It’s a bold statement, but the Columbus Blue Jackets will not be making the playoffs this season.
This marks the first time Columbus has missed the post-season since 2015-2016.
The Blue Jackets were officially knocked out of contention after Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and can finish no higher than fifth in the Central Division.
Trouble has been the name of the game for Columbus this season and change is in order. Injuries paved the way to this disaster, but there were other issues.
Start down the middle. The Blue Jackets sent Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Winnipeg Jets for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic on January 23 and never quite got it together at the centre position. Lacking a viable top line pivot is never ideal and Columbus’ lack of workable moves didn’t pan out. The signing of the now-retired Mikko Koivu on October 6 is a clear example.
The Blue Jackets also struggled defensively. They went from allowing 2.61 goals against per game last season, the third fewest in the NHL, to 3.33 goals against per game this campaign. That’s not sustainable if you want to, like, win games.
Since March 20, when Columbus popped off the Hurricanes in a 3-2 shootout victory and vaulted into a tie for fourth in the division, the Blue Jackets are a dismal 2-13-2. And after that hope-dashing loss to Tampa Thursday, Columbus is winless in their last eight and possess the worst winning percentage in the NHL since March 22 at .176.
“I’m tired. I’m tired of losing the game,” goalie Elvis Merzlikins said. “I know we are trying but this is getting embarrassing.”
The aforementioned injuries are part of the problem, of course. Losing Zach Werenski and Boone Jenner for the season is going to sting no matter where you sit in the standings.
So now, thoughts turn to the next season and what can be done to right the proverbial ship.
There is talk that head coach John Tortorella will not be back in the fold. It’s no secret his run in Columbus has been contentious. His contract expires at the end of the season and word around the campfire is that he’s not expected back following his sixth season with the Blue Jackets.
And there’s a lot to like about the on-ice product, when things are going well. Columbus has a battery of quality young players to build around, plus Laine could be more situated when the club fronts him a new contract. He’s due to hit RFA status.
Finally, the Blue Jackets possess a whopping three first round picks for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. That’s an opportunity waiting to happen for general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.