Columbus Blue Jackets: The Debate on Tanking

Dec 12, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets fans watch during warmups prior to the game against the New York Islanders at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 12, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets fans watch during warmups prior to the game against the New York Islanders at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Debate on Tanking

The Columbus Blue Jackets are piecing together a nice finish after spending the majority of the season in last place.  This is sparking a separation amongst fans in a debate of “to tank or not to tank”.  Recently, this argument has been heavily weighted to the side of tanking with dreams of Auston Matthews spending his career in the union blue.  This article, however is focusing on the many points against tanking.  Yes, there are the obvious reasons against tanking; most notably being the new draft lottery regulations for the top three picks to dissuade teams by giving the last place team a 20 percent weight towards picking first, with a diminishing percentage being assigned to each team with a better record.  There is also the unlikelihood that the Blue Jackets are able to put forth a worse record than the dismantled Toronto Maple Leafs.  The more costly ramifications of tanking, however, are the effects on the dressing room and losing culture that is promoted.  Lets take a quick walk through the Blue Jackets history:

More from Union and Blue

The Columbus Blue Jackets are an organization that has yet to encounter a rebuild, as they have simply never left their state of building.  Since the team’s induction in 2000, our beloved Blue Jackets have made the playoffs twice; the first being the 2008-2009 season when they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings and the second being the 2013-2014 season when the team challenged the Pittsburgh Penguins through a grueling six game series.  This history is important, as our star in the first appearance was Rick Nash and in the second appearance was Ryan Johansen: Both Rick Nash and Ryan Johansen were soon traded after their playoff appearance in blockbuster deals, due to rising animosity in the dressing room and emerging culture of losing.

Rick Nash reportedly requested a trade and Ryan Johansen’s maturity and off-ice commitment were often times brought into question, forcing the team to make the respective trades.  Both of these trades, coupled with the Jeff Carter trade and numerous other dealings of top talent points to a talent management issue in the organization.  Ultimately, it is the coach, GM and staff’s responsibility to make a safe player environment, promoting the players to work hard and develop their craft.  This appears to be a recurring issue in Columbus and can largely be attributed to the culture of losing.  Yes, in the 2015-16 season our Blue Jackets got off to a rough start, a trend the team needs to buck.  However, after the the All-star break, the Blue Jackets have rallied and have put forth strong efforts in most games.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Feb 11, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (3) checks Anaheim Ducks center Mike Santorelli (25) along the boards in the first period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

Chemistry has developed between young players, most notably the top defensive pairing of Ryan Murray and Seth Jones.  Alex Wennberg is developing nicely into a top six center and we have yet to witness the young Swede’s ceiling.  An offensive core is emerging that consists of skilled, hard working and mentally tough players, who appear to be invested in the future success of the team.  There is a pipeline of prospects in the organization who are seeing success at their respective levels and are continuing to develop.  The Blue Jackets are doing the right things, have assembled the right pieces, but need to stay the course and allow the team time to develop.

Trading picks, young players or prospects for a veteran star is not the move to make right now, nor is tanking for a shot at Auston Matthews.   Yes, Matthews is a great prospect, is putting up impressive numbers in the Swiss Elite league and projects to fill a need for the Blue Jackets at center.  However, there is a higher probability that a team outside the bottom three wins the first pick, as the bottom three teams collectively carry a chance of only 35% – meaning the remaining 11 teams collectively have a 65% chance at landing Matthews.  Are the negative effects of another losing season worth the increased percentage at picking first overall, for a player who may or may not live up to the hype and may end up demanding a trade to a team with a winning culture?  All of these are very real outcomes that have played out in the Blue Jackets short history.

The top three prospects in this years draft are Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljajarvi.  Yes, there is a drop in projected talent after those three, but this is a fairly deep draft as forward prospects Matthew Tkachuk, Alex Nylander, Michael McLeod, Clayton Keller and Julien Gauthier have all looked strong in their respective leagues and will likely all be taken outside of the top five picks, yet project as top six forwards.  Michael McLeod, specifically, has shown flashes at the OHL level that have some discussing him as a potential first line center.  Current mock drafts show McLeod being drafted between ninth and 13th overall this summer.  If the team decided McLeod would be a good fit, they could likely trade back in the draft, accruing other assets, while still addressed a need at center.

Next: Should the Blue Jackets Sign Dryden Hunt

Ultimately the playoffs are not an option for the Blue Jackets this season, but developing team chemistry, learning their identity and removing themselves from a culture of losing should all be attainable priorities in the coming months.  Regardless of win record down the stretch this season, the team will be guaranteed a shot at Auston Matthews and if they don’t land him, they will be guaranteed shots at Patrick Laine and Jesse Puljajarvi.  If none of those cards are flipped in the Blue Jackets’ favor, the team has a nice grouping of options to develop and let battle for roster spots in the offseason.   The team simply should not gamble their future as the cost for an increased chance at landing Matthews will not justify the long term challenges imposed on team culture.