An already uncertain offseason for the Columbus Blue Jackets became even more chaotic over Memorial Day weekend with the news that Seth Jones was not interested in negotiating an extension with the team at this time, and wanted to test free agency when his contract expires next summer. Unlike 2018-19, when pending free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky were retained for a playoff push, these rebuilding - or “retooling” - Blue Jackets are expected to trade Jones now, possibly as soon as the draft.
My biggest takeaway from this situation is that it’s so unfair. It’s unfair to the front office that they have brought in talent year after year, but have struggled to get that talent to commit to the organization. It’s unfair to the players, like Cam Atkinson and Oliver BJORKSTRAND, who have committed.
On the other hand, it’s also unfair to the growing list of star players who have forced their way out, that the organization has not given them what they need. Every case has been different; sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s the marketing, sometimes it’s the city not being the right market for the player, sometimes it’s bitterness over previous hardball negotiations. Most other teams - successful teams - manage to make their stars happy, and build around them.
Finally, it’s unfair to us as fans. Winning is the most fun part of being a fan, of course, but it feels most rewarding when you have followed a collection of players for years as they develop into a contender together. It’s harder to form an attachment to the team when the roster is a revolving door. The team has a high draft pick this year, but what if that player forces his way out after three seasons like Pierre-Luc Dubois did? We’re going to be gunshy about buying in until the cycle ends and more stars start to buy in.
The case for a reload
Dale made the case for Columbus fans being prepared for a rebuild. It was discussed on the Cannon Cast as well. The team is coming off a bad season and one of the team leaders wants out. Time to start over, right?
Well, I see a different path. The most frustrating part of players like Jones and Dubois having concerns about the future of the team is that those concerns could have been allayed by those players agreeing to stick through it together. There is a core of good players here that can be built around, if only they all commit.
Jones is a lost cause; I can accept that. It may be the best move for the franchise, long term. Many in the analytics community have been down on Jones’s game for a year or so now. I side with the case made by Alison Lukan in this Athletic article about how Jones is good in areas that the stats can’t fully capture. It would be easy for me to adopt the “actually he sucks” mindset now that he’s on the way out, but I’m not going to do that. I still think it would have been better for the team’s reputation if a player of his caliber stuck around. That would lead to others staying, which could make up for whatever underperformance Jones would deliver over the course of a long-term contract.
That being said, if he’s traded then the Jackets will get a big return for him and get to avoid that long-term risk. That can accelerate the rebuild. Many fans here assume that Zach Werenski is out the door as well, but I think the organization should make a major push to keep him. Offer him what you would offer Jones: both the big contract and the captaincy. Whatever it takes to convince him to stay. He’ll be 24 when the season starts, so he’s young enough to still be in his prime in a couple years when the team is ready to compete again. If you trade him now, you’re betting that picks or prospects received in return will produce a player as good. Why do that when you have that player already?
The same applies to players like Patrik Laine and Max Domi. Both are young (Laine 23, Domi 26). While each had the worst season of their career in 2021, their career production is still outstanding. Laine averages over 30 goals per season, while Domi averages over 50 points. BJORKSTRAND, Werenski, Laine, Domi. Throw in development from some of Roslovic, Texier, Foudy, Chinakhov, etc. plus that #5 pick and you’ve got a competitive team in the near future.
Jarmo Kekalainen has a good record in making top 10 draft picks and in trades, so I think there is talent coming in. If he can’t get that talent to stay, however, then it will be time for a new GM who can
The weeks that were
Congrats to Canada for winning the IIHF World Championships in Riga, Latvia. The roster included Blue Jackets Liam Foudy and Justin Danforth (and maybe future coach Gerard Gallant? Pretty please?). The Americans took bronze with contributions from Eric Robinson and Adam Clendening. Swiss forward Gregory Hoffman, who is expected to sign with Columbus, was ninth in points and third in goals scored (six goals in eight games).
The Blue Jackets will pick 5th overall in the upcoming entry draft. It’s not one of the top two picks like we hoped, but at least they didn’t fall a spot or two. We’ll have prospect profiles coming up later this month, with there being many intriguing prospects still on the board when Columbus’s pick comes up. I haven’t started my research yet, but my gut reaction tells me to take a forward rather than a defenseman. A top five defenseman will raise the team’s floor, but a forward from the top five can raise the team’s ceiling.
Will broke down the possible candidates for the still-open head coach position. We hope for Gallant, we fear that it will be Brad Larsen, and it will probably end up being Rick Tocchet.
The second round playoff open thread is here. This round has been just as exciting as the first round.
Our player reviews continued:
Michael Del Zotto
Play me out
In recent years, film and television studios have gotten hooked on the trend of rebooting existing intellectual property. They try to cash in on the nostalgia of fans of the original, while attempting to attract new fans as well. Generally my expectations are low, but I’m pleased to report on a show that exceeded those expectations. I loved the original Mighty Ducks film and its sequel (never got around to watching the third one) and it was my initial exposure to hockey.
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, which can be viewed in its 10-episode entirety on Disney+, follows some familiar beats from the first movie, while adding enough twists to keep it fresh. The new characters are the focus, with Emilio Estevez as Gordon Bombay playing a supporting role. Lauren Graham is her usual adorable self as a single mother who forms a new, ragtag team of misfits after her son gets cuts from the Ducks, now a powerhouse hockey program. The child actors are surprisingly good, and the show should have as much appeal to today’s kids as it does to millennials like myself who were the target audience of the original.