Is the Warm Welcome Over?
The new front office has been in place for over two years. Is the "honeymoon" period wearing off?
In nearly all cases in the world of sports, a new coach or a new GM enjoys a warm welcome to their franchise and are basically immune to criticism for awhile. Some might call it a "honeymoon" phase with the fanbase.
Many fans were ecstatic when John Davidson joined the Blue Jackets front office in October 2012 as President of Hockey Operations, a position he held with the St. Louis Blues previously. A few months on the job, he brought in a familiar face from St. Louis in Jarmo Kekalainen to be the new GM. His draft record spoke for itself, though his experience as a GM was limited to his work for Jokerit in Finland.
Despite the fact that the team was coming off a 30th-place finish in 2011-2012, fans were excited about the future and the "brick by brick" mentality of JD. They had legitimacy in the front office after Doug Maclean ran the franchise into the ground in the early existence and the goodwill of the playoffs had run its course with Scott Howson.
Now, with their third season winding down in Columbus, are fans still completely trusting of JD and JK? We already had a fairly extensive discussion on Todd Richards, who was not picked by this front office but did receive a two-year extension after last season's playoff run.
Let's take a quick look at the personnel moves made by this regime:
-Sent Tomas Kubalik to Winnipeg for Spencer Machacek in March of 2013. Impact? None, really.
-They also picked up Matthew Ford and Patrick Killeen that spring for "future considerations." Impact? None.
-Sent Steve Mason to Philadelphia for Michael Leighton and a 2015 3rd round pick. Impact? Well, we'll see the pick. But this was a really good trade - flipping a bad goalie who wasn't going to be here in the future for a 3rd round pick and a backup to Bob who never had to play anyway.
-Acquired Blake Comeau at the '13 deadline for a 5th round pick. Impact? Pretty good. Comeau turned out to be a solid contributor in 2013-2014 on the 3rd and 4th lines and brought both a physical presence with a touch of skill.
-Picked up Gaborik (and two AHL defensemen) for Brassard, John Moore, Derek Dorsett, and a 6th round pick in 2014. Impact? It was a bombshell of a deal. The Jackets were scratching for their playoff lives, despite struggling to score. Jarmo brought in an elite forward without giving up a player/pick that was tough to swallow.
-A handful of more AHL-type deals in the offseason and 2013-2014 season.
-Did not resign Vinny Prospal (or Adrian Aucoin), much to the chagrin of some of the fans.
-Signed Jared Boll to a three-year, $5.1 million contract.
-Picked up Corey Tropp off waivers.
-Acquired Nick Schultz at the 2014 deadline for a 5th round pick.
-Sent the oft-injured Marian Gaborik to the Kings for Matt Frattin, a 2nd rounder, and a conditional 3rd rounder.
-Flipped R.J. Umberger with a 4th round pick for Scott Hartnell.
-Traded Nikita Nikitin's negotiating rights to Edmonton for a 5th round pick.
-Sent Matt Frattin to Toronto for Jerry D'Amigo.
-Did not resign Jack Skille, Derek Mackenzie, or Blake Comeau. Signed Brian Gibbons in free agency.
-Traded Tim Erixon for Jeremy Morin.
-Flipped Jerry D'Amigo for Luke Adam.
That's not a list of every move, but you get a good picture. There were some bold moves, some "steals," but also some questionable decisions as well. Blake Comeau could have been kept, but the team decided to give Corey Tropp a two-year deal and to rely on some youngsters to fill in as well.
Current word, as of this writing, is that the team is looking to trade its best possession defenseman in James Wisniewski. Forwards Mark Letestu, Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, and Artem Anisimov have also been linked to trade rumors.
Of course, the two drafts for JD and JK seem to have gone well on paper. Outside of Alexander Wennberg though, none of their picks have seen extensive time in the NHL yet, which makes sense.
Like Richards, the front office will most likely get a "pass" on this season given the overwhelming amount of injuries throughout the season. Some fans will point to letting Comeau and Mackenzie walk as bad decisions.
The issues of injuries and the medical staff is probably best saved for a separate discussion on a different day, but Aaron Portzline said in a recent Dispatch chat that there may be some distrust among the players and the medical staff. Given that groin/abdominal injuries seem to be a right of passage to join the Jackets, can you blame them?
During camp, Jarmo seemed to place some of the injury woes at the feet of the players, noting about the pace of skating, "Maybe they need to go at a higher pace before camp starts, to get used to it."
The front office has locked up quite a few "core" players. Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, and Sergei Bobrovsky are all signed to long-term deals. Ryan Johansen signed a compromise of a bridge deal. It is hard to argue with locking those guys down, though it could be argued the price may be too high on some of those.
So I pose this question to the readers - are you still "all in" with this front office or has that welcome worn out? Are you throwing this year out because of the injuries? Do you still trust this front office group can lead the franchise to a Stanley Cup?