Fact: The Columbus Blue Jackets are 2-9-1; nowhere near what expectations were for the first month of the season.
Fact: The Columbus Blue Jackets still have 70 games left on the 2011-12 schedule.
Now before you start reaching for the slide rule to figure out how many points the Jackets need to reach the playoffs, let me offer you the same incredulous look that the legendary Jim Mora offered the media asking about the Indianapolis Colts post-season chances in November of 2001.
“What’s that? Ah — Playoffs? Don’t talk about — playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game! Another game.”
While Blue Jackets fans are frustrated beyond belief—and rightfully so—that word should be removed from anyone’s vocabulary.
Believe it or not, there are far greater things at stake than playoff hockey in April for this team.
No, I’m not offering any of the conjecture we’ve seen from our “journalistic” neighbors to the Great White North about the Blue Jackets moving to Quebec City or Hamilton.
Instead, I’m focusing on the immediate and long-term futures of several players, coaches, and the front office.
Yes, Columbus opened up the purse strings and is spending near the salary cap in an effort to put a winning team on the ice. Just because this team is being paid north of $64 Million this season (according to www.capgeek.com) , which is currently the fifth highest total in the league, doesn’t mean that you’ll have a winner. The New York Rangers have proven that over the past 15 years or so.
You could pay Vin Diesel and Tara Reid $25 Million each to appear in a movie, and it most likely wouldn’t garner an Oscar nomination.
Back on point, is Scott Arniel the right coach for the Blue Jackets? Is Scott Howson the right general manager? Is Mike Priest the best President for the job? Most importantly, are the right players in the dressing room?
These are the questions that need answered, not will Columbus make the playoffs.
I think the next four weeks offers a great opportunity for this team to get things moving in the right direction. Following Sunday’s win against Anaheim, the Blue Jackets play just three games in the next 11 days, and only four4 in the next 15. That’s a chance to work on special teams in practice, and hopefully get some key players (Marc Methot, Jeff Carter, Mark Dekanich, Jared Boll, Kristian Huselius) back in the line-up.
Furthermore, in the month of November, Columbus has seven of 12 games (and four of the next five) at Nationwide Arena. The Jackets (with consecutive wins) have begun to play better at home, taking points in three of the past four contests at Nationwide.
You can see things are slowly starting to turn around. James Wisniewski and John Moore have provided a spark on the blue line, while the forecheck is beginning to click. Really, in the past four games (2-2 record), the Blue Jackets have just had two bad periods (third periods at Buffalo and Chicago), which cost them games.
Steve Mason was greatly benefitted from a night off in Chicago, and the sparse schedule ahead will do him further good.
Secondary scoring must improve, though. Certainly, R.J. Umberger (1), Derick Brassard (2) and Antoine Vermette should have more than three combined goals in the first dozen games. In fact, that trio is only responsible for 13 points so far.
Special teams—especially the penalty kill—needs work, as well. The Blue Jackets are only killing 71.4% of opposition power plays, the lowest number in the league. After starting the year 0-20 on the power play, Columbus has converted 6 of its last 39 chances, good for a mediocre 15.4%. Still, the overall 10.2% is 28th in the NHL, and the Jackets often time have trouble even gaining the zone.
The last two seasons, Columbus has had catastrophic slides that began in the month of November, maybe this time around things will begin to come together instead of falling apart.