Another loss on Saturday night dropped the Blue Jackets to a 10-17-5 record – last place in the Eastern Conference by points percentage. After 32 games, the team is on pace for roughly 64 points, only a slight improvement over last year.
Their lottery pick pace would be easier to get behind if General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen and team President John Davidson hadn’t boasted all summer about making a run at the playoffs this season. That’s exactly what they did. They also went out and acquired players to plug holes, seemingly trying to do just that. The problem here is: it hasn’t worked.
Kekalainen’s attempt to solve this team’s goals against struggles from a year ago – picking up two top-four defensemen – has only marginally helped the situation. They’re still oozing high danger scoring chances against, and currently only the San Jose Sharks (3.90 GAA) have a worse goals against average than the Blue Jackets, who surrender an average of 3.63 per game.
As the season wears on, one thing that becomes evident is that this team still doesn’t have enough defensemen capable of actually defending in their own zone. Over the past two summers, Kekalainen has acquired three defensemen: Erik Gudbranson, Ivan Provorov, and Damon Severson. Each was picked up to bring experience to this team’s young back-end, and help this team improve in the standings. While they have improved slightly, I don’t think this is what Jarmo had in mind.
If you look at it objectively, it’s somewhat easy to see why. Gudbranson was brought in to fill the need for a tough, no-nonsense leader on the back-end. He’s filled his role just fine, in my opinion. But at his very best, he’s suited against bottom-six opposition when he’s on the ice. You don’t want him playing against top skill guys from the other team – that’s a recipe for disaster. The problem here: we’ve seen plenty of that usage over the last season and a half.
Provorov has been a productive offensive player and minute muncher throughout his NHL career. But, defensively, he leaves a lot to be desired. When the Jackets acquired him, we talked quite a bit about him needing a change of scenery and fewer minutes – against lower competition. Maybe that would help rejuvenate his career? Instead, head coach Pascal Vincent has no choice but to roll him out for an average of 23 minutes per game – including when this team is trying to defend leads late. There is simply no-one else. The problem here: Provorov is not good in his own end. Case in point:
They’re getting production from the back end, but not much defensively. They did bring in one other guy though; why hasn’t he helped more?