With the 2020-2021 NHL season in the books and playoffs about to begin, it’s time to take a look at where the Columbus Blue Jackets are and where they are headed. Fair warning, it’s not pretty, at least not half of it anyway. Reflecting back on the season, the team seemed to shore up their problems at center signing Minnesota Wild veteran Mikko Koivu. Before that was the trade with Montreal that brought Max Domi to town, a winger longing to play center but didn’t have the opportunity north of the border. Finally, we had former first-round pick Pierre Luc Dubois here to lead those guys at the position.
Then, the walls came crashing down.
After only seven games with Columbus, Koivu retired, citing dissatisfaction with himself at not being able to reach the level of play he wanted to. After 16 seasons in the league, I can appreciate his stance on the matter. Next, and easily the biggest issue, Pierre Luc Dubois signs a contract extension and fans breathe a massive sigh of relief, only to learn a few days later he wants out. Dubois gets dealt to the Jets for winger Patrick Laine. This turned out to be a trade that didn’t really benefit either side, especially for the Jackets as Laine’s magic shot disappeared into thin air. Lastly, there is Max Domi, who just didn’t seem to succeed at center ice, at least in the defensive portion of the game, which is a significant matter considering centers have to be more defensive-minded than their wing counterparts.
This gaping hole up front ultimately let opposing teams pick Columbus apart and the downward spiral began. Additionally, last year’s incredible goalie tandem of Korpisalo and Merzlikins wasn’t so incredible this year, which ended with Korpisalo injured yet again. So much for the 20th-anniversary celebration of the franchise.
Oh, the coach left too.
Not a surprise to many, head coach John Tortorella and GM Jarmo Kekalainen reached a mutual understanding to part ways at the season’s end. Torts was at the end of his contract and it became apparent things weren’t going well in this marriage of team and coach any longer. While he turned the culture around with this franchise for the far better, all good things must come to an end.
So where does the team go from here?
Kekalainen recently went on record stating they have a few candidates in mind for the head coach position, but they will take their time. In an interview with Blue Jackets radio personality Bob McElligot this week, the GM said while other teams may fill head coaching positions as soon as the playoffs begin, the Jackets will do their due diligence to make sure they achieve the right fit. In short, this could be a few months before the team finds its new leader on the bench.
Let’s not forget that deals made just before the trade deadline snagged a few first-round picks as well when former captain Nick Foligno went to Toronto and defenseman Denis Savard was sent to Tampa. Still, while a pair of first-rounders are a great thing, this isn’t football. Those picks, if kept, will likely need to spend time in the minors as they prepare for a consistent life at the NHL level. That is a development process that could be somewhere in the realm of two to three years.
It’s often been said this season that the Columbus Blue Jackets are transitioning into a stage of retooling as opposed to an era of rebuilding. With Seth Jones heading into the final year of his contract, the team is about to have a serious soul-searching moment that will decide what the future holds. If Jones wants out, rebuilding it is, and that’s easily a seven-year project at least. If the all-star defenseman wants to stay, then he is the pillar Jarmo can build around.
So, when a fan asks if the future looks bright or dark for this team, it’s a politician’s reply of ‘cloudy’ that is most accurate at the moment.