Straight Jackets: So far, mediocrity abounds for CBJ

Jim Fischer
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov (44) heads up ice after taking the puck away from Dallas Stars center Rhett Gardner (49) a game at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 16.

I can admit when I've made a mistake.

While it's too early to know for certain that the Blue Jackets have been unable to compensate for the loss of Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, I expected — or maybe, hoped for — better.

I don't think any CBJ fan expected those players to just be "replaced." But I do think it's fair to say that there was an organizational plan to manage the roster and on-ice schemes to allow the team to be successful even without those two departed stars.

Instead, the Jackets have been dramatically, overwhelmingly mediocre.


Pierre-Luc Dubois may be the lone positive here. PLD continues to emerge as a force, and leads the team in scoring. But 10 points from your team leader in scoring isn't going to get it done, especially when the rest of the forward group is lagging. Cam Atkinson can't find his way, off-season free agent addition Gustav Nyquist has shown some signs, and Sonny Milano has displayed a flair for the spectacular. (Seriously, check his goals from Oct. 16 against Dallas or Oct. 24 against Carolina; also check head coach John Tortorella's reaction to the latter from behind the bench.) Oliver Bjorkstrand (a notorious slow starter), Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson (who was out for a stretch with an injury) haven't gotten it going. Alexandre Texier has looked like a rookie, and Emil Bemstrom like a rookie who's in over his head.

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Ryan Murray is on Injured Reserve. This surprises literally no one. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are among the team leaders in scoring, but that's hardly encouraging given the team's struggles to score. And both of the team's star blueliners have shown an unfortunate propensity for gaffes and general weak play in their own end, which is especially concerning regarding Jones, a preseason Norris Trophy candidate. Rookie Vladislav Gavrikov is developing a reputation as a shutdown player, but the rest of the D corps is just kinda there. The fact that this group hasn't played particularly well in its own end has impacted the...


General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen made it pretty clear his plan was to use promising organizational depth in net this season. Joonas Korpisalo had been a good soldier, backing up Bobrovsky in recent years, and he was going to get his chance, along with Elvis Merzlikins, who's been a sensation in European leagues and for Latvia in international competition. But each has struggled, not surprisingly, early on. Jarmo and the coaches, as well as fans, likely hoped one of them would grab the reins in net with high-end play, but that hasn't happened. Both have been OK, but a team struggling to score needs better than OK in net. That both have been left out to dry by their defense on too many occasions earns them a temporary pass. (Korpi has also been prone to outbursts following goals allowed. In fact, he and Tortorella have both had to assure the media that he's not attempting to show up his teammates. Unfortunately, they've often deserved showing up.)


It's too early to talk firing, but the poor defensive play and the continued irrelevance of the Jackets' special teams have to fall on the coaches' shoulders, at least in part. And both goalies have been, at times, too aggressive. Maybe that's to compensate for a lack of confidence in team defense, or to try and stake a claim to the starting role, or maybe they're being coached that way by goaltending coach Manny Legace. Tortorella, I have maintained, was brought in by management to teach players to play "the right way." I believe he is executing this plan to the best of his ability. The question will continue to be, if the results are not forthcoming, whether that is the best approach to serve the roster that Kekalainen has assembled.

It's possible some of these questions will be answered, or concerns resolved, by Thanksgiving or Christmas. We'll have a better indication by the holidays whether this year's team is going to get a chance to win another playoff round in 2020.

Meantime, we're probably best to hope for encouraging signs.