Give it to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They are not waiting to dive back into the garbage can they have lived in their entire existence. No hope for whatever is left of their fans, no annoying stories about how things turn out straight from the PR department, no one left hanging that there might be a winter worth watching not, much less a spring. It is what it was and will be and everyone can get on with their lives, as it is in Columbus, Ohio.
The Jackets are already tied in the Eastern Conference, with 12 points when everyone is at least 17, 19 games into the season. This was after they were cut last season, finishing at the 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 coveted prospects to come into the league in a while. Just doing that was supposed to mean better things.
Head coach Pascal Vincent has certainly picked his targets on who is to blame:
Vincent backed it up by putting Laine’s ass in the press box in the next game, making him a healthy scratch. And it is well deserved. 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 hooded ornament. He has empty calories. He is the captain of the “Yeah But Who Gives A Sh*t All-Stars.” He scores his 25-30 goals a season, and then the day the season is over, every fan realizes they can’t remember any of them. Anyone notice that he has never played a game that mattered for the Jackets since arriving? It is no 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 predict well, he isn’t a good passer, nor is he interested in being one. And don’t even worry about his effort in the defensive zone, because he’s not there.
He could get away with it 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 job for him. They were able to hit those passes that Laine needed to remind everyone that he actually existed and could bury a chance if he got one. He 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 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 lands a healthy scratch, because it’s a name they recognize from the past, but haven’t actually looked at in years.
The Jackets must have thought they solved some 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 even played games that mattered for Calgary and came up big when he did. Well, Gaudreau was no better than Laine. Same career lows in all the categories mentioned above, 7 points in 19 games. This was a guy who put up 115 points in his final season with the Flames. He didn’t play with anyone last season in Columbus 74.
The joke from Flames fans, and a bunch of other fans of teams 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, being scenic while raking in the dough. Wasn’t in the mood for hockey that matters in a place where it matters. Truth be told, there are plenty of reasons why the New Jersey-born Gaudreau might want to play close to home and/or leave Canada’s version of West Texas in Calgary. But when you sit on the bench for the third period for a team that carries the conference’s wooden spoon while you don’t even get 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, as it is quite noticeable when Fanitilli is playing less at even strength than Boone Jenner, averaging only 11 minutes at 5-on-5 (for comparison, Connor Bedard is averaging over 14 minutes and Leo Carlsson is average over 13). Especially if 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 list, and there never was. It was the dope that the season before it started bork by hiring dinosaur Mike Babcock and then he should fire him before the season even started because he acted like a dinosaur. And depending on Laine to provide answers, when his entire game is based on dodging it and taking shortcuts, is exactly how you end up in the toilet the Jackets can’t escape.
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