The Blue Jackets rollercoaster ride of a season is at the one-third mark with a record of 10-14-3. They have yet to play with a full, healthy roster. Sitting five points out of third place in the Metropolitan Division, they have not found the consistency that will see them climb the standings. What will it take to get their game in gear and see them start winning on a regular basis?
Thirteen months into his tenure with the club, Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson recently took the time address the addition of players, the inconsistent play of the team, tackled the “Captain” question and looked ahead to Nathan Horton’s return to the ice.
With the addition of Corey Tropp (claimed off waivers from Buffalo) on Thanksgiving Day, was this an “insurance” call in light of the injuries? Or, was this a way to spark something within the dressing room?
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“It’s a call to help us now,” said Davidson, “because we do have injuries, there’s no question. He’s a young player at 24 years of age and we see upside there. So, it will be up to Corey to see how he plays. He’s on a two-way contract, so if we don’t like what we see, we know what will happen (sent to Springfield). But, if we like what we see, and there’s good upside there, then we’ll just see where it all goes. But, we definitely needed help with the five injuries to forwards.”
With the team being the youngest in the league, does he think the up-and-down, inconsistent play part of the maturation process?
“Yes and no,” he said. “I think there are a number of factors here. One is the youth of the team, for sure. We’re very, very young. And, we have a lot of young players getting ice time, which is how you get better. Two, the other night against Nashville (a 4-0 loss), we had six players out. It’s very difficult to be consistently good when you have that many people out of the lineup.
“Third, I know that was a long road trip (5 games in 9 days, 6000+ miles) and that was the first game home from the road trip. We got in at two in the morning and they’re playing a day later. It was a trap game and it just wasn’t going to happen. But, I would like to see much better play. For instance, the way they played in Edmonton (7-0 loss) was downright awful.
“So, we have to get to what we do best and what we did best last season. That is, keep the puck out of the net and give ourselves a chance to win. And, try to find a way to be a lot more consistent in the way we play. The rollercoaster is just too high and too low.”
He was quick to answer whether it’s a detriment to the guys in the room not having a captain.
“No,” Davidson said, “it means nothing. Last year when we went 19-5-5 to finish the season, nobody said a word about it. So, that’s enough said. We feel that we have good people in our room. We have good communication among our leadership group, which is a number of players, and the coaching staff.
“I know that when we don’t do well, it’s something for people to latch on to and ask the question. It’s understandable. But it is funny how nobody said a word last season when we finished as strong as we did in the last 29 games.”
The play of defenseman Ryan Murray has been of a caliber that many have to remind themselves that he is only a rookie in the NHL with only 27 games at this level under his belt. The upside to this kid as he gains more experience is a bright spot in the future of the franchise.
“He’s very young, has great poise and has a very bright future,” Davidson said. “His computer, the quickness of his mind and his ‘hockey sense’ is very strong. He’s playing well with (James) Wisniewski, they make a good pair. The upside is huge with this young man. He’s a good, polished kid. He’s going to have some nights that are not as strong as others because he’s a rookie. It’s been great to watch him.
“Boone Jenner is a young player who cares about his game and understands the game very well. He, too, has had a couple of quiet games. But he understands that, understands his game and provides energy. He’ll be a player that will make more ‘puck plays’ as he matures and gets a little bit older and little bit faster.
“They are two very good young players, of a number of young people that we have. We have a huge amount of young people getting a lot of quality ice time here. And, we’re going to go through that process. We’re not going to cut any corners. I don’t care what happens, this is what you have to go through to become a better team.”
With the return/debut of off-season free agent acquisition Nathan Horton entering the home stretch, what does he foresee from him contributing to the team?
“I’m excited”, said Davidson. “This isn’t going to be instantaneous offense. He’s a good quality player. We’ve got to make sure that he’s 100 percent before he plays. Kind of like Matt Calvert. Matty Calvert came back (from injury), played two great games and hit the wall against Nashville, like a lot of our players did that night. But he flat-out hit the wall. It was like a big cement wall he ran into.
“So Horton, when he comes back after not playing for so long, and he’s a smart player and a good pro, it’s not going to be real easy for him to get into the stride he needs to get into. But, that’s what we have, that’s where we have to go and that’s what we have to live with.”
These are the growing pains of a franchise that is taking the correct steps to become better and more consistent. While it might not sit well with a large portion of the fan base, the realization has to come that Davidson knows a thing or two about building a franchise the proper way. One only has to look at what he did with the St. Louis Blues to know that the future is bright in Columbus.
Patience, as preached by Davidson, will pay dividends in the long-term health of the Blue Jackets.