Three Thoughts On The First Two Days Of The Stanley Cup Playoffs, From The Columbus Blue Jackets Perspective

By Dan Dukart on April 22, 2024 at 10:15 am
New York Rangers defenseman K'Andre Miller and Washington Capitals left wing Beck Malenstyn battle for control of the puck in game one of the first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets may not be participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that doesn't mean that they aren't paying attention.

Whoever becomes the next GM of the club is likely to come from the current 16-team field - though it's possible it could end up being someone like the OHL's Mark Hunter. Regardless, it'll be a person with a history of deep postseason success, regardless of level. Through two days and nights of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I couldn't help but wonder what tenants and themes would be important for that person to bring to the Blue Jackets. Here are three thoughts: 

Be Careful Trading Talent

A cautionary tale over the past 10+ years has been the Buffalo Sabres, who haven't qualified for the playoffs since 2010-11, when they lost in the Eastern Conference First Round to the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games. Since then, they've moved on from several rounds of players, including Sam Reinhart (second in the NHL in goals this season) and Ryan O'Reilly, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP in 2019. Both of those trades yielded talent - Tage Thompson, Devon Levi, and a pick that became promising prospect Jiri Kulich.

This isn't intended to relitigate those trades. Time had perhaps run its course on both of those players, but the point remains that sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make. For a new GM, it'll be a tricky feat that navigate moving the right players from a legitimate deep prospect pool and surprisingly deep (for a 29th place finish) NHL roster. A wrong decision could be painful to look back upon.

Two Rosters Needed

Watching the Boston Bruins (and old friend Andrew Peeke) handily defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game One on Saturday evening reminded me of the team-building challenges that exist in the NHL. As I wrote two years ago, an NHL GM must somehow build a roster that has enough skill and sustainability to qualify for the playoffs, then a second team that has the brawn and ruggedness to persevere through a grueling two-month tournament. The games are played differently, and it's hard to build a team that can do both. The Bruins are a model, but others, like the Florida Panthers, Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Dallas Stars provide solid templates. 

I think you could debate that the Blue Jackets are closer to having a 'get you through' roster, though neither is remotely close. A new GM will have to balance the two requirements. 

Prioritizing Competitive Players

This is perhaps a love child of ideas one and two, but it seems necessary to put a fine point on this. When building a team, the single most preferred trait must be competitiveness. Being a son-of-a-bitch to play against is simply valuable. It's easy to remember the heyday of the John Tortorella era in Columbus, where teams paid a price to play the Blue Jackets. They didn't win a Stanley Cup, but it's not breaking news to say that that was clearly the most successful era in the club's history.

I would venture to guess that the Blue Jackets were, aside from being a remarkedly easy team to score against, a remarkably easy team to play against. That must change. Watching at least a part of every game over the weekend, it was evident that the teams still playing have high skill and fortitude. The Blue Jackets lack both, and the next decision-maker(s) should be disciplined when looking in the mirror - and to the next iteration of the team. 

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