The Columbus Blue Jackets have a new marketing campaign for the 2019-20 season. You might have heard about it.
This is an extremely thinly veiled shot at Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, two former members of the Columbus Blue Jackets who left last summer in free agency, as they were completely within their collectively bargained rights to do so. Fans were upset and hurt, and the team did not take it well internally. Issues dating back to last preseason include:
- A team meeting before the season to “get everything out in the open”
- Sergei Bobrovsky walked out on the team after getting pulled in Tampa Bay and was subsequently suspended for a game
- The Blue Jackets went all in at the trade deadline, acquiring Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Keith Kinkaid, and Adam McQuaid
- The Jackets upset the Tampa Bay Lightning before falling in six games to the Boston Bruins
- Every unrestricted free agent left in the summer
After the mass exodus (that most fans and the front office) expected, some choice quotes were used. Those include:
- “We’re in a position where the culture we built the last four years -- if you don’t want to be here, we don’t want you here and we don’t need you here” - Cam Atkinson
- “I don’t really give a (crap) about what people say as far as what they think is going to happen with the team. I don’t read it, but I have everybody that I see tell me about what they have read. It’s put a huge chip on my shoulder before it’s even started here.” - head coach John Tortorella
- “I’m a little aggravated by the doubters, to be honest with you, because it shows disrespect to our core group that’s brought us all that success that we’ve had in the last three years.” - general manager Jarmo Kekalainen
On one level, this is an idea that is to be expected. “Nobody believes in us” is, allegedly, a powerful force. At the very least, that idea can be a rallying cry to bring a locker room together in times of strife and struggle (say, after getting blown out in the first two games of the season).
That’s what makes the idea behind this video (stupid hashtag aside) so much better:
Out Of Our Blue. . pic.twitter.com/pWz7LADwis— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) October 4, 2019
Look at this accompanying tweet too:
THAT’S a reset message for fans and the organization.
Meanwhile, the team has shown that it is willing to trade or let most any player walk in free agency on the roster if they feel that they can improve the team in other ways. Players the front office has moved on from in less-than-stellar terms include:
- Ryan Johansen, who was moved to the Nashville Predators just months after a contentious negotiation for a bridge contract (remember when Johansen painted his basketball court in CBJ colors?)
- Matt Calvert, who the head coach compared to “a toilet seat”
- James Wisniewski was asked to waive his no-move clause, submitted a list of teams that was designed to keep him in Columbus because he had made his home here and wanted to stay, and the front office found a way to trade him out of town anyway
Front offices are under no obligation to be loyal to their players (unless a no-move clause is included in the contract, and even then executives ask players to waive them routinely). To expect players to be blindly loyal to be franchises that are not to them is the height of hypocrisy.
Embracing the core, the DNA, the blue collar mentality that has seemed to define this team since the franchise opened in the fall of 2000 is the right way to go about things. Highlight the young core of the team and their contributions and sacrifices for the team. The team wants to build on the success of the last three years and show that all is not lost despite the losses of Panarin and Bobrovsky. They should do that.
Instead, the team spent Opening Night 2019 acting like jilted ex-lovers, complaining about the “loyalty” of those who left and taking shots at players playing under nearly-decade-long contracts in cities up and down the East Coast. With an opportunity to shut the door on the drama of last season and the offseason, to move on and embrace the core and promote the bright young talent looking to take over (cough Alexandre Texier cough), the team took the low road.
It’s disappointing that this is the message the team has elected to start the season with. Embrace the now, Columbus, and recognize that Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are “out of our blue” and let it go.
This is a new season. It’s time to act like it.