Straight Jackets: The best-laid plans

Jim Fischer
Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins tries to stop a shot by the Penguins' Patric Hornqvist (72) during the third period of a game in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Merzlikins gave up five second-period goals and seven overall in the loss.


Monday's overtime win against Buffalo may have backed Blue Jackets faithful off the early season cliff, but games one and two were what fans feared most following the offseason departures of Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and, to a lesser extent, Matt Duchene.

I wrote in favor of going the all-in route at last season's trade deadline, despite the near-certainty that Bread and Bob were near-certain to opt out of resigning with the team after the season. I not only defended the strategy, but also what I perceived to be General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen's offseason approach.

1) The organization had built a stable of young talent in net, and Jarmo seemed intent to put it to use to replace Bobrovsky. Yes, Bob is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, but this is why you develop youth. Joonas Korpisalo had been the backup in Columbus for most of three seasons, and there were three young goalies playing in Europe last season. Surely the team would find a solution among them.

2) Rather then find a direct replacement for Panarin, allow your young scoring talent (Alexandre Texier and Emil Bemstrom, plus young players who'd already shown something, including Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson and Sonny Milano) to step up, while acquiring veteran skill in Gustav Nyquist.

3) Look around for players in sticky free agent situations or in organizations with money or salary cap concerns (Russian forward Nikita Gusev, who was on the outs with Las Vegas but wanted to come over from Europe to the NHL, or Maple Leafs restricted free agent superstar Mitch Marner, about whom it was rumored Jarmo inquired, for example). Ultimately, the team opted not to break the bank on this front. Specifically, Gusev was traded to New Jersey for a pair of draft picks, which was more than Jarmo likely wished to part with, and Marner (as with most RFAs) re-upped in Toronto.

While I had quibbles with parts of this, I believed it to be a considered approach. And it's hard to fuss when your organization appears to both have a plan and then executes it.

Unfortunately, the first two games brought to mind the words of onetime Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach John McKay, who, when asked about his team's execution, replied, "I'm all for it."

Of course, new situations require patience. Thus far, the goaltending has been suspect at best, bad at worst. Korpisalo remains an uncertainty, and Elvis Merzlikins was bad, albeit in his first-ever action in the NHL. Hopefully, better things are to come.

Offensively, the team has worked hard but lacked finish, also a sign of a team either without enough skill or that is finding itself. Let's hope it's the latter.

How much patience is there in a fan base coming off the team's first-ever playoff series win, but that may have seen this coming all offseason, Jarmo's plan be damned?