How Far Away from Contending are the Columbus Blue Jackets? Look no Further Than Last Night's Example

The Blue Jackets took the wrong direction last summer, building for the now instead of the future.

2016 NHL Draft - Round One
2016 NHL Draft - Round One / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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This team isn't even close. So, you have to make comprehensive changes.

Last night is proof that this team is heading in a direction that has them not contending this year. Probably not even next year. More likely, they look like they are at least two years away from even vying for a playoff spot. That's when their true core - the Adam Fantilli/David Jiricek core - should be ready to contend with the big boys.

Cole Sillinger, David Jiricek
Minnesota Wild v Columbus Blue Jackets / Jason Mowry/GettyImages

The smart play for this team isn't to go out and acquire another center or centers. It's not to add another middling veteran defenseman at an inflated cost. The smart play would be to trim the fat out of this roster and acquire whatever assets you can get in return, that might help your team in one, or two, or even five years.

The Jets are a fine example of what can happen by trading good players away. Look at what they got for Pierre-Luc Dubois: a couple of young middle-six players who can help them now and into the future. They reset their locker room by trading a player who wasn't working for them, and bringing in hungry, hard working players who wanted to make it in this league. Guys who are willing to buy into the system and play for the logo on the front of the jersey. Not the bag of cash.

Another one of my favorite recent moves is the Jack Eichel trade. The Buffalo Sabres were stuck in between a rock and a hard place with a player who wanted out. But, they were able to flip their star center away for two guys who have become part of their harder-working identity.

The Jackets don't have a Jack Eichel, or even a Pierre-Luc Dubois to trade away. But they have a great starting point with some hard-working young players. They should be building around that group, not the Boone Jenner/Johnny Gaudreau core; as the Provorov and Severson acquisitions would imply.

They should be using the balance of this season to ask some really hard questions about who fits into that competitive core. Then, they should be looking to strike for assets on any player who isn't part of their plans 2-3 years from now.

This list would certainly include, but not be limited to: Jack Roslovic, Alexandre Texier, Mathieu Olivier, Emil Bemstrom, Ivan Provorov, Erik Gudbranson, Andrew Peeke, Jake Bean, or Sean Kuraly. Yes, at this point, I would even be prepared to trade a Patrik Laine, or an Elvis Merzlikins ... or even Boone Jenner.

I don't think you can trade all (or many) of these guys in-season. But imagine Patrik Laine coming back and being a point-per-game player for the rest of the year. What kind of return could you get for one of the game's elite snipers (when healthy)? What about your All-Star captain, Boone Jenner? In three years, when his contract expires, he'll be 32. Will he be an important piece of that contending team then?

Zach Werenski, Boone Jenner, Patrik Laine
Calgary Flames v Columbus Blue Jackets / Jason Mowry/GettyImages

Now, there is an art to doing this without completely resetting the roster and going back to the beginning of the rebuild. Yes, it's a fine line to walk. But, it's clear that this group needs a shakeup, and they would be foolish to make that shakeup by dealing away any of the young talent. They just aren't ready for that kind of move.

But, it is time for Jarmo, John Davidson, and the McConnell family to admit that last summer was poorly handled. They pounced at adding depth a year - or maybe two years before they should have. Last night was proof. Now, it's on them to recoup some of those assets and get back to rebuilding the right way.

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