Blue Jackets hockey operations chief John Davidson, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and the rest of the team’s brain trust are going to ride this out. That is their posture. Maybe it is the smart move.
“Nobody is in a position where he should feel this is a cemented roster, because it’s not,” Davidson said on Friday. “We’re trying to find ways to be better in the long term. If we find something, we’ll do it. But we’re not just going to stick a finger in the dike.”
The Jackets lost 7-0 at Edmonton on Tuesday. They won 2-1 in overtime at Calgary on Wednesday. They lost 6-2 at Vancouver on Friday. Their dike is curiously engineered.
The Blue Jackets (8-12-3) were tied for seventh place with the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division, the NHL’s weakest, entering last night. They will complete their longest trip of the season — five games over nine days — at Toronto on Monday. It has been an all-Canada trip and, throughout the hockey-mad provinces, there have been whispers about coach Todd Richards’ job security.
Richards can coach. We saw it last season. That is the way the brain trust is looking at things now. Although the losses at Edmonton and Vancouver were embarrassing, Richards is not in serious trouble. That is the vibe I am getting, anyway. He will not be judged on the basis of seven spotty weeks.
Richards is 50-50-12 with the Blue Jackets. Even using the hot-seat measure in Columbus — where coaches are fired after 157.3 games, on average — he still has some leash. He deserves the slack. Think about what he inherited from Scott Arniel, who was one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history. Richards is not far enough removed from last season’s 19-5-5 finish to determine whether it was a mirage.
“We knew going into this season that we would have to wait for Nathan Horton,” Davidson said. “We knew a bunch of injuries could hurt us. But you can’t go and make a short-term decision that is going to hurt you long term. We haven’t had a chance to look at the team when it is healthy, not yet.”
Davidson, Kekalainen and company are going to hold on with white knuckles until Horton, a ballyhooed free-agent acquisition who is coming off shoulder surgery, is ready to play. They are going to toboggan through an early-season injury wave and take a harder look at the roster when Horton is in the lineup, which will be sometime next month, or in January.
“We have a very young hockey club, when you look at it, and we need to progress,” Davidson said. “We’re in the race — primarily because of the way the division is shaping up — and we haven’t seen our best hockey yet. What we need now is for more players to get into the groove we expected them to be in. We could make a trade, but it doesn’t make any sense in our situation. We’re trying to build something.”
They want to add some veteran presence, but if they swing a trade, it will not be a major one. They will not be moving young assets or prospects or draft picks, because they are still collecting them. They continue to take stock of Ryan Johansen and Ryan Murray, who are stepping forward, and Cam Atkinson, who is backpedaling.
Of late, the Blue Jackets have been woefully inconsistent. At the same time, they have nine points in their past eight games, and they remain within striking distance of second place in the sorry Metro. The brass is going to stand fast.
“Our goal is to be a strong hockey club for a long time to come,” Davidson said. “We also want to get into the playoffs, and we have that opportunity — and we want to have that opportunity again and again and again. That’s what we’re looking for. We may well get in, but we need more from our people. We all need to be committed to improvement. The bottom line is, we don’t just plan on making the playoffs, we want a team that can win.”
Davidson has been on the job for 396 days, Kekalainen for 252 days. If they want to take a more-deliberate approach and stand behind their team right now, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. Blue Jackets fans are fully versed in knee-jerk reactions, and it might be time to sample the alternative.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.