Give the Columbus Blue Jackets that. They’re not waiting to dive back into the trash can they’ve lived in their entire existence. There’s no hope for what’s left of their fanbase, no disturbing stories about how things turned out coming straight from the PR department, leaving no one hanging on whether there might be a winter worth watching, let alone a spring. This is what it was and what it will be, and everyone can go about their lives, as is the case in Columbus, Ohio.
The Jackets have already made the cut in the Eastern Conference, with 12 points while everyone else has at least 17, 19 games on the season. This was after they went off the rails last season, finishing last in the East and tied for second-worst in the NHL. It was supposed to be better, because the Jackets took this team and added Adam Vanitelli, one of the hottest prospects to come into the league in some time. Just doing that was supposed to mean better things.
Head coach Pascal Vincent has certainly chosen his targets on who to blame:
Vincent backed that up by putting Laine’s ass in the press box in the next match, earning him a healthy scratch. And she earned well. Two goals in nine games, an xG share of 40 percent when on the ice, and lowest points in shots, goals and expected attempts per game. Ghost most every night.
But here’s the thing: Any coach or front office who thought Patrik Laine was the answer to any important question has already lost. Patrick Laine was and still is a hood ornament. It’s empty calories. He’s the leader of the “Yes But Who Gives All the Stars” team. He scores 25-30 goals every season, and then the day the season ends, every fan realizes they can’t remember any of them. Has anyone noticed that he’s never played a game of interest for the Jackets since he arrived? This is not a coincidence.
Len was always floating outside the attacking area waiting for someone to hit him with a cross so he could score. He doesn’t scan well, he’s not a good passer, nor is he interested in being one. And don’t worry about his effort in the defensive zone, because there isn’t any.
He could get away with that in Winnipeg, at least to start his career, because that top six was so full of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Conner, Nikolai Ehlers and Brian Little that they could do the work for him. They can make those passes that Len needs to remind everyone that he is really there and can bury a chance if given one. He rarely created his own shot.
But there’s none of that in Columbus, especially since the only guy they had who might have thought about it, Pierre-Luc Dubois, was traded for Laine (and how good Dubois was is another debate). But playing in Columbus allows almost anyone to evade responsibility without anyone noticing. This is how people are surprised when Laine ends up a healthy scratch, because it’s a name they know from the past, but haven’t actually seen in years.
The Jackets must have thought they had solved part of that problem when they signed Gaudreau in the summer of 2022. Gaudreau can do all the puck handling. Gaudreau can find those steady passes to Laine. He also played games that mattered to Calgary and came up big when he did so. Well, Goudreau was no better than Lane. Same career highs in all those categories above, 7 points in 19 games. This was the guy who scored 115 points in his final season with the Flames. He played 74 games with no one last season in Columbus.
The joke from Flames fans, and a host of other fans of teams that Johnny Hockey didn’t sign with, was that Gaudreau just wanted to play and live in anonymity for the rest of his presidency. I just wanted to be in the background, and be a spectacle while I mixed the dough. It wasn’t for hockey that mattered where it mattered. In fact, there are plenty of reasons why the New Jersey-born Gaudreau might want to play closer to home and/or leave Canada’s version of West Texas in Calgary. But when you sit on the bench in the third period for a team holding the conference wooden spoon while not even getting a point in every two games, it doesn’t pass the smell test.
But this is Columbus, where nothing important ever happens. Vincent is certainly not above suspicion, as Vanitelli very clearly plays with less intensity than Boone Jenner, averaging just 11 minutes at 5v5 (for comparison’s sake, Connor Bedard is averaging over 14 minutes and Leo Karlsson is) on average. More than 13). Especially when Vanitelli has the best metrics among strikers. What do they need to see more of Boone Goddamn Jenner?
This is the world that Jarmo Kekalainen created, during his 84 years as GM or whatever he is now. There’s not enough of anything on this list, and there never was. This was the drug that rocked the season before it started with the hiring of the dinosaur Mike Babcock and Then having to fire him Even before the season started because he acted like a dinosaur. And relying on Laine to provide answers, when his entire game is based on avoiding that and taking shortcuts, is exactly what ends up in the toilet that the Jackets can’t escape.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social