The Columbus Blue Jackets enter the holiday season in a familiar place: in the basement of the NHL's standings.
Only this season, the feeling around the organization is somehow, despite a 31st-place finish a season ago followed by a humiliating offseason coaching blunder, much worse.
This isn't a team that is clearly tanking, like the San Jose Sharks. No. This team is trying to win.
But it's hard to be even sure of that.
What's the plan for this season? Depends on who you ask, I suppose. Ownership said the goal was "growth and progress on the ice in 2023-24". Management said as much when they brought in expensive win-now defensemen, but then demoted players like Kent Johnson and David Jiricek to the AHL even when it was clear that they belonged in Columbus (literally, in the case of David Jiricek). And the coaching staff has been trying to instill a meritocratic culture by
humiliating benching players like Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine, then curtails ice time for the best young players because they're (checks notes) young.
#CBJ Adam Fantilli played 10:11, Kent Johnson 8:08 and David Jiricek 10:25 tonight vs. #GoKingsGo— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) December 6, 2023
At some point, this lost cause of a season needs to turn over to the kids, who have outplayed the vets in most games.
Can't kid yourself that this season is still about this season.
Meanwhile, the team has been unable to hold a lead, almost to the point of hilarity, consistently laying massive eggs in the third period of just about every game. I mean, we've written basically the same article three. different. times in the past two weeks, all with a fairly similar tone. The team is young and inexperienced, but it sure would be nice if they learn from their mistakes, of which there have been plenty to study.
After a recent loss, Zach Werenski fumed in the locker room that “It’s definitely not the young guys who are causing us to lose games. It’s not on them. A lot of it has been our veterans, the older guys who’ve been on the ice for late goals (against)".
Some numbers just 27 games in:— The CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) December 6, 2023
19 Ls -> Held a lead in 14 of them.
5 OTL -> Held a 3rd period lead in all 5.
4 -> # of multi - goal leads blown.
8 -> # of blown leads while leading heading into the 3rd period.
But while that may be true, it hasn't resulted in any change. Since that quote, the club has gone 1-2-0, with both losses coming off of blown third-period leads. In total, the team has been outscored 41-21 in the third period this season. The status quo is not working, the team is clearly not jockeying for a playoff spot, and yet... the team's best young players don't play. If the team is going to blow eight leads in 27 games with the veterans, maybe it's time to turn it over to the kids?
Our own Coby Maeir even asked Pascal Vincent after Tuesday night's debacle about his perplexing ice time decisions, which included (but were not limited to) giving limited ice time to Adam Fantilli in the third period. His nonsensical answer didn't address the question (in a way, his lack of concise response hilariously confirmed the very inconsistencies that have been mentioned). Something about matchups, I think, as if he wasn't coaching the team with the last change.
Put simply, this is a lottery team being run like a playoff bubble team.
That lack of cohesion is on full display, and there is a palpable lack of trust from the fanbase to all levels of the organization that seems to be reaching a breaking point. I feel for Vincent, who is, in my estimation, a good guy put in a bad spot. The team isn't ready to win, and it has to be very obvious to him, even if he can't say that to the front office, who certainly can't say that to ownership.
So, on we go, a bad team finding new ways to lose by playing the same ole' hits.