Give the Columbus Blue Jackets this. They don’t wait around to dive right back into the dumpster that they’ve lived in for their entire existence. No hope for whatever is left of their fanbase, no annoying stories about how things are turning around that come straight from the PR department, no leaving anyone hanging that there could be a winter worth watching, much less a spring. It is what it’s been and will be and everyone can go about their lives, such as it is in Columbus, Ohio.
The Jackets are already cut adrift in the Eastern Conference, with 12 points when everyone else has at least 17, 19 games into the season. This was after they were cut adrift last season, finishing bottom of the East and tied for second-worst in the NHL. It was supposed to be better, because the Jackets took that team and added Adam Fanitilli, one of the most prized prospects to come into the league in some time. Just doing that was supposed to mean better things.
Head coach Pascal Vincent has definitely picked his targets on who is to blame:
Vincent backed that up by sitting Laine’s ass in the pressbox the next game, making him a healthy scratch. And it’s well earned. Two goals in nine games, a 40 percent xG share when on the ice, career lows in shots, expected goals and attempts per game. A ghost most every night.
But here’s the thing: Any coach or front office that thinks Patrik Laine was an answer to any important question has already lost. Patrik Laine is and has always been a hood ornament. He’s empty calories. He’s the captain of the “Yeah But Who Gives A Sh*t All-Stars.” He puts up his 25-30 goals per season, and then the day the season is over every fan realizes they can’t remember any of them. Anyone notice he’s never played a game that mattered for the Jackets since arriving? That’s not a coincidence.
Laine has always floated around the outside of the offensive zone waiting for someone to hit him with a cross-seam pass so he could score. He doesn’t forecheck well, he’s not a great passer, nor is he interested in being so. And don’t even worry about his effort in the defensive zone, because he there isn’t any.
He could get away with that in Winnipeg, at least to start his career, because that top six was so loaded with Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Conner, Nikolaj Ehlers and Bryan Little that they could do the work for him. They could hit those passes that Laine needed to remind everyone that he actually existed and could bury a chance if presented with one. He has rarely created his own shot.
But there’s none of that in Columbus, especially since the one guy they had who might have thought about it, Pierre-Luc Dubois, was traded for Laine (and just how good Dubois is is another debate). But playing in Columbus allows just about anyone to shirk responsibility without anyone noticing. That’s how people get surprised when Laine ends up a healthy scratch, because it’s a name they recognize from the past, but haven’t actually watched in years.
The Jackets must’ve thought they solved part of this when they signed Gaudreau in the summer of 2022. Gaudreau can do all the puck-handling. Gaudreau can find those passes to a stationary Laine. He had even played games that mattered for Calgary and showed up big when he did. Well, Gaudreau hasn’t been any better than Laine. Same career lows in all those categories mentioned above, 7 points in 19 games. This was a guy who put up 115 points in his last season with the Flames. He had 74 playing with no one last season in Columbus.
The joke from Flames fans, and a bunch of other fans of teams that Johnny Hockey didn’t sign with either, was that Gaudreau just wanted to play and live in anonymity for the rest of his prime. Just wanted to be in the background, be scenery while raking in the dough. Wasn’t up for hockey that mattered in a place where it matters. In truth, there are plenty of reasons the New Jersey-born Gaudreau would want to play close to home and/or leave Canada’s version of West Texas in Calgary. But when you’re getting benched for the third period for a team carrying the conference’s wooden spoon while not even managing a point every two games, it doesn’t pass the smell test.
But this is Columbus, where nothing that matters ever happens. Vincent is certainly not above reproach, because it’s pretty glaring when Fanitilli is playing less at even-strength than Boone Jenner, averaging only 11 minutes at 5-on-5 (for comparison’s sake, Connor Bedard is averaging over 14 minutes and Leo Carlsson is averaging over 13). Especially when Fanitilli has the best metrics among the forwards. What do they need to see more of Boone Goddamn Jenner for?
This is the world that Jarmo Kekalainen has created, in his 84 years as GM or whatever it is now. There isn’t enough of anything on this roster, and there hasn’t been. This was the dope who borked the season before it began by hiring dinosaur Mike Babcock and then having to fire him before the season even started because he acted like a dinosaur. And depending on Laine to provide answers, when his whole game has been based on ducking that and taking shortcuts, is exactly how you end up in the toilet that the Jackets can’t escape.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social