Since the Blue Jackets came into the league some 24 years ago, it feels like we've been in a perpetual rebuild. This year seems to be no different, with the Jackets currently on a roughly 68-point pace through 42 games. That's just a 9-point improvement over last year's lottery finish.
As if the team's on-ice performance wasn't bad enough, now we have a goaltending controversy to wade through. And, when you have a perennially bad team (yes, they're bad); one thing you need to dig yourself out of that hole: strong, confident goaltending.
Nothing will bury a team faster than bad goaltending. Look no further than some of the most talented teams in the league, who have yet to discover long-term solutions in net. I'll choose three without even looking: the Edmonton Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
All three of these clubs are legitimate Cup contenders, yet none of them have been able to get over the mountain with their star-studded cores. We can talk about defensive shortcomings in Edmonton and Toronto...but, Carolina probably has the best defensive team in the league, but even with that and an offense that can put the puck in the net, they can't seem to make the leap.
Goaltender is the most important position in hockey. A strong one can make up for a lot of other shortcomings - especially on a middling or poor team. We have seen that before. A bad one? Well, we've seen that play out before also.
This week, news around the team is that Elvis Merzlikins is unhappy with recently serving as the odd man out of the team's current goaltending trio. Why wouldn't he be?
It's not like the Jackets have two guys who have played well above his ability. I get the team wanting to try out Daniil Tarasov, to see what they have here. It makes perfect sense, in a season that is a lost cause - especially after he had a really strong start last week.
But, what is behind the team's decision to sit their highest paid goaltender in the press box, with waiver pickup Spencer Martin sitting on the bench?
The only reasons I can think to sit Elvis out, are if he's nursing an injury - or if you have a trade already in hand for him, and are trying to protect him from injury. There doesn't seem to be any injury here, as head coach Pascal Vincent himself mentioned that Elvis is unhappy with the situation.
Which makes me wonder: what is the plan in goal here? Spencer Martin certainly isn't an NHL starter. I don't even think he's a serviceable backup. Daniil Tarasov has shown promise, but he's 24 years old and has not been unable to stay healthy since he was a teenager. There are a lot of question marks, and if you trade away Merzlikins, what happens when Tarasov inevitably gets hurt again?
I don't think Elvis is a big part of the future here, but trading away a guy who has at least shown capable of being a reliable backstop, seems like a poor decision for a team sitting at the bottom of the standings. I'm not sure the team's entire future should be laid on the shoulders of a very injury prone Daniil Tarasov. Even when he's been healthy, Tarasov has shown capable only in flashes. I hope they have a different plan in mind.
Choosing the wrong goaltender here could set a rebuild that is maybe halfway finished, all the way back to its early stages. Nothing will break up a team faster than playing the game like they're constantly afraid of getting scored on.