The Columbus Blue Jackets shocked the hockey world on the first day of free agency, signing Johnny Gaudreau and bringing a legitimate NHL star and Hart Trophy candidate to Columbus in free agency for the first time in team history. The team had publicly committed to this not being a rebuild but a reset and now we have the first major piece to drag the organization out of that reset.
This signing, of course, has ramifications. General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen is going to face more pressure this season to acquire talent to help the roster now. Head coach Brad Larsen will be under the gun to make these pieces fit together and play in a cohesive system that produces better defensive results than what the team experiences last year. The players will be under pressure to take the next step and be in playoff contention this year.
Let’s dive in and take a look at each of these pressure points.
First, General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen is under more pressure to bring in talent. He has done well at the last two drafts, landing three defensemen and two forwards to help remake the roster. However, signing Johnny Gaudreau has shifted the timeline. The Blue Jackets can no longer afford to build for three years from now when the team has an MVP candidate in his prime right now.
That does not mean the team has to win the Stanley Cup this season. But it does accelerate the timeline. This year should be spent seasoning the youth while moving contracts and clearing as much cap space as possible to maximize the next two to four years. The team does not have to make the playoffs this year, but they should be in contention to the end of the season. Next year, the playoffs have to be a given. The next two to three years following that should be the team contending for Eastern Conference Finals trips and beyond. The pressure will be on Jarmo Kekalainen to make the moves that can produce those results.
Head Coach Brad Larsen was fine in his first year as an NHL coach. He did not make any egregious errors, his team competed on a nightly basis, but the team also allowed the most goals in a season in franchise history. With Gaudreau, Larsen will now have the most talented playmaker he has had at his disposal. How will his system change? Gaudreau is a 200 foot forward, but no one would mistake him for Patrice Bergeron defensively. How Larsen adjusts to compensate for Gaudreau’s playmaking while not being a sieve defensively again will be critical for the future of the team.
The players are under pressure as well. Gaudreau himself comes in with the shadow of Artemi Panarin looming over him - Panarin was the best skater on the most successful postseason squad in franchise history. Can Gaudreau lead the team in the same way? Other players will be forced to up their game and consistency or they could find their way out of town as the team retools for the future.
There will be a great number of changes to the team over the next year to 18 months. What do you expect to happen?