It feels different this time, doesn't it?
Sure, we've been told that change is coming many times in the past, and we saw at least some change.
But this time, it seems like the kind of wholesale changes that the Columbus Blue Jackets needed to make to re-identify themselves.
It was less than seven months ago that the Blue Jackets opened the delayed and shortened 2020-21 season with a loss in Nashville to the Predators.
In the 3-1 loss January 14th, the following players were in the lineup: Captain Nick Foligno, alternate captains Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones, Pierre-Luc Dubois, David Savard, Riley Nash, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Michael Del Zotto.
That's eight players – more than a third of the roster – who are no longer with the team. It wasn't just role players, either; those first five names were franchise staples. Adding to the change, head coach John Tortorella was replaced with assistant Brad Larsen.
These changes signify a new era for the Blue Jackets, as promised by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and alternate governor John Davidson.
But this rebuild, or retool, or whatever re-term we want to use for it, has a different flavor to it. The Blue Jackets are bringing in young players again, yes, but these are young players who have already shown flashes of brilliance in their NHL careers, not just the ability to do so. Adam Boqvist, for example, is a dynamite young defenseman who could skate alongside Zach Werenski on Columbus' top defensive pairing for years to come. He's already shown growth, and the mere fact that Chicago Blackhawk fans were upset with losing him is a testament to his game.
Along with the on-ice talent, Boqvist brings a winning attitude with him. So too does Jake Bean, who the Blue Jackets indirectly acquired in the Jones trade when they traded the 44th pick they received from the Blackhawks over to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Bean. He doesn't have the same tools as Boqvist, but Bean was a consistent face on the Carolina blue line, which ranked as one of the best in the entire NHL last year.
The additions of Jakub Voracek and Sean Kuraly bring a new type of veteran leadership, and with different roles. Voracek was brought in to give Patrik Laine, another (relatively) new face to the team, a chance to put up big numbers. Voracek is a playmaking forward that Laine hasn't yet had in his time with Columbus, and the move (despite costing the team fan-favorite Cam Atkinson) could help keep Laine in Columbus for the long haul.
The three first-round selections of Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger, and Corson Ceulemans bring even more promise, and let's not forget about the young Russian prospects (Yegor Chinakov, Kirill Marchenko, and Dmitri Voronkov). There is a reasonable chance that all six of these 23-or-under players are regular NHL players within three seasons.
They won't be Cup contenders this year – or next year – but the Blue Jackets are one of the big winners of the offseason, and it's well worth being excited about.