Blue Jackets' playoff loss disappointing, dredges up questions
Well, that sucked.
That the Blue Jackets' season ended when it did is, in the long run, probably less disappointing than how it ended. Winning the first two games of a playoff series, on the road no less, will change a fanbase's expectations, or at least its hopes.
Despite their regular season records (the Capitals' 105 points to 97 for the CBJ) and disparate pedigrees, it was evident the two teams were pretty evenly matched. And losing is always a letdown. But the Jackets couldn't capitalize (not sure if pun intended) on their surprising 2-0 series lead, nor could they press their advantages when strong play did swing momentum in their favor during games.
As a fan, it's hard to offer a reasoned coda to this season and postseason this soon after such a gloomy ending. Four straight soul-sucking losses have a way of affecting your perspective. Given that, in this space, I implored the team, with about three weeks left in the season and the playoffs far from certain, to “Just. Get. In.” maybe I don't have a lot of room to complain.
The real frustration is that the series loss leaves the team with more questions than answers, following a season that didn't always make sense, either.
Were the players tired? Was their ice time mismanaged by head coach John Tortorella?
Were there more injuries, or more severe injuries, than the team let on? (Hockey players are notoriously guarded about their physical status, and organizations notoriously obscure with information.) Zach Werenski seemed to be dealing with something all season. Alexander Wennberg has been hurt off and on, and of course was out for three games following a Game 1 hit from Tom Wilson. Artemi Panarin seemed labored as the series went on, and he confirmed he'd been dealing with a knee issue.
Was it just a matter of the Caps' players being better and more experienced? And did we resolve the issue about Playoff Bob? There were moments he was spectacular, but there were others…
And those are just the questions about how and why the Jackets lost to the Capitals. There are plenty more in store as the team looks ahead.
The three players added at the trade deadline — Ian Cole, Mark Letestu and Thomas Vanek — are all unrestricted free agents. Each had his moments, but none made a difference in the playoffs. Do any of them come back?
Matt Calvert and Jack Johnson are also UFA. Johnson's season was a nightmare and he would appear to be on his way out after not dressing at all for the playoffs. Calvert had an up and down season but is a true warrior and played his best, again, in the postseason. He's a Jacket lifer, too — so far. But he took issue with some comments by Tortorella after the series.
Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray and Oliver Bjorkstrand are all restricted free agents. What kind of offers do they get from the team?
Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are entering the last year of their contracts, and will be due big paydays (again). Does the team want to get a head start on next offseason?
And what about Torts? He's been a steadying hand, but his schemes and in-game decisions have come under increasing scrutiny.
General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen and the rest of the front office have their work cut out for them this offseason, and I don't envy them the task. See you in September.