It’s no secret the Columbus Blue Jackets are struggling. They’ve won only twice in their last 14 games and have been shut out three times in their last 5. After competing for a playoff spot for the first 50-55 games of the season, the Blue Jackets’ season dropped off the proverbial cliff to the point that they’re battling to hold onto the 12th spot in the Western Conference. Obviously, that’s not as exciting as battling for the 8th.
After the Blue Jackets’ shutout loss in Phoenix, the team leaders had enough. According to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline, the leaders on the team held a players-only meeting after the game to explain that quitting on the season was not an option. It’s about time someone said something.
“…veterans hold players-only meeting after 3-0 loss [to] Coyotes. R.J. Umberger and Rick Nash did the talking, but Umberger had last word.
CBJ captain Rick Nash: “Anybody who thinks we don’t have a lot to play for over these last eight games … that’s a pretty bad attitude.”
This brings up a difficult situation that teams go through every year. The Blue Jackets were a competitive team earlier this season and had visions of returning to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. The organization hoped that last year was simply an aberration; hoping the team would bounce back stronger after an off year. If last year was a step back, this year would be two steps forward.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned out that way.
Instead, the single season in the playoffs looks like the outlier. Columbus has struggled greatly down the stretch and has looked like a team without a clear direction. That’s understandable for an expansion team—but the Blue Jackets are now in their 10th season. Ten full seasons and they’re still looking for their first ever playoff win. Clearly that isn’t happening this year.
Aside from the porous play that led to the players-only meeting, it’s good to see the leaders stepping up and doing something about the team’s downward spiral. The coach can tell the players that they’re playing for their jobs next season. He can tell them that they’re playing to set the tone for the offseason and the 2011-12 season. But when it comes from the leaders in the locker room, there’s a better chance it will reach receptive ears and make an impression.
The truth is the Blue Jackets are the staring at a tough offseason filled with some tougher questions. Scottie Upshall, Ethan Moreau, Jan Hejda, and Craig Rivet are all unrestricted free agents at the end of the season that the team will need to decide on. More importantly, big-time contributors Jakub Voracek, Grant Clitsome, Marc Methot, Sami Lepisto, and Anton Stralman are all restricted free agents who will all receive raises on their next contracts. With that many players up in the air for next season, GM Scott Howson will need to make some hard decisions on the future of the team.
Do the Blue Jackets want to continue with the current group they have in the locker room or do they want to shake things up and turn the roster over? The last few games will go a long way towards making Howson’s decision. If the team shows some heart, it makes it easier for the GM to keep the core players together and make a few peripheral changes to help improve the team. If they continue to lay down for the rest of the season, it will be a tough sell to the fans that this group will ever be able to win on a consistent basis.
For their part, Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger are showing the leadership every team would want. Now we’ll see if they have the type of team that is willing to follow their leaders. If they aren’t willing over the last few weeks of the season, there’s no reason to think they will next season.