Columnists, Sports

Behind the Glass: A slump for Columbus now could mean no postseason play for the team

Matt Duchene playing for the Colorado Avalanche. Duchene was one of the players the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired at the trade deadline, along with Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuiad and Keith Kinkaid. COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The Columbus Blue Jackets definitely have more eyes on them as they barrel toward the postseason. In some of the biggest trades of the season, Columbus acquired forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, defenseman Adam McQuaid, goaltender Keith Kinkaid and a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft.

Adding some big names to the roster didn’t come without a price. General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen stacked draft picks and tossed them out, trading conditional first-round picks for the 2019 and 2020 drafts, second-round picks in 2020 and 2021, fourth and seventh-round picks for 2019 and, my personal favorite, a fifth-round pick in the 2022 draft, which was in exchange for 29-year-old Kinkaid.

With Kekalainen almost altogether abandoning the first two rounds of the next two drafts — unless the conditions aren’t met — it would be important to have at least some semblance of a guarantee for a successful couple of years.

Of course, there’s no way to actually guarantee that, so taking a gamble with these draft picks may be either the best or worst decision for the Blue Jackets. So far, the team’s season isn’t looking much better, but that doesn’t mean the trades can be immediately stamped as failures.

Following the Feb. 25 deadline, Columbus lost three of their next four games. Only one of those three teams was below them in the standings: the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers blanked Columbus, earning Edmonton goaltender Mikko Koskinen a 4-0 shutout. In that game, forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl notched three points apiece, and the Blue Jackets just couldn’t get on the board.

Despite having 12 points less than Columbus, the Oilers have been on somewhat of a hot streak, winning five of their last seven games.

The only win the Blue Jackets had in their first four games following the deadline was in overtime versus the Philadelphia Flyers, but there’s no reason to be discouraged by that. It’s not like Philadelphia is much further below Columbus, considering they occupy the spot directly below the Blue Jackets in the Metropolitan Division.

In the four games before the trade deadline, Columbus won two versus the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks, and lost two versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are by far the best team in the league right now, and the Montreal Canadiens.

Comparing this set of games to the set previously mentioned, Columbus seems to be doing just about the same if not slightly worse than they were before the deadline.

But there’s no reason to panic yet.

First, there has only been a handful of games since the trade deadline, so it’s impossible to see how successful the team will be in this last leg of the regular season. There’s going to be an adjustment period, especially when players are traded at the deadline.

It will just be a matter of how long that adjustment period is and whether or not the team will be able to scrape together wins in time to make the postseason. Columbus doesn’t need this new crop of players to work miracles for the team, but they do need consistent, cohesive play.

The Blue Jackets are currently popping in and out of the Eastern Conference wild card spot, battling with teams including Montreal and Pittsburgh to make it into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Now is an important part of the season when digging a hole with repeated losses may end in a team being eliminated from postseason play.

Columbus has a tough schedule ahead in the final month of the regular season. The Blue Jackets will be playing teams including the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins, who are all currently occupying either first or second in their respective divisions.

If they want to secure a spot in the playoffs, they’ll need to start securing wins against these tough teams now.

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