The Columbus Blue Jackets have without a doubt had moments of greatness this season – and moments where the team is the most effective unorganized hot mess I’ve ever seen. Coming into the season, Columbus was not expected to be a front-runner for the Metropolitan Division crown, but the team has shown signs of promise while also drastically regressing – all in the span of the same week. Blue Jackets fans, including myself, have had one lingering question all season: why the inconsistency? While a deep dive into the organization would take roughly a month, there’s three key reasons for the CBJ’s hot and cold play this season.
Let’s look at one of the most interesting goaltenders in the league: Elvis Merzlikins. Last season, the Blue Jackets net
minder had a high save percentage, but wasn’t the regular starter due to Joonas Korpisalo catching fire at random times. If there’s anything consistent about the NHL, it’s the goaltending starters. Most teams have one goaltender who starts for much of the season, with the backup giving the regular net minder a rest when needed. In the span of a month, Elvis gave up four goals to Carolina, then shut out the Hurricanes, followed by giving up four goals to the Panthers. He’s given up eight goals in his past two games – a loss to Ottawa, and a beatdown at the hands of the Calgary Flames. Meanwhile, Korpisalo, once thought to have the steadier glove, has faltered of late. The Finnish net minder has lost two of his last four between the pipes, with the wins coming against a lackluster New Jersey team, and a stellar Rangers team. While a goaltender obviously isn’t to blame for the inconsistency of an entire team, the hot and cold tendencies of both net minders isn’t helping a struggling offense.
Now, time to get a little more in-depth to the Blue Jackets’ struggles. While the off-season trades are partially to blame, I believe there’s more to this story of Ohio’s NHL team. Losing Seth Jones was a major blow to the defense of the CBJ, but this struggle is deeper than the Union Blue of our jerseys. This team is made up of a variety of different players – hard hitters, quick skaters, and power defensemen. Established players on the team such as Boone Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Zach Werenski aren’t the problem; they’re the only thing keeping the CBJ afloat.
Underperformance cursed Columbus last season, and I believe it’s reared its ugly head again. The Blue Jackets gave up quite a lot for a few select players, including Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson. The results of those trades aren’t worth what was given up. While Jakub Voracek is an incredible player, he’s scored one goal in thirty-nine games this season – hardly what the former All-Star is capable of. Further, Patrik Laine hasn’t shown the same spark as in Winnipeg, and hasn’t yet returned to his gritty style. Laine was traded to Columbus with his teammate Jack Roslovic in exchange for Pierre-Luc Dubois, a trade which undoubtedly helped the culture in the Columbus locker room. The former Jets standout has had some issues off the ice in the past, including arguing with coaches in both Columbus and Winnipeg. While it seems he’s overcome that right now, he’s not performing to the high level he needs to.
Finally, let’s hit on one of the less-obvious reasons for the Blue Jackets’ inconsistency: the Cleveland Monsters. Cleveland is the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate of Columbus, and while the team has been strong in the past – winning the 2016 Calder Cup, the franchise has struggled with inconsistency in the past two seasons. The Monsters are currently eleventh in the Eastern Conference standings, boasting a 13-15-4 record. The team also boasts many young players, as many Monsters have been called up to Columbus, including Yegor Chinakhov, Emil Bemstrom, and Gavin Bayreuther. You may be wondering if the lack of available and experienced players available from the Monsters truly has a large impact on the Blue Jackets, but the inconsistency and lack of available players goes deeper. Enter the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings. This is the first season that Kalamazoo has been the affiliate of the CBJ – the first time in five seasons that the Blue Jackets have had an ECHL affiliate. The Wings are 20-16-0, and their record is pretty on-brand for their AHL and NHL affiliates. Columbus’ inconsistency trickles down to their two affiliates – all three teams have young, inexperienced players.
Columbus will look to get back on track this week, with back-to-back showdowns against Montreal, and a home show down against former Blue Jackets net minder Sergei Bobrovsky and the Florida Panthers. The schedule for the rest of the season doesn’t leave much hope for the woes to stop anytime, but let’s hope the inconsistency issues change before then, but if there’s one thing Columbus is consistent at, it’s making their fans nervous.