The Columbus Blue Jackets May Be Improved Over Last Season, But It's Hardly Worth Celebrating

By Dan Dukart on March 28, 2024 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins makes a save on Arizona Coyotes right wing Josh Doan
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets are better this year than they were last year.

And that's the nicest thing I can muster about the 2023-24 experience. Through 72 games, the team has 58 points, 29th in the NHL. A year ago, they finished with 59 points, 31st in the league. Muted progress, I suppose. 

At the 72-game mark last season, the team had been eliminated from playoff contention, but there was genuine optimism, as the club was in the hunt for a top-three pick in a loaded draft. It seemed likely that the team was going to move on from Brad Larsen, and the prospect of a new coach was enticing. Rookie defenseman David Jiricek was having one of the best U20 seasons in recent AHL history. Kent Johnson was establishing himself as a player on the rise.

But as it stands today, it's hard to say with much conviction that, despite being slightly statistically better in the standings, things are better. The team was humbled by two Stanley Cup contenders, but that's almost to be expected. A third consecutive humiliating loss, this time to the Arizona Coyotes (who happen to be on the shortlist of other mostly tragically bad franchises), was a new low. 

On Tuesday, The Athletic's Aaron Portzline released an article chronicling the years decades of futility, noting that the high-water mark for the franchise was a first-round victory five years ago. Parity missed this franchise, he suggested. Notably/correctly missing from the feature was the word "optimism". 

Injuries continue to mount for a frustrated team that is reeling down the homestretch. In a rational sense, this could be construed as a positive. No sense in ruining your draft position now, right? Another year with a decent chance at a franchise-changing player. But with three top-six picks in the past three years, how can anyone honestly say that that player - whether it's Macklin Celebrini or just a blue-chip prospect who doesn't quite rise to his level - can really change anything?

Portzline's honest assessment of the team concluded that the team is looking for a "savior". 

"...Which means the franchise is looking for a new “savior” after another losing season, the fourth straight and the 17th in 23 seasons that the Jackets have missed the playoffs."

But in professional sports, the savior is rare. What is more common, and fortunately/unfortunately (depending on your viewpoint) for the Blue Jackets, is an organization building from the ground up. It starts with a strong foundation, supplementing from there with youth and new blood, and creating a culture of winning from within. It's why, for every Columbus Blue Jackets there is a Boston Bruins; a team that is more than the sum of its parts, where a Hall of Famer center can retire and the team continues to contend for a President's Trophy. Where a Hall Of Fame captain and legendary defender can retire, and the torch can be passed seamlessly.

The Blue Jackets may be showing progress, but let's not kid ourselves. There is a long way to go.  

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