CBJ Sucks, It’s time for the Overhaul – Here’s How

I understand that this isn’t the usual content I put out this time of the year, but I need to vent my frustration and my thoughts; and I thought what better way to do it than to put it all out there and start the conversation up as to what the hell is going on with this franchise.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have become an afterthought since the 2019 playoffs where they swept (and created) the Tampa Bay Lightning, and took the Boston Bruins to 6 games in the 2nd round. 6 playoff wins is the Blue Jackets best season in their 23 year history. GM Jarmo Kekalainen has been with the club for 9 years and has that 2019 year as the best year under his belt; at some point the management and player development of this franchise has to come into question. Being bad by accident is the worst type of bad, and we have to look at the big picture to solve the problem.

Sure, some big moves have been made since 2019, but if you ask the general public, the Jackets won both the Seth Jones trade, as well as the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade; which are probably the 2 biggest trades since 2019. Also since 2020 the Blue Jackets have had 5 first round picks, 4 of those in the top 12; 3/5 of those on defensemen, and 2 of those on centers. Guess where the Jackets biggest problems are? Yep, center and defense. Johnny Gaudreau is the biggest story for the Jackets since the 2019 playoffs, and honestly it is a big deal. I am not worried about the contract or his talent level, so let’s pencil him on the top line for the next 7 seasons. With that came the debated Oliver Bjorkstrand trade, which I despised immediately. Jarmo Kekalainen apologists will say it was his only way to recoup assets while moving salary out, but I believe there were several other creative ways. Teams would eat cap money for mid-round draft picks, especially in 2023.

Jul 7, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CANADA; Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen announces David Jiricek (not pictured) as the number six overall pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

So, what’s the problem? The Jackets were trending up, had a bad covid19 year, and have downhill plummeted, why?
Blue Jacket fans have been arguing for about 3 weeks about what the problem is, and the problem starts from the top and works its way down. The Jackets were founded by the McConnell family who founded Worthington Industries, and Gary Bettman accepted the franchise in the year 2000. From what I have gathered, the Jackets owner has a net worth of between $50-100M dollars; which one would think would include his assets, IE his shares of his company as well as the Blue Jackets.
It makes it so much easier to believe this because this has been the first year in recent years where the Blue Jackets have been close to the salary cap. With that being said, if you can add Johnny Gaudreau to your team for free for 7 years, you do it. Also recent data has shown that the Blue Jackets are 30th out of the 32 teams in estimated franchise value. So, the data is there for all to see that the Jackets are and are willing to be a cheap franchise across the board.
Jarmo Kekalainen as I stated earlier has 1 playoff series win under his belt in the last 9 years, and our ownership is committed to him till 2025, yikes. After John Tortarella’s contract expired, the coaching decision was on and Jarmo had to interview head coaches. Several experienced candidates interviewed, none remained; the job was given to long term associate coach Brad Larsen, who with no head coaching experience at any professional level was given the reigns to be an NHL head coach.
What could possibly go wrong? Short answer, everything. Younger players seem to have regressed, the powerplay is still the worst in the NHL, and the Jackets currently sit at 3-9 with no hope this season. Also, Larsen has another full year on his contract after this one; and, like I said, the Jackets ownership is cheap, so don’t expect Larsen fired any time soon.
From a schematic standpoint, since the Tortarella regime took over, the Blue Jackets have never cracked the top 20 in powerplay percentage. That is an unacceptable feat, and Brad Larsen has been in control the entire time. The Jackets have 4 players currently on the top powerplay that equate to $36M of the $82.5M hard salary cap. It is even more unacceptable to be this bad, when you are spending money to be good.

Sep 25, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Patrik Laine (29) celebrates his goal with forward Kent Johnson (91) during the second period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Here is how I would fix it
Finally tank for once! The Jackets have never actually tanked, and they need to swallow pride and try to either win the Connor Bedard sweepstakes, or win the Adam Fantilli consolation prize. Get that franchise center that you have coveted ever since you traded Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones. That would make your young 20 and under center depth; Bedard/Fantilli, Johnson, and Sillinger.
Coaching wise I would ask Rick Nash if he would want a shot at coaching this team for the last 70 games of this season, and if the answer was yes, I would fire Brad Larsen and evaluate how Rick Nash resonates with this young group. The only way the Blue Jackets can progress into a contender is if the young guys can get substantially better. Kent Johnson, Yegor Chinahkov, Cole Sillinger, Adam Boqvist, Kirill Marchenko, Emil Bemstrom, Liam Foudy, and David Jiricek are all 23 years old or younger. Then you have Jordan Dumais, Denton Mateychuk, Luca Del Bel Belluz, Corson Cuelemans, all coming up and looking good. We need a new face for these kids to gravitate to. If Nash does not want to coach the team, then ride Larsen out, and then fire him at the end of the year.
I would look to trade Jack Roslovic, Vladislav Gavrikov, Gustav Nyquist, and if anybody has the salary, Jakub Voracek. I didn’t mention Eric Gudbranson because no GM is taking on that contract, which is another Jarmo Kekalainen mis-step; however, I would put him on waivers and send him down to Cleveland. So, try to get rid of the afformentioned guys, and I would call up AHL point leaders Emil Bemstrom and Kirill Marchenko, as well as defendeman Jake Christensen. Let the young guys play the rest of the year, and see how they develop. David Jiricek should be fed like 18 minutes a night in the NHL, yet he was just sent back down to the AHL.
Evaluate your young guys, try to trade everyone not in your 3 year plan, and fire Brad Larsen here soon. Veterans I would not trade include; Zach Werenski, Boone Jenner, Sean Kuraly, Patrik Laine, and obviously Johnny Gaudreau. Also, depending on how the trade deadline goes for Jarmo Kekalainen, I would strongly consider firing him at the end of the season as well. The bar to start the Kekalainen era was the crappy Doug Mclean bar; just because he has better results than that does not make him a good GM. This was the first time Jarmo has ever had to tightrope the salary cap, and I give him an F.
So, what do you guys think? Can we actually draft a franchise player not named Rick Nash?