My birthday is Saturday. I’ll be, well, probably younger than many readers here (and no, I won’t get off of your lawns). As a result I’m asking my favorite crazy and unpredictable uncle, the Columbus Blue Jackets, for some gifts this year. Nothing too expensive, nothing extravagant, just a couple things that I’d like from them as I hit the ripe old age of [REDACTED].
1. Salary cap relief, however you can get it
This might be the most difficult gift the Blue Jackets can get for me, but we’ll see what happens! There’s nothing wrong with being hopeful right? (Just kidding, we’re Blue Jackets fans, shattered hopes and dreams is all we have. BUT THEY’RE OURS.)
With the trade deadline on February 29, the Blue Jackets look to be sellers to an uncertain market. Scott Hartnell appears to be at the top of the trading block, followed closely by Fedor Tyutin. Gregory Campbell appears to be another candidate to move as well. Moving either of the first two names would free up approximately $4 million in cap space immediately (pending any contracts taken back), which would go a long, long way in alleviating some of the issues the Blue Jackets face this summer with re-signing their own free agents to fill out the roster.
I realize we’re losing Rene Bourque this offseason. That money, however, is effectively spent as extensions to Ryan Murray and David Savard kick in. This before we extend Boone Jenner, Seth Jones, and William Karlsson. Cap space and flexibility are not something we have right now, as was highlighted in this fanpost. Hopefully, however, Jarmo and JD can work some magic at the trade deadline to free up a little bit of cash going forward.
2. Entertaining hockey to close the season
We’ve got skaters- let’s use them. I recognize that, under Coach Tortorella’s system, we’re not going to play with the free flowing style one might see from the Washington Capitals or the Chicago Blackhawks. However, with skaters like Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, Matt Calvert and his speed, Seth Jones and his excellent neutral zone passing, this team should be able to take more chances offensively the rest of the season.
To their credit, they’ve done that lately. They’ve executed solidly in the offensive zone, even in losses, for the past week or so. Recall the excellent shift the 4th line put in against Boston, for instance, that may not have led to a goal but featured over one minute of constant pressure around the Bruins net. Play like that is something I would like to continue to see going forward.
Since Seth Jones’ arrival, the Blue Jackets have looked more cohesive in the offensive zone. He has allowed the defense to play in their more natural roles (i.e. Jack Johnson on the second pairing), which has helped the offense. Defensemen have been stepping into the rush more, allowing more freedom for the forwards. While this has not translated to goals yet, the play itself of the team in the offensive zone has been markedly better the last month or so.
Perhaps it is the beginning of Torts’ system taking over, or just the players fitting into their more natural roles. Either way, it has been encouraging to watch as the Blue Jackets no longer look like 5 players in a hurricane bouncing around the offensive zone with no rhyme or reason for extended periods of time. I hope to see the team continue to build on this work going forward. The play should translate to goals eventually, which will only bring confidence back to the locker room.
3. Bring back Ryan Johansen
4. Not to tank the rest of the season
I can’t buy into the tank. Sorry. I want Auston Matthews as much as you guys do, but I just cannot do it. I want to see the Blue Jackets ice the best lineup each and every night, and play their tails off to win out.
Is easy to reconcile losses when the team is this bad and there is a prize at the end of the tunnel? Sure. Unlike when this team is making a playoff push, the losses don’t hurt as badly. But they’re still losses. I do not want the team or coaching staff to go into each game with the mentality that losing would be the best thing for the franchise going forward.
I want to see the best lineup on the ice, with the team playing to win. I don’t want to see Jared Boll start the last 20 games, I don’t want to see David Clarkson and David Clarkson’s contract playing with Alexander Wennberg on the power play, I don’t want to see Dalton Prout.
I can rationalize losses after the fact. That the team is bad this season doesn’t change that, leading up to and during the game, I cannot get on board with playing a less-than-stellar lineup or actively not trying to win games, a la the Philadelphia 76ers. For a fragile fanbase that is walking away in droves (most games in Nationwide that I’ve seen or been to recently have been half full at best and ticket prices are down across the resale market), wins can go a long way toward building some good will through the end of the year.
5. Rest Sergei Bobrovsky
And here I contradict myself. If / when Sergei Bobrovsky comes back, I wish for the team to shut him down for the rest of the season so that he can focus on his recovery and strengthening his groin.
Sergei Bobrovsky is a competitor, a Vezina winning netminder, and clearly the anchor of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has the ability to cover up for a multitude of mistakes, errors, and has enough talent that he can steal games completely by himself. Do you remember the game against Chicago last season when he made 39 saves (compared to 19 shots total for Columbus), followed by saving 8 of 9 in a shootout, and the Blue Jackets absolutely stole a win, 3-2 in the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena? No other goalie for the Blue Jackets can do that. He is a difference maker in every sense of the word.
For those reasons, I hope the team rests him for as long as possible. If they want to give him 7 or 8 starts at the end of the year (particularly since he will be playing for Russia in the World Cup of Hockey), that’s fine provided his groin is 100% recovered. Bobrovsky has had a series of groin injuries for the last few years, and I would rather take time to make sure he is healthy and rested before the team even begins to consider bringing him back in.
Joonas Korpisalo has performed admirably in his place this season, perhaps even playing his way into a backup role for Bobrovsky going forward. A healthy Bobrovsky, however, is a key if the Blue Jackets want to make any sort of run at the playoffs next season. I feel that giving him time off to fully recover will only allow him to be better heading into next season.
6. Realistic expectations for next season
One of my main gripes with the letdown that has been the 2015-16 season (aside from, well, almost everything) has been all of the bravado that the front office espoused heading into the season. They, and as a result the fans, fully expected this franchise to turn the corner this season. We all know what happened next. There’s no changing that. As Rafiki would say, "It doesn’t matter, it’s in the past!"
My hope is that the front office learned from their mistakes. This team, as currently constructed, is a long way from contending seriously for even an Eastern Conference Finals berth, much less a Stanley Cup. Recognition of this by the front office would go a long way toward restoring some faith that they’re not going to swayed by some meaningless late-season winning streak that we all know is coming and going to knock us down to 8th in the upcoming draft.
They’ll never admit this publicly, of course, but maybe tone down the rhetoric as next season approaches? That might go a long way to tempering the disappointment should the Blue Jackets, heaven forbid, start poorly again next season.
Maybe while they’re at it, they won’t raise ticket prices again next season, but I’m not going to ask for the moon or anything.
7. A win on Saturday
Please? I’ve only seen two this year.