

And today, in 2018-19, after several years of making (mostly) shrewd decisions, the club learned that Bobrovsky and Panarin didn't want to sign long-term. It was a kick in the teeth. But now, for maybe the first time in the organization's history, the decision was made to go all-in at the poker table.

From Eric Duhatschek of The Athletic:

The Blue Jackets may as well go down this path because the alternative – of standing pat or ditching two key players – isn’t great. Internally, they realized their starved-for-success fan base needed something to rally around. If it goes your way, and it could, because stranger things have happened in playoffs past, great. If it doesn’t, and you eventually rue the day that you committed all those future assets to the present, well, you cross that organizational bridge when you come to it.

He's right. Are the Blue Jackets among the youngest teams in the NHL? Yes. Did the Blue Jackets give up any roster players? No (all due respect to Anthony Duclair, who's been in and out of the lineup but is not seen as a piece moving forward). Did they give up any of their top prospects? Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson took lateral, at best, steps this season. 

But that's not the only reason why it makes sense. The Metropolitan Division is a crapshoot. The New York Islanders, who most picked to finish near the bottom of the division, are leading it thanks to almost otherworldly goaltending from two not-otherworldly goalies.

The Washington Capitals are a good team, but (understandably) seem to lack the chip on their shoulder that's been present for several years. The Pittsburgh Penguins injured and porous defense is rivaled only by its weak goaltending. And the Carolina Hurricanes, who are just one point back of the Blue Jackets, did nothing to address their roster at the trade deadline. The division is wide open, and not one team should threaten the Blue Jackets the way teams have done so in the past.

Then there's the fact that this is, without question, the strongest lineup Columbus has ever iced. While Sergei Bobrovsky's postseason struggles are well chronicled, he's been excellent in the past month, posting a 7-2-0 record with a .937 save % and three shutouts, and was recently named the NHL's third star of the week. The club feels confident in Joonas Korpisalo, but decided to acquire another NHL goalie, should Korpisalo and/or Bobrovsky falter.

Defensively, adding Adam McQuaid adds depth to an already-strong blue line. Seth Jones is fourth in the NHL in time on ice per game, averaging nearly 26 minutes. When Ryan Murray returns from injury, the Blue Jackets will ice what is maybe the deepest defense corps in their history, with Jones and Murray anchoring the top pairing, David Savard and Zach Werenski the second, Markus Nutivaara and McQuaid the third, with Scott Harrington and Dean Kukan waiting in the wings as insurance.

And then there's the forwards. For the first time in franchise history, there is legitimate firepower coming from up and down the lineup. No offense to teams from yesteryear, but a top line of Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Cam Atkinson seemed possible only in dynasty mode on NHL17. Heck, the depth is strong enough that the 'fifth line' of Lukas Sedlak, Alexander Wennberg, and Markus Hannikainen could easily pass as an NHL line. 

The consistency throughout the forwards should provide mismatches to opposing defenses, who will have a hard time matching the Blue Jackets blend of speed, power, and creativity. Ryan Dzingel doesn't need to be the Blue Jackets' savior. He just needs to continue to do what he's done in Ottawa for the past few seasons.

This is a franchise that has never made it out of the first round. Aside from McQuaid, not one player on this roster owns a Stanley Cup ring. However you feel about Panarin and Bobrovsky, they are not exonerated from the Blue Jackets lack of playoff success and have much to prove as they head into free agency. Duchene, one of the premier players on the free agent market, has played as many playoff games in his ten-year career (8) as Nutivaara. The Blue Jackets front office, for the first time ever, didn't just tinker at the trade deadline. They went all in, adding quality pieces that give this city a team that can do some serious damage, a team that you can feel genuinely enthusiastic about. They're clearly committed to winning.

Do you really think that's lost on NHL players, even if Panarin and Bobrovsky leave on July 1?

Who can say if the Blue Jackets will prove management right and win a playoff series (or more) for the first time in its history. But for a fan base that's tired of kicking the can down the road and hearing about how young their team is or what the prospect cupboard looks like, what Kekalainen did this past week takes impressive gall.

Fortune favors the bold. And it sure feels exciting. 

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