The Columbus Blue Jackets were a huge surprise across the NHL last season. Despite crawling out of the gate to open the lockout-shortened year, the team blew up through March and April, resulting in a shift from doormats to playoff contenders in what seemed like the blink of an eye. The dream was nearly completed, but Columbus fell just outside of playoff contention as they were merely a tiebreaker away from their second postseason appearance in franchise history.
Because of the successful spring, many pundits labeled the Blue Jackets as a team to watch this season. Helping matters was the team’s trade deadline acquisition of sniper Marion Gaborik, along with their Vezina Trophy winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was resigned in the offseason. Add in the marquee free agent signing of former Boston Bruins forward Nathan Horton, and the buzz was officially going strong in Columbus.
Almost two months into the new season, the buzz seems to have diluted to a dull hum. The Jackets, despite all the aforementioned highlights, aren’t exactly living up to the preseason hype. The team seems to be stuck in a lull, with a subpar record of 8-11-3. Players like Brandon Dubinsky and James Wisniewski are pulling their weight statistically, but the herd starts to thin after that. Horton hasn’t been able to take the ice yet due to offseason shoulder surgery. Bobrovsky has yet to show his Vezina winning form consistently, and his GAA has moved up from 2.00 to 2.77. Needless to say, fans and media alike were hoping for a little more from the Blue Jackets.
Also hoping for more is team GM Jarmo Kekalainen. He’s already spoken out about his hopes to see more leadership from Gaborik. Now, it appears he’s looking for more of that from the entire team.
“Leadership is being questioned right now,” Kekalainen told the Columbus Dispatch. “It’s certainly something we’re looking at. Leadership is a full-time job. It’s not a part-time job.
“It has to be there every day, in every practice and every game.”
Though the Jackets won an overtime game against the Calgary Flames last night, they’re also two nights removed from having their doors blown off by the previously hapless Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton, who’s struggled to score goals this year, routed Columbus to the tune of 7-0. It’s safe to say Kekalainen’s comments are probably more rooted in that game than the victory over Calgary.
The team doesn’t have a ton of veteran presence on their roster, not helped by the fact the team let Vaclav Prospal, last year’s leading scorer, go in the offseason. That said, a good amount of the players who took part in last year’s almost-miracle run returned this season, so the loss of one player shouldn’t absolutely derail the team.
Kekalainen went on to say he may or may not be perusing the trade market to see if any vet leaders are available. He’s also more than willing to have someone on his current roster step up to the plate and guide the team out of the mud.
“If there’s a way to improve in that area by adding that kind of player from the outside, sure, we’d love to look at it,” he said. “But at the same time, I think we have enough guys with that kind of potential on the inside.”