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Between A Rock And A Hard Place - How Much of This Is Jarmo's "Fault"?

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Spurred by some comments/discussion in the thread for Jeff's piece, I turned what was going to be a reply into a piece of its own.

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First and foremost, this is an editorial piece. As you'll soon see, none of this is rooted in complete concrete. It employs a lot of rhetorical questions. With that on the table, here goes.

In the comments section of Jeff's piece (which has very awesomely taken on a life of its own), a discussion emerged which I found very... what's the word? Frustrating. The central premise is that the team's current place in the standings represents absolutely no "progress" (itself a very subjective word) from when the current front office took over (a last place team). When replies came along the lines of "well, they did make the playoffs" and "they have had winning records in all three prior seasons," those were met with a reply of:

On the last Jackets team to make the playoffs not a single important contributor was brought in by this front office, not even the coach.

Factually, that's a true statement. I've argued that there is a ton of ignored context, and what follows is the culmination of that argument. My short reply was:

[H]ow, then, does Jarmo receive all blame for that SAME core not being a playoff team now?

Another commenter replied with, again, another factually accurate statement:

Because he’s added and subtracted to that core to take us to the next level and it clearly hasn’t worked.

I saw this, and it resonated with me on a deeper level than the argument had previously. It's a good point, and it amplifies the original point about the progression of this roster from Howson's tenure to the present day. And it got me hitting the keyboard. As my comment grew and grew in length, I slowly realized that leaving it there was not the place for it. After all, it's almost 1500 words.

So, here is my reply to the statement that Jarmo has added and subtracted to that playoff core roster, and it clearly hasn't worked. I've left it formatted exactly as I typed it, because it was meant as a direct response to that statement, and I think the context matters.

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Agreed, and stipulated in my other responses. But, outside of Ryan Johansen--who was subtracted AFTER we settled into 30th this season, and who brought in a player in Seth Jones who WILL be a contributor on whatever "next" playoff team we field--who are the big time players that have been removed and not adequately replaced? Umberger? Wisniewski? Letestu? Anisimov? Nikita Nikitin?? While (some of them) decent players in 2014, these are not "core" guys on an NHL roster, nor does their absence explain the complete implosion of this team this season.

  • R.J. Umberger for Scott Hartnell. That's a no-brainer. The only downside is the cap hit starting in 2017. That's moot to this discussion, because we'd still be paying Umberger, who is far and away the worse player (and if Hartnell gets traded, completely a non-issue.).
  • James Wisniewski got scratched in Anaheim and then traded AGAIN. For all the bitching we do about Rene Bourque's contract, Wiz's $5.5 million cap hit is more than Bourque and William Karlsson combined by almost $1.5 million. And it still counts against next year's cap, too. Bourque's is gone, and Karlsson looks like a decent bottom six center that can contribute and develop a bit at what will probably be 25% of Wisniewski's cost. So, who wins that deal? Would Wisniewski make this year's team a playoff team instead of 30th, even taking his ACL out of the equation? What would our cap look like instead?
  • Artem Anisimov has been good in Chicago, and I would say he is probably the guy we miss the most overall. BUT, he was a pending UFA, and he also signed a monster extension that would have us further into cap hell than we already may be ($4.5 million for FIVE YEARS). He had also missed 44 of 212 games here (20.8%). What are the chances he's David Clarkson in terms of production-to-cap-hit at the end of that contract because he can't stay healthy? Ancillary to the whole thing, Marko Dano has 1/1/2 in 13 games in Chicago, and 2/12/14 in 23 AHL games. Brandon Saad is 23, locked up long term, and putting up as good a season as Anisimov. I agree we miss Anisimov's ability to play in all three phases, though his 46.34% FO percentage is just about as bad as everyone else here. Arty was a loss, but that loss was certainly mitigated by Saad's play. If Paliotta makes the team next year and contributes, he blunts the loss even more.
  • I love Mark Letestu, but he's 6/6/12 in 47 games in Edmonton. He's not saving this season. He'd be the best faceoff guy we have, and he was always versatile while here. I prefer him to Gregory Campbell 100 times out of 100 (and I maintain they don't sign that deal if they know Karlsson would be the player he is right now), but again... does he keep this team from losing their first eight games? Is he scoring goals? What do we do if he declines now that he's north of 30 and signed longer term than Campbell is for more money? What if he'd come out and underperformed expectations like Campbell has? Would all the people pining for the Jackets to have just given him the extra year and the extra money ($2.4 million MORE) be giving Jarmo a pass?

Also, Karlsson and Alexander Wennberg both blunt the loss of those two centers... not just this season, but more to the point five years from now. And they will be cheaper than Anisimov at that point, most likely, unless one or both blows up. Which makes the whole argument silly, because they'd be better, YOUNGER players than the ones we lost.

Because he’s added and subtracted to that core to take us to the next level and it clearly hasn’t worked.

What if it works two years from now and is more sustainable beyond that? If the opportunity cost of building a sustained playoff team that competes for a Cup in five years is simply missing the playoffs last season and this season, then sign me up. Most of the guys we've talked about above are already north of 30, or will be soon. What if, and I'm speaking hypothetically/rhetorically, getting rid of those guys took us a step back for two or three seasons but makes us better longer term? Will it have been worth it, then?

We won't know the answer to that question, of course, for a couple more years. I can, however, at least see a path forward by slowly phasing out the veterans left over from the 2014 playoff team and building through the draft, which was the plan all along. What if the team had never made those two crazy runs in 2013 and 2014? Shoot, even add in last season's 15-1-1 to end the season. Would our perspective be different? Would we be looking forward to the development of our well-stocked system instead of bitching about missing the playoffs because we caught lightning in a bottle for a couple of months over two years?

Look, I clearly don't claim to have the answers. My point wasn't to say that Jarmo gets no blame for the fact that this team had playoff expectations and clearly fell flat on its face. Certainly, he does. But for a commenter to say that all Jarmo has done is ride the momentum of Howson's roster--which that same commenter will then turn around and say isn't really all that talented--simply isn't accurate, or it implies that those guys above--and Blake Comeau and Derek MacKenzie--were the "talent" on this team. Furthermore, it's indicative of something I find so frustrating that it bears rebuttal.

I asked a ton of rhetorical questions above about each player because that's really what we're dealing in, here: we don't know definitively that keeping one group of guys at the expense of another group of guys would produce different results. Some--on both sides of the argument--like to think that we do, but we simply don't. And that's all I'm trying to say, really. If we're going to put all of the blame onto Jarmo, I need to see some detailed explanation as to how the moves I listed above are the entirety of the reason why this team is 30th right now. Because, frankly, that's what it comes down to if the argument from the "it's all on Jarmo" camp is to be believed.

It comes down to this: either Howson's roster was great--and the majority of it still here should still be great--or Howson's roster wasn't that talented and this current group over-achieved in 2014, and needs to be turned over, as is happening now. It can't be both. But, certain fans want it to be both. At least, that's how some of the comments made here portray that point of view. Jarmo tried--perhaps mistakenly--to capitalize on the momentum the holdover players created by going nuts in 2013 when maybe he should have just stood pat and continued building through the draft. What's the reaction, then, if he doesn't make any moves in 2013 (Horton) and says, "Yeah, we almost made it, but our plan is longer term and we're sticking with it, and it may take us two years to get to this point again"?

I agree wholeheartedly that Jarmo has made some mistakes trying to keep the 2014 momentum going while all of his draft picks develop, and if I could pinpoint his biggest mistake--with the benefit of hindsight--it's that he got away from his original plan because the fans were energized and he thought the organization could have its cake (build through the draft) and eat it too (keep making the playoffs with the existing NHL roster). But, one of the frustrating things I read here often (and this is in general, not at anyone specifically) is that fans are mad that we locked up so many "middling" guys to long term contracts, but then turn around and pine for the guys that left and got overpaid elsewhere. If we'd locked up MacKenzie, Letestu, and Anisimov to the contracts they signed, and kept Wisniewski, those guys count $13.15 million against our cap next season. Saad's $6 million is gone, but of all of those players, isn't he arguably the best of them considering his age and ability? Campbell subtracts another $1.5. Still, that's $5.65 million MORE than we're paying now, and no way to say the results are demonstrably better. And this doesn't factor in the money Derick Brassard (another Howson holdover used as trade bait) is making right now, which is so far into the weeds that it doesn't really affect this discussion for me.

This is what I find frustrating. We complain about our salary cap and the contracts "handed out" (and there are some bad ones, as I've often said) by the current front office, but then ALSO complain about the guys on equally bad contracts that we let go, and then go so far as to insinuate that Jarmo has ruined a playoff team.

If anything, I think that Jarmo's biggest mistake was not being able to accurately read how far above its collective head this team played for three straight springs (I mean, I fell for it, too, but I don't get paid to evaluate and assemble NHL rosters). If he'd stuck to his guns--and to the "brick-by-brick" mantra of his boss--beginning in 2013, we probably don't have those six playoff games in 2014. But I bet we have a much more accurate narrative of the job this front office has done.