Chicken Little, the sky is falling!
Well, it isn't that bad, but the CBJ playoff hopes look dim and the team is heading in the wrong direction. This team and its playoff streak, that has been on the rise for the past few seasons, may end here. What is the explaniation for the abrupt fall, when there was so much hope entering the season? I have a few ideas...
Torts has run his course
It seems more and more likely that he has 'lost the room'. The players no longer seem committed to playing his game and his style may have worn thin with this group. The other side of this coin is that the team make up doesn't fit his coaching style. The defense-forward style has been successful for the CBJ for several seasons now. But the makeup of the team has changed. In their most successful seasaon Columbus had a top tier goalie playing at or near his best (Bob), young, talented core players willing to take coaching and 'do their jobs' and a supremely talented playmaker (Panarin) who elevated everyone's game. That team played defense first and let the Breadman create for everyone - and he did.
Now 'The Core' is older, been through all this before and looks to be tired of wash-rinse-repeat style employeed by Torts. Not to mention his abrasive approach with players. Two other points to state here; 1) If the player makeup of this team no longer matches Torts style, is there a disconnect between he and JK? and 2) a significant part of 'The Core' has changed, left or been traded.
Offensive minded players are being drafted and traded for by JK. Think Bjork, Laine, Texier, Bemstrom...these are not Torts-type players. PLD was a protypical Torts-type and JK sent him away for reasons unknown (trade demand, disconnect with coaching, bright-lights-big-city...we may never know).
'The Core' is gone
'The Core' as CBJ proponants called it and wove into the C-Bus hockey lexicon is not what it started off as. Below are players that were referred to as members of the CBJ Core:
Ryan Murray (D) - TRADED (given away)
Sergei Bobrovsky (G) - LEFT via UFA
Alex Wennberg (C) - RELEASED
William Karlsson (C) - ENTRY DRAFT TRADE
Ryan Johansen (C) - TRADED
Cam Atkinson (W)
Josh Anderson (W) - TRADED
Oliver Bjorkstrand (W)
Seth Jones (D)
Markus Nutivaara (D) - TRADED (given away)
Zach Werenski (D)
Pierre-Luc Dubois (C) - TRADED
Others would argue that Korpi and Captain Nick could be added to that list and that you cannot have both Jones and Johansen listed together as they were traded for one another. There are certainly other current players on the roster that we could refer to as 'core' players now like Tex. Truth is that rosters turn over, its part of today's NHL. This is a list of 12 players that were deemed the future of Columbus hockey and only 4 remain. 'The Core', that future of Columbus hockey is GONE. 'The Core' no longer exists as it was talked about 5-4-or-even-3 seasons ago.
This is not an endigntment on JK's moves. But that future that was promised by the media (and continues to be promised) no longer skates in Union Blue. Instead there is a new group that one could say is 'Core 2.0':
Elvis Merzlikins (or Korpi)
Here is the problem with 'Core 2.0': Most are not under contract past 2022. In fact, every player on that list with the exception of Bjork has their current contract end after the 2022 season. Some will be RFAs but at least half will be UFAs.
Normal has been interrupted
Life as we know it has changed. Most of us are working from home and teaching our kids while we do it. Employers have been understanding of operational ineffiencies and an inevitable drop in production. But what happens when the measure of your work is wins and losses? What happens when you play games in unoccupied arenas? How does the isolation and social distancing impact those that are put in a spotlight and each aspect of their performance is scrutinized? Most 'normal folks' are experiencing elevated stress levels, anxiety and previous unknow mental health issues. My assumption is that these players are experiencing much of the same, possibly at an elevated level. Many will say this is a situation we are all dealing with and should not be used as an excuse. At the minimum it is a distraction to these players and may be leading to lack of focus and attention to details that are so important on the ice. Just something to consider.
In the very near future the trade deadline. Just after that a combination of the draft, signing players and finding a new coach. That last part may be premature, but I find it hard to imagine that Torts and JK sign a deal that keeps him in Columbus even if he does last the season.
As the Jackets continue to trend down, and more importantly others in the division leap frog them in the standings, Jarmo will have to decide what pieces and part to keep and which ones to part with. Here is a list of players in the last year of their contract:
Patrick Laine (RFA)
Alex Texier (RFA)
Kevin Stenlund (RFA)
Michael Del Zotto
Andrew Peeke (RFA)
It is extremely likley that Tex, Peeke and Stenlund get re-signed. Although Stenlund may be a targeted as a low cost 3rd/4th line center can strike on the PP. My thought is that he is more valuable on this roster than what he could possibly return. Everyone else on that list is fair game. If someone is willing to pay I think Laine will get moved. Foligno, Nash and Savard are solid role players for any team that wants insurance heading into the playoffs. Del Zotto may pay dividends as an off-season signing that will bring back longer-term assets.
Del Zotto was low risk ($700k, 1-year contract) and high reward signing. His low cap hit and higher-than-expected performance could be exactly what a Cap-restricted team needs heading into the playoffs. Savard is a similar performer, but his Cap hit is over $4M. That may work for some teams, however the return should be substancially less.
Grigorenko, a former 1st round pick, has looked good in a limited role. I'm sure teams will inquire about him as he has a favorable salary at $1.2M. Asking price could be too high, especially if JK has plans for him in the near future. He will be a UFA come season's end and it is a complete roll of the dice if he re-signs. May be more prudent to move him just to get something in return.
The real questions at the deadline is: What is the price for Laine?
If a team could trade-and-sign, like Vegas did with Stone, asking would be very high. Just the fact that he is an RFA will make the return significant. Conditions could be added to the trade making the return larger if Laine re-signs with the trade partner. Alternatively, signing Laine to a longer contract could have an impact in the free agent market as well as signalling to others on this roster that Columbus is committed to winning, not rebuilding.
Lots of stuff to ponder as we watch the on-ice product continue to flounder. I'm not counting them out yet, but I'm also not holding my breath. Tonight vs. DET, Thursday and Saturday at Dallas.
Good Luck and Go Jackets!