|WHAT TYPE OF COACH DID HE INHERIT||One who employed a defense-first philosophy||One who employed a defense-first philosophy|
|WHAT HE DID AFTER ARRIVING IN TOWN||Tinkered with the inherited roster. Squeezed a playoff appearance out of it, but the team didn't win a playoff game.||Tinkered with the inherited roster. Came within a tiebreaker of squeezing a playoff appearance out of it.|
|WHAT HE DID IN THE FOLLOWING OFFSEASON||Jettisoned older "role model" players. Threw his lot in with younger, arguably more skilled players in the pursuit of a different, more aggressive, on-ice profile.||Jettisoned older "role model" players. Threw his lot in with younger, arguably more skilled players in the pursuit of a different, more aggressive, on-ice profile.|
|WHAT HAPPENED THE FOLLOWING SEASON||Roster looked lost and apathetic on the ice.||Roster looked lost and apathetic on the ice.|
We know how the first story ended: Scott Howson fired Ken Hitchcock, and things didn't get much better. What will Jarmo do?
I did not attend either CBJ-Pittsburgh game this weekend. I did not watch either game on TV. I did not listen to either game on the radio. I did follow the scores and reviewed the box scores following the games.
I also stayed abreast of my fellow Blue Jackets fans online and was shocked (and I'm not saying that in the sarcastic "Casablanca" sense of the word - I was legitimately shocked) that some of the most even-tempered and perhaps even fan-boyish folks that I know were downright livid with the showing on the ice in both games. This, after giving the south-side-of-mediocre team a pass as they ambled along to a 5-6-0 (pre-Pittsburgh home-and-home) record. But I swear what I was reading over the weekend seemed so base in the motivation: An apparent fear (or worse yet, realization) that the new boss was indeed same as the old boss. Listless team, minor league quality of play, unforced errors - all the stuff that we fans loathed about past CBJ teams and prayed that the new management would make this roster rise above...but apparently didn't.
There are plenty of reasons that this could be. It could be the team culture. It could be the coach. Or it could be the general manager. We all have our opinions.
I'm not panicking yet - not as long as the Blue Jackets hit .500 by the time Nathan Horton finally joins the lineup. At the same time, it is abundantly clear that this team has some serious problems that Horton alone probably won't fix.
Key among the issues at hand is offensive production. The Blue Jackets are 20th in the league with 32 goals in 13 games, or 2.46 goals per game. Five of those 13 games saw the team score two or fewer regulation goals*. Folks, that's a recipe for failure if you won't recommit to the "kitchen sink" approach to defense that we saw toward the end of last season. Lack of goal production puts pressure on the defense to play even stronger - especially the goaltender, who will be called upon to stand on his head more often than not to keep games from slipping away.
*I note that the Blue Jackets has won only one game with two or fewer regulation goals, and that took a shootout to beat the Islanders.
|The best humor is rooted in truth.|
Jarmo Kekalainen finds himself in much the same predicament as Howson. Inherited coach, questionable offseason moves leading to unmotivated roster, disappointed fans. So what does he do? Kick Richards to the curb and install his own guy? Gosh, I hope not. (Wait a minute. Peter Laviolette is still in circulation, right?) I truly hope that he learns from history and tries fixing his flippin' roster first. Get some scorers and finishers into town and tell Richards to start winning, else he's next. The team has some chips to move, especially on the defensive front, and it's time to act before the 2013-14 season is out of reach, playoffs-wise.
The other issue I detect is rooted precisely in what I warned about at the opening of the 2013 free agency season:
OVERLOOK LEADERSHIP AND MATURITY WHEN ASSEMBLING YOUR BLUE JACKETS ROSTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.And, of course, that's exactly what Kekalainen did. Now I'm going to use the "Casablanca" sense of the word: I'm shocked, shocked that the team has looked so listless on the ice so often this season. I mean, Jarmo booted Prospal and Aucoin just as Howson booted Peca.
This problem is going to be much harder to solve, and I'm not sure it can be done during the 2013-14 season outside of a home run trade for a scorer and respected veteran in the same body.
The quick and easy answer is, "Bring Vinny Prospal back." Let's be serious about that: While Prospal's return to Columbus theoretically could achieve the desired effect in putting a boot up this team's rear end, I think Jarmo pretty much burned the Prospal bridge by letting him return home to Europe. It would take a big, big man for Jarmo to acknowledge his mistake in severing ties with Prospal...and it would take an even bigger man in Prospal to accept an implicit Kekalainen apology by returning to the team that spurned him after his efforts over the preceding two seasons. I see neither the former nor the latter happening.
Instead, what do we get? Brandon Dubinsky howling at the moon, night after night:
#CBJ C Brandon Dubinsky kept his composure postgame, but he was livid. "Urgency. Desperation. It’s the same words every single game."
— Shawn Mitchell (@smitchcd) November 3, 2013
Jarmo's already ignored history and followed Howson's initial path. Let's hope that he puts the hubris aside, is a quick study and tries another approach...for I am not interested in repeating Howson's final three seasons.
But make no mistake: There are problems on this team, and they need to be fixed quickly if the season is to be a successful one.
Lastly, an only tangentially related thought to this post, an impression about the Columbus Blue Jackets' mindset against Pittsburgh.
Am I upset that the team lost both games to what arguably is the best team in the Eastern Conference? Not in the least. The Blue Jackets aren't a great team. Right now, they're struggling to become a consistently good team. The CBJ aren't going to win all 82 games, so losing a couple to the Pens isn't going to have me jumping off the AEP Tower at Nationwide Arena.
That said, having a week of no Blue Jackets hockey leading up to the home-and-home series with the Penguins was perhaps the worst possible scenario for Columbus. Actions speak louder than words, and the "#DefendNWA" marketing campaign (largely in response to the Pittsburgh fan takeover of 2010) as well as Coach Richards feeling that he needs to make his "respect, not awe" public comments suggest that the team is actually spooked by the Penguins - business operations, hockey operations, everyone. For Pete's sake, Richards is quoted as saying, "There's a fear of getting embarrassed there" about playing the weekend opener at the Consol Center. If you're scared of getting embarrassed, you ARE in awe. And the team had a whole week to let the awe and fear envelop them. Are you really surprised at the outcome?
It's one thing to play hard and lose with your head held high. It's another to play scared of abject failure and then proceed to get destroyed.
This team has to get the Penguins out of their grill lest they become the team's latest insurmountable obstacle - a modern-day version of past nemeses like the Colorado Avalanche or Nashville Predators, if you will.