The issue with the Jackets is that they are holding some players to harsh standards - while others are allowed free rein to play however they want.
The Blue Jackets are failing because they are in an identity crisis. By being true to what they are, I feel like a lot of the frustration will subside - even if they don't start winning games.
This team went out and acquired players last summer like a team that was readying itself for a Stanley Cup run. The roster mismanagement kicked off before the NHL Draft even took place, with the Jackets loading up their back-end with two high-priced veteran defensemen.
After last season's injury woes, I do get the idea of revamping the back end to prepare for another long season. But why make both trades for second pairing guys when they had one of the top defense prospects in all of hockey, seemingly ready to go?
While I don't agree with everything David Jiricek said to the Athletic over the weekend, he's right about one thing: he does deserve to be higher on the depth chart for the Blue Jackets. Every player on the blue line is making mistakes. But, has he really been the worst defenseman on the NHL roster over the last month? I'm not so sure.
He's a 20 year old rookie in the toughest league in the world, and mistakes are to be expected. Why isn't Ivan Provorov held to the same standards? Or Jake Bean? Andrew Peeke is one of the worst defensemen in the entire NHL, and the team is opting to play him 8-10 minutes per night ahead of Jiricek.
If it's about letting him build confidence and play more minutes, then fine ... but did anyone in the organization tell him that? It certainly doesn't seem that way, based on his comments. Based on those comments, it feels like they might have broken his confidence even further by demoting him.
One other important question: Why in the heck hasn't Jiricek been given a single power-play shift? He had 24 power-play points in the AHL last season. If they were going to give him a shot in the NHL, I don't know, maybe using him to his strengths might help with that confidence?
If this team were true to its identity, they would realize that they're well out of contention this year. They sit at a 66 point pace, but they continue to tell their roster that their performance is less important to earning ice time than their NHL tenure. They roll out veterans like a team scrapping for points in a late-season push for the playoffs.
Instead of "sheltering" their young players, now that the season has tanked; they should be feeding them prime minutes as they earn them, and in key situations. Let's see what a power-play unit centered around Adam Fantilli, Kent Johnson, and David Jiricek might look like. In a few years, that's supposed to be this team's bread and butter.
At some point, these guys will have to go through the growing pains of playing against top competition. They should be using these next three months to let them do just that, so they can evaluate and see where the pieces all fit. Protecting confidence is one thing. Outright blocking guys is another thing entirely.
They should not be rolling out the same veterans who have been a part of the losing equation here for the last several years. One might say it's to showcase them for potential deals; but most of these guys aren't doing anything to help their potential trade value, so it just doesn't make sense no matter how you shake it down.
Merit should be punished or awarded to everyone equally, regardless their contract status or tenure in the league. Changing their handling of ice time could change the entire culture - and fan perspective - of this team overnight.