The Columbus Blue Jackets Are Evidencing Why Rebuilding Can Be A Difficult Proposition

By Dan Dukart on January 27, 2022 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larsen
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins should send each of his teammates Venmo requests in the aftermath of a 6-0 loss in which he posted a .903 save percentage.

Call it reparations. 

The Calgary Flames didn't beat the Blue Jackets; they humiliated them, outshooting their hapless opponent 62-23. Per the NHL, the 62 shots were the fourth most shots recorded in a regular-season game since 1981-82, and the highest total by any team since March 21, 1991(!).   

But, believe it or not, I'm not here to completely dump on the Blue Jackets.

Here's the thing about rebuilds; the goal, in essence, is to remain as competitive as possible in a losing effort. Tally up losses, acquire top lottery picks, and pray for good fortune from the draft gods. Do that a few years in a row (Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby; Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, etc.) and you've done the heavy lifting. 

The potential problems to this philosophy are numerous, but the conclusion is this: Not all rebuilds end well (just ask Arizona, Buffalo, and Edmonton).

It's a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum because, while consistent losing allows franchises to draft elite players, too much losing ultimately precludes the same franchise from ever turning the corner. Staying just competitive enough, then, becomes a key component to most 'successful' rebuilds.

And therein lies the problem with Wednesday night's listless loss. Over an 82-game season, there will be inevitable highs and lows. But a 6-0 loss, where the Flames' worst player outperformed the Blue Jackets' top player, is obviously another level of sadness. In the past week alone, the Blue Jackets have played to a 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators and a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins (that was 2-2 in the 3rd period). As bizarre as it may sound, those results, for a team that has admitted that they're in the midst of a retool, are fine. Losing 6-0 in a disgraced fashion is not. 

Losing sucks, don't get me wrong. And Blue Jackets fans have suffered for the better part of two decades. But the losing has never been genuinely intentional, and that's why GM Jarmo Kekalainen is being given rope to see this rebuild through. Somewhat unbelievably, this organization has never been ripped down to the studs. 

The organization has every reason to be optimistic about the future. Two years ago, the team had the 31st best prospect pool in the NHL. Last year, it was 27th. Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger immediately bumped the organization into the top half of the NHL (which are being announced one per day right now), at least. This summer, the club should have two more lottery picks, and (draft) gods willing, they may actually win a lottery for a change. Building through the draft may not be sexy, but it's shown to be effective over the long-run. 

I don't think it's worth overreacting to one game, but my intent is to point out that this should be a cautionary tale of what could come. Losing games is one thing. Being humiliated is quite another.