The Jackets head into the offseason facing big questions on several fronts
Now that we're a couple of weeks removed from the later-than-ever-before ending of the Columbus Blue Jackets season, I've had some time to put the playoff run and, specifically, how it ended, into their proper perspective.
It still sucks.
It has a little to do with the fact that, after dispatching of the CBJ, the Boston Bruins swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals, giving extended life to the whole “what if” scenario. Could the CBJ have also taken out the 'Canes?
It has a little to do with the fact that it appears to have ended hockey season early, despite the fact the Jackets advanced past the first round. I am having difficulty watching the remainder of this postseason, more so than any season in the past. Does the loss sting more because the Jackets were closer?
It has a little to do with the big changes coming for the Jackets this offseason. How long will it take for the Jackets to have as good a roster as the one that won the franchise's first playoff series?
That last issue is what makes this one of the most important offseasons in Jackets history. We've long expected (known?) that this would be the last season in Columbus for Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin. Center Matt Duchene, acquired at the trade deadline, is due a big payday in free agency, a payday the Jackets can afford. But Dutchy appears set to see what free agency holds, despite not ruling out a return to play with his new buddies (as evidenced by his participation in a postseason boys' trip to Nashville with a bunch of Jackets players).
Not much is being said about former Buckeye Ryan Dzingel, also a deadline acquisition who was decent but spotty in a Jackets uniform, and is also a free agent. How much is he going to want?
“I think it's important moving forward that we're going to have guys that are proud to be Blue Jackets and proud to be living in Columbus and loving it here. The guys that want to be here are going to be here, and the guys that don't want to be here, good luck,” General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen said after the playoff loss to Boston. Was he talking about then-President of Hockey Operations John Davidson, who recently left to take the same post with the New York Rangers? In truth, it's hard to be angry at JD, who returns to an organization he spent most of his playing career with, and for whom he was a broadcaster before getting back into the business side of hockey.
There is no doubt the organization is flush with young talent. Alexandre Texier and Vladislav Gavrikov saw late-season action and availed themselves well. Junior, college and European players who've signed their entry-level contracts with the CBJ include Emil Bemstrom, Daniil Tarasov and Andrew Peeke. The biggest of them all might be Latvian netminder Elvis Merzlikins, who will likely be given every chance to win or at least share duties in goal with returning Joonas Korpisalo (who, by the way, is a restricted free agent himself). Rather than being nervous, I'm actually pretty excited to see next year's squad.
But losing Bobrovsky and Panarin, perhaps losing Duchene, all lumped in with Davidson's departure… that's gonna leave a mark. What will Jarmo do? And will it help the mark to heal?