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Maybe It’s Time For a Fresh Voice

Is anyone really buying the Blue Jackets as a real contender? I mean be the team that can actually resemble as a force to reckon with come playoff time and do the kind of destructive damage to other teams as they repeatedly do to themselves?

Because there is nothing to suggest they can. Albeit, even if this team was doing everything they could right now, dominating the regular season, as excited as I would be, I might say this team has to prove it in the playoffs.

Well, I would be pretty excited and have my hopes up.

But losing games in the fashion that they have this month — 9-6 to Calgary (blowing a 4-1 lead), 4-0 to the Caps (forgetting to show up against the team who eliminated them last Spring, while also playing for a chance at first place in the Metro) — didn’t inspire much confidence and brought things back to reality.

Sure, throw those games aside as a bad game. I’ll give you that. They’ve looked better in recent days, but they still lost to the Canucks, blowing a 2-1 third period lead, beat a last placed Kings team, and lost in overtime to the Ducks before edging the Golden Knights 1-0. I’m talking about things from a macro level. They’re in second place in their division but where do you really evaluate the outlook for this team?

The special teams, while not the all-out disaster it has been (you know what I’m talking about) is still not great. The penalty kill (79.8%) is creeping back up towards middle of the pack, but the power play (15.1%) is still not that good. And the team is setting record paces in goals scored (108 GF, 3.27 GF/GP) but also goals given up (104 GA, 3.15 GA/GP).

But the thing that drives me up a wall with this team is the inconsistency. Nick Foligno, the esteemed captain of this club, is a good, gritty player. He brings his all on the ice. But — you knew there would be a but — have you noticed whenever the team follows up with an unexplainable out of this world flat performance, Foligno follows that up with suddenly no answers, not a clue of what just transpired. He’s ‘embarrassed.’ He talks about what the players need to do. But I’m kind of over hearing about what didn’t happen, and what needs to change.

Do it already!

I get that sometimes there’s nothing else that can be said. He answers the questions that come his way. But the rhetoric is tired and stale. Sometimes you might not have answers but you’re just honest. Like a few Blues players recently.

Last season the Blue Jackets were blown off the ice twice in the span of a week. First, a 7-2 loss to the Oilers on home ice and then a 7-2 loss at the Bruins six days later.

After the game against Boston, Foligno talked about being embarrassed and disappointed. That he couldn’t remember the last time he felt that way.

What, was the week earlier a dream?

That Oilers game was brought up in the postgame scrum and he acknowledged the team allowing seven goals in a weeks’ span, the lack of emotion from the players. That seems to be a constant theme with this club. It’s already occurred more than once this season and John Tortorella has shrugged and basically said better ask the players!

This season Foligno has been the same sound bites. You could just play one on repeat.

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These sentiments about being hungry goes back a ways.

Look, I don’t know how you feel about this team, or the leadership. I think Foligno is a fine player, getting overpaid based on his breakout season of 2014-15 when he scored 73 points (31 goals, 42 assists). Money aside, he’s the blue-collar player who will step up, get into a fight, score a goal, and you don’t have to question his desire. Credit goes to Fligs for scoring the game-winner Monday in the 1-0 win over the Golden Knights; Also his 800th career game.

But maybe he is, at times, burdened by the “C” on his sweater. Perhaps he is holding the brunt of the teams’ frustration. Maybe removing the “C” is the answer, or is it such a small part of the overall upheaval that is needed around the team that it wouldn’t cause much difference?

I’ve said this before, and I thoroughly believe Seth Jones is the future captain of this team.

Tortorella got his extension — through 2020-21 — prior to the season. I’ve been in his corner because he’s the only coach to bring the kind of sustained success this club has never seen before him. I get that the intentions behind his style and system might be misplaced in today’s NHL. But benching a player late in a game because he commits a bad penalty or isn’t playing up to the par that Tortorella expects just fosters the accountability approach — written about by Aaron Portzline of The Athletic (subscription required) — he has insisted and preached upon from the start. Wanting Zach Werenski to actually play defense is not a bad thing.

Having benched anyone from Artemi Panarin to Cam Atkinson to Nick Foligno, we’ve seen the play from these players elevate, whether as a direct result of the benching or not. If only that elevation could happen every single night. But some kind of change is needed. It’s easy to get lost in regular-season success when you’re not used to it. The 2016-17 season was fun because there were no expectations and a 16-game winning streak and 27-5-4 record was improbable. But that was two years ago, there’s been two more one-and-done playoff exits, and everyone’s ready to change another number: That 5-16 playoff record.

They come off a solid win over Vegas Monday. Let’s see how they do against the bottom portion of their division versus the Devils and Flyers this week ahead.