Michael Arace commentary: Time is now for Jackets to show what they’re worth
There were 19 scouts jamming the press box in Nationwide Arena for the Blue Jackets-San Jose Sharks game last night. Only once have there been more scouts in the building, and that was for the 2007 NHL draft.
There are a number of reasons for a legion of bird dogs to be in the building. Columbus is an attractive venue for scouts, as it is centrally located. It was a weekday night light on games. The Sharks will not be this close to East Coast-based scouts for the rest of the season. The Blue Jackets will not play another home game until Feb. 26. The pregame meal in the press room is invariably excellent.
There is also this: Trading season arrives early in a 48-game schedule, and the Jackets have been hovering around the bottom of the Western Conference in points.
The vultures are circling, in other words.
The night previous, the Jackets outshot the Edmonton Oilers 40-14, out-chanced them by a two-to-one margin — and lost. It dropped their record to 3-7-2 and their goal differential to minus-15, tied for worst in the league.
Last night, the Jackets played their best game of the season. They whipped the Sharks 6-2 before an intermittently stunned and euphoric crowd of 10,837. The hard-working, hard-forechecking system the team has been prattling on about was suddenly on display.
Maybe it was some sort of payback for the inglorious defeats the Jackets have suffered at the Sharks’ hands over the years. Maybe it had something to do with a sudden and surprising deficiency in the Sharks, 0-3-2 in their past five games. Maybe the Jackets should invite 19 scouts to every game.
In any case, the whole scene provided much food for thought.
The season is 25 percent over, and the Jackets are a longer shot to make the playoffs than they were on opening night. They have a decent stable of young players, but nothing high-end, as evidenced by their intense struggle to score.
The question is this: Who are they? The Jackets were outscored 26-9 in seven regulation losses over their first 12 games. Is that them? They looked good against Edmonton on Sunday night, and they looked terrific last night. Which version is the true blue?
“It’s on us to decide,” winger Nick Foligno said. “We’re all proud guys. We don’t want to be one of those teams that packs its bags up in April. What are we, four points out (of the playoffs)? That’s just a streak. I’ve seen it happen before, and it can happen here — we’ve just got to play the right way.”
More clues will be provided on the upcoming six-game trip, which begins on Friday at Los Angeles. If the reconstituted Jackets want to show they are making headway toward changing a culture of comfortable losing, now is the time. If they like their team, they must show it.
“I think we’re starting to change the culture,” Foligno said. “I think there is an attitude change. There is some fresh blood in here, and with the coaching staff and with John Davidson (the new president of hockey operations), we’re all addressing it. I think we’re starting to see the true colors of the Columbus Blue Jackets.”
A good case can be made, still, for more change. That is one reason why there were so many scouts in the building. If the Jackets are still bottoming out, they might be willing to move some veterans — and, certainly, some hefty contracts, if they can. It might behoove them to further cleanse the locker room.
Chicago did it, Pittsburgh did it, St. Louis is deep in the process, Edmonton is in an earlier stage. They all dragged bottom, drafted high, collected high-end assets and developed their talent. The Jackets are half-in this process, and it will not be long before we know whether they are in with both feet.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.