There's a point in the season when a team has to realize that they're out of the playoff hunt, that the last glimmer of hope for post-season success is extinguished. For those not paying super-close attention, Puck Daddy hit us square on the head with the fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets were eliminated from playoff contention today.
Outside of that final nail in the coffin, there are other points at which a team might need to take a good, hard look at itself. From my limited experience in following NHL hockey, perhaps the most common threshold where the pretenders are separated from the contenders is the NHL trade deadline.
|The joy of playing out the string. Are you ready to renew for next season?|
Legend has it that teams that play out the string successfully (as in a winning record) translate that into a successful following season. Sadly, this legend hasn't proven true in the case of the Columbus Blue Jackets since the lockout:
- The 2006 string: 11-7-2
- 2006-07 record: 33-42-7
- The 2007 string: 9-10-0
- 2007-08 record: 34-36-12
- The 2008 string: 5-10-3
- 2008-09 record: 41-31-10
- The 2009 string (not counting the 0-4-0 playoff record): 9-5-4
- 2009-10 record: 32-35-15
- The 2010 string: 7-7-4
- 2010-11 record: 34-35-13
- The 2011 string: 3-10-7
- 2011-12 record (as of 3/9/12): 22-38-7
As you can see, the Blue Jackets have had two strings with winning records - 2006 and 2009 (2009, of course, really doesn't count as a "string" because the team was playoff-bound.). Both seasons were followed by seasons with losing records. And interestingly, the disappointing 5-10-3 string of 2008 was followed by the Blue Jackets' only playoff appearance. Thus, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that as it relates to the Blue Jackets, their performance between the end of the trade deadline and the end of the regular season doesn't seem to have any bearing whatsoever on the team's performance the following year.
I make that point to make this much more important one: Because of the historical irrelevance of the post-trade deadline games to successive season performance, it's important to find other value in these "garbage time" games. Considering the Blue Jackets desire to
How would a team do that? I'm no expert, but logic suggests that real-life game situations could help a team:
- Audition prospects and/or waiver wire pickups
- Adjust forward line and defensive pairing combinations to explore new means to make the team more productive
- Provide a platform for new leadership to emerge
- Reshuffle the roster to de-emphasize players not projected to return and emphasize those whose contributions will be critical next season.
When the winning really counts during the string, in my opinion, is when your team can win while accomplishing the types of objectives listed above. That means the rebuild/retool/reshape/whatever you want to call it is on.