Why are the Blue Jackets Doing Nothing?

December 2, 2011 – The Columbus Blue Jackets take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission against the Edmonton Oilers, then surrender five third period goals on their way to a 6-3 loss.

December 8, 2011 – The Blue Jackets carry a 3-1 lead against a fragile, for one of the few times in their history, Nashville Predators late into the third period.  However, the Predators score two goals in the last 1:36 to tie the game, then proceed to score a goal 1:45 into the overtime period.

December 18, 2011 – The Blue Jackets lead their hated Central Division rival the St. Louis Blues 3-2 going into the third period.  However, the Blues score four goals in the third period and go on to defeat the Blue Jackets, 6-4.

December 22, 2011 – The Blue Jackets blow two three-goal leads – 4-1 and 5-2 – and surrender three consecutive goals, including two goals in the last 3:46, to lose to the Nashville Predators.

The Blue Jackets completed a critical five-game home-stand with a 1-3-1 record and have lost their last four games, thus nullifying a 6-4-2 run after a 2-12-1 start.

The Blue Jackets who own the NHL’s worst road record of 3-11-2 play seven of their next nine games on the road.

The Blue Jackets have won only seven games in regulation out of their last 56 games played.

The Blue Jackets continue to own the National Hockey League’s (NHL’s) worst record at 9-21-5 albeit with the NHL’s 13th highest payroll.  They are a fragile team with no sense of direction and with almost no chance (0.0151%) of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Assuming 97 points will again be required to make the eighth position in the Western Conference it will require a record of 35-8-5.  However, Blue Jackets General Manager (GM) Scott Howson believes they still have a chance to make the playoffs.

There have been six head coaches fired since the beginning of the season.  However, Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel is in no apparent danger of being fired.  Although the NHL is currently in a trading freeze period, no trades appear to be imminent for the Blue Jackets.  While the Blue Jackets hired a Senior Advisor, former Penguins GM Craig Patrick, the selection was made by embattled GM Scott Howson, not from the Team President or Owner, John P. McConnell.  The jobs of team President Mike Priest, Howson and Arniel appear to be safe.  There have been absolutely no indications from McConnell of any impending changes or any explicit indications of personal unrest or disgust.

So, it begs the question:  Why are the Blue Jackets doing nothing?

While there are a great deal of reasons why they should be doing something – sending a message to the fans that this inept performance and an embedded level of defeatism will no longer be tolerated, that management shows some level of regard for the fan base, if they ever did – there may be even more reasons Blue Jackets’ management is staying put and doing nothing.

Perhaps it starts with management’s belief that the fans tolerate and accept this ineptitude.  After all, for the last four games of their recent home stand, the Blue Jackets fans supported their struggling team by averaging over 16,500 fans per game which included two weekday games against opponents who usually don’t draw much local interest and against teams who didn’t bring the usual 5,000-6,000 supporters as is often the case against passionate fan bases such as the Red Wings, Blackhawks, Maple Leafs and Penguins.  If the fans continue to support this abysmal performance and lack of passion by the players, ownership and management won’t get the message that change needs to be made.

Perhaps management doesn’t have the wherewithal to enact the type of changes that need to be made.  One of the apparent issues with the current regime, one overtly evident in the Blue Jackets’ direction since former head coach Ken Hitchcock was fired after their only playoff appearance is that there is no direction.  Are the Blue Jackets an up-tempo team?  Are they a skill team?  Are they a puck possession team?  Are they a defense-first team, something utilized only recently after the prior methods were an abject failure?  Are they a ‘win now’ team?  Are they a team with an eye for long-term development?  Do they have the skill level necessary to run any of those types of systems?  Whatever the direction chosen, what would be accepted by the fan base would be to find a direction and to stick with it.

As I’ve been a strong proponent of ‘blowing it up’ and opting for the extremely successful blueprint utilized by the Pittsburgh Penguins and more recently the Edmonton Oilers – trading underperforming veteran assets, some which could garner a bevy of young, stellar talent, prospects and first round draft choices, playing out the skein by providing experience to their prospects in the American Hockey League (AHL), the Springfield Falcons thus ensuring nabbing the top prospect in the upcoming 2012 NHL Entry Draft – I’m not sure the current regime has the capability or can be entrusted to make these types of bold, effective moves to take the team in the direction the fan base deserves.  Or, perhaps management’s pride is just too great to acknowledge that mistakes have been and continue to be made – i.e. the insistence that Steve Mason could return to his Calder Trophy form even after two plus years of being the NHL’s worst statistical goalie and develop into an elite starting NHL netminder.

Perhaps ownership has no control over how the organization is being run – it was only after a pathetic 1-9-1 start did Mr. McConnell surface and meet privately with the team, the result of which was a victory over the struggling Anaheim Ducks, a team with a record only slightly better than the Blue Jackets only to be followed by three embarrassing losses one of which was a 9-2 drubbing at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers.

It’s believed in some media circles that the reason for not firing Scott Arniel, a coach with an overall record of 43-56-18 but since the torrid start of 14-6-0 at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, has an overall record of 29-50-18, is because in firing Arniel it would be an admission of fault for firing Hitchcock as well as doing so would draw attention that management’s respective jobs are in peril.

But by doing nothing – status quo – it should only lead to dwindling crowds, mounting financial losses for a team that lost $25 million last season and developing ill will towards a fan base that deserves so much more than they’ve been provided.

It is often said that the Columbus,Ohio market is a potential sleeping giant – it’s too bad that in doing nothing, Blue Jackets management has fallen asleep at the wheel.

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