Three times in four seasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets have lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions in the playoffs. They hit the post-season for the fourth straight season in 2019-2020 and lost in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Two of those losses needed overtime, including one game that took five extra frames.
Coming close isn’t cutting it anymore for Columbus, however.
“I don’t think there’s any satisfaction in falling short,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “We know internally that we can compete against anybody and I don’t think we’re far off…I think our whole group believes that we’re not far off and I think we’ve taken a couple steps forward this offseason to be closer to that goal, which is to win the Cup.”
Being “not far off” is a pretty good place for the Blue Jackets, you have to admit.
To that end, Columbus signed two centres in the off-season and hope to press their advantage down the middle. Mikko Koivu and Max Domi are now aboard, with restricted free agent Pierre-Luc Dubois still slated in as the top line centre. That puts Domi on the second line and Koivu on the third.
Koivu is slipping a little, as expected now that he’s 37-year-old. His production last season was his lowest since his rookie year in 2005-2006, but he says he’s ready to prove himself again. The effects of a knee injury bothered him through the season, however, so there’s something to keep an eye on.
As far as Dubois goes, there are issues.
The Blue Jackets are trying to get him signed ahead of the season and Kekalainen is sure he can get it done before training camp, whenever that is. The COVID-19 pandemic and the league’s failure to get going could hinder negotiations on multiple fronts, though, and confidence in the future is transitory.
Columbus has $9.226 million in cap space and only Dubois to sign, so it’s not a matter of money. They can afford his services, but they can also afford to take a run at any lingering unrestricted free agents. With this flexibility, the Blue Jackets like their chances.
“We’re looking at it, but it has to be the right fit not only for the way we like to build our team, but also in the cap world,” Kekalainen said of signing Dubois. “So, term and dollars and all of that, plus how he fits into our team structure and our team culture, those are the factors that we weigh in when we make our decisions.”
With some questions – and cash – on the table, Columbus has the tools to put together a winning team for 2020-2021. Their depth down the middle makes them a daunting forechecking unit, giving them an edge as they push deeper into the playoffs.