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Why do forwards find success after leaving Columbus?

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Wennberg, Wild Bill, Anderson, Duclair, Dubois

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at St. Louis Blues
PB&J
Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Changing latitudes, changing attitudes… may help with your Spring Break decision according to Jimmy Buffett, but does it explain why players seem to experience an offensive resurgence after leaving the Columbus Blue Jackets? Is it more than just a change in scenery?

Last Saturday, we watched Alexander Wennberg complete a hat trick against the Jackets. This was the same player that never seemed to shoot for the last three years. He has now 11 goals on the season with Florida. I remember his skill when he first entered the CBJ line-up. That breakout year was 2016-2017, when he registered 59 points in 80 games. His points dropped to 35, 25, 22 the following 3 years. Yes, he suffered a bad concussion during the 2018 playoffs versus the Capitals, and who knows what kind of physical and psychological damage that created. Yet despite being scratched for much of the 2019 playoffs, he lit up the World Championships for Sweden just a short time later.

Of course, the quintessential example is William Karlsson. Many cried fluke when he scored 43 goals with an otherworldly 23% shooting percentage the first year away from Columbus. He was like a storming bull out of a bucking shoot. But, would his breakthrough have happened here? That’s what keeps me up at night. His second year in Vegas he had 24 goals and 32 assists, which was not too shabby, and his numbers have been very contributory ever since.

So like Wild Bill, is talent being underutilized or under appreciated at CBJ (aka. the Joe Burrow Syndrome)? Dubois was drafted to play center, but he didn’t make the roster until his second training camp, and even then he started his rookie season as a fourth line winger. Once Torts moved him to center, however, Dubois had 20 goals and 48 points that year, 61 points the next.

Another factor is offensive scheme, which is a funny, vague word that means a large systematic plan, including the layout (players), the plays, and timing. It’s a compilation of factors that hopefully leads to the desired result. Maybe Torts simply doesn’t have great offensive schema? Just like Larson with his power play; the pieces just don’t come together well. Not everyone hit by a falling apple invents gravity.

Then there’s motivation. The field of psychology contains multiple motivation theories that attempts to explain what motivates humans. Public figures (like professional athletes, politicians, and CEOs) when taking new posts, are driven to prove themselves, in order to establish credibility. An athlete is fighting for their place in the new lineup and fighting for credibility with coaches, staff, fans, etc. Successful people, like professional athletes, often witness a boost in productivity when faced with change, which goes back to our innate ability to survive unexpected, harsh conditions. I’m not trying to compare Columbus to Neanderthal winters, but environment is more than weather: it’s team culture, quality of practices, teammates, living conditions, interpersonal relationships, coaches, etc. that influence everyday performance, even if subconsciously. Sometimes our environment isn’t optimal to achieve our needs and can’t motivate us. If the Blue Jackets environment isn’t optimal for offensive success, something should change.

Management and coaching are also big, complicated influences. We all know Torts’s antics: inconsistency, veteran favoritism, hazing, and public ridicule. “I don’t think he knows how to play,” said Torts regarding Duclair in the 2018-2019 season. Really? He had 23 goals last year. Our highest individual total goals this year so far is 14 from Oliver Bjorkstrand. There’s a reason former players and fans say he drives talent away. Some also argue his coaching technique is outdated. His line-blender certainly prevents chemistry. Remember PB&J? Hockey is a team sport after all. When a coach switches lines this often, it’s like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Not a highly effective habit.

I personally feel that more scrutiny should befall the GM’s antics. Remember Johansen’s contentious contract negotiation in 2014? “It’s like a slap in the face,” was how Johansen described it. Regardless of your feelings for Johansen now, he said this after producing a 63 point season. And let’s face it, he was a fan favorite. Anderson’s negotiations in 2017 were also contentious. Dubois’ negotiations weren’t exactly smooth either this past summer, and where is he now? He’s in Winnipeg with 9 goals in only 29 games, 2 being OT goals. I personally believe losing Dubois was a huge loss. Regardless of undisclosed reasons and a monumental overreaction to a lazy shift, we no longer have those scorers and Columbus needs scorers. This is not how we want to treat talent.

We obviously need to be careful not to confuse correlation with causation, and times are tense with our losing season. However, when a team doesn’t capitalize on their talent, it’s a waste of time, resources, and development opportunities towards where we all want to be: Stanley Cup contenders. Scoring in the NHL is hard, plain and simple. It’s a unique skill few offensive players possess consistently. I take the stance that we should do everything in our power to keep players that can score. If we lose scorers to other teams once in a while, that’s life. Yet when a pattern develops, even if the causes of those patterns vary, scrutiny towards leadership should persist. Here’s hoping Patrik Laine isn’t deja vu.