What's wrong with the Blue Jackets?
These are dark times for the Blue Jackets. At this point they have lost 20 of 23 games, the offense has all but dried up, and there is talk of firing coach Ken Hitchcock. Traditionally when the Jackets have hit the point in the season when the playoffs were virtually unattainable, I hung in there, not giving up hope. Maybe I was naive. Maybe just a hardcore fan who was blind to the team's free fall down the Western Conference standings. At any rate, last season when the Jackets clinched their first playoff spot in team history, I was ecstatic. I, like most fans of the Blue Jackets, felt a sense of pride, like watching a child grow before my eyes. Given that emotional high from last year, there were huge expectations going into this season. The team is young, and last year's short stay in the playoffs was supposed to be a valuable learning experience. Instead of buliding off of last season, the team has regressed.
That brings me to my new line of thinking.
Gone is the naive, hardcore fan with blinders on. I am now a pure realist. This team in it's current configuration isn't going to make the playoffs this year. Last season was nothing more than a tease, a drop of water to a dehydrated man wandering through the desert. Ok, maybe that was a little dramatic but the fact remains- it's only January, and barring a massive turn-around where the Jackets play at an almost 3:1 win:loss ratio, they are going to miss the post-season.
I've been reading posts on message boards, comments on Dispatch articles, and scanning through multiple articles on the internet from varied sources. The consensus that I gather is that most fans want Ken Hitchcock to be fired. Let the record show that I do not think that is the right course of action. Granted, it's easier to remove one man from the organization than 23, so usually canning the coach is the easiest and quickest course of action to get a team that has de-railed back on the track.
I feel the issue doesn't have anything to Hitchcock whatsoever. The issue to me is simple- the team is young. The youngest team in the league, in fact. The issues that arise with young teams are the same issues that are plaguing the Jackets this year- inconsistency, lack of attention to detail, and defensive play that isn't at the level it should be. All of these things are difficult to coach. Hitch can prepare them, and make decisions during the games, but the issues I have laid out are all up to the players to fix. The worst thing that has happened to the Jackets this year was their strong start. Rick Nash said it best:
"I think our early success was our Achilles'. We played free-wheeling and we had success, and we thought we could play that way all the time. Teams started to sharpen up and we weren't getting the bounces we were getting, and it took us awhile to play solid defensively."
The players thought they had it all figured out at the beginning of the year. They formed bad habits, got lazy in the defensive zone, and this led to inconsistent play throughout the lineup. An older team wouldn't have dug themselves in such a deep hole. At the end of the day it is truly up to the players to right the ship, and as a collective group they are at fault if the team fails to make the playoffs, which at ths point is a strong possibility.
Heck, maybe in a couple of months, the Jackets could be playing out of their minds and we can look back at this post and laugh as they are gearing up for playoff hockey.