Going into this season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, there are many elements to the different teams that fans look forward to watching unfold on the ice. And now, with a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in game one, the Columbus Blue Jackets are coming into the playoffs with the entire hockey world on notice.
The Blue Jackets have always been a team that seemed to be in their own way and have had a hard time making a name for themselves. When the team acquired superstar forward Artemi Panarin in the summer of 2017, it gave the team a new identity. He was in promising company, joining boisterous head coach John Tortorella and elite talent with the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky (G), Cam Atkinson (RW), Josh Anderson (RW), Pierre-Luc Dubois (C), and Seth Jones (D). Although they fell short in last year’s playoffs, they proved that they were an up-and-up team that wouldn’t be as easy to overlook as they have been in the past.
However, its fair to say this team has had some drama this season. It hasn’t been as dramatic as The Bachelor or the Ottawa Senators by any means, but they had just enough to make people suspicious.
While they have some strong talent that will stay with them for years to come, their prized possession is obviously Panarin. The fact that he has 80+ points throughout his 2 year tenure with CBJ and his ability to make everyone around him better has him on most NHL teams’ wish list. He has declined a contract extension with CBJ stating that he wants to test free agency after this season – a strong indication that he will most likely not be part of CBJ’s future.
Sergei Bobrovsky is also set to become a free agent after this season and is likely to be gone as well. He has been a consistent, solid goaltender throughout his 7 year tenure with CBJ. It’s not everyday that teams have a generational talent like Panarin and a Vezina-winning goalie like Bobrovsky on their hands. Knowing all of that put the organization in a tough spot and left General Manager Jarmo Kekäläinen with an extremely difficult choice to make by the trade deadline: trade them or keep them.
There were strong rumblings that Kekäläinen would deal Panarin and Bobrovsky for assets, in lieu of risking losing both of them in free agency for nothing. Instead, Kekäläinen decided to go all in by keeping them and added even more firepower, acquiring Matt Duchene (C), Ryan Dzingel (C), Keith Kinkaid (G), and Adam McQaid (D) at the deadline. Whether it was a mistake to not move on from Panarin and Bobrovsky remains to be seen, but Kekäläinen’s message was clear: win now. With the pieces that they have, they should be able to. There really was no reason for Kekäläinen not to bet on this team.
I don’t believe CBJ have been as dominant as expected since all the buzz that surrounded them after the trade deadline. The sky is the limit for them and it’s as if they still haven’t hit their peak. They barely clinched the last Wild Card spot in the East beating out the Montreal Canadiens by 2 points, but that is what makes the playoffs more riveting, as they leave a lot to be desired.
CBJ and Tampa Bay will continue their series with Game 2 on Friday and, as we have seen in the past, the regular season and the playoffs could not be more different. While Tampa Bay and Columbus each have their share of impressive attributes on paper, anything can happen. Both teams have great goalies and star power to make it a very nitty-gritty series for spectators. Both teams have their work cut out for them being that the Bolts are the best team in the league and CBJ has yet to move beyond the first round of playoffs, making them a hungry team. Moreover, one thing for sure is that it is do or die for the Blue Jackets.
It is hard to say when another opportunity as grand as this will happen for them again; having this much depth. Whether or not they take advantage of it will be the key to how their season ends. It will either be deemed as The Greatest Risk Taken or The Biggest Fail.
The Blue Jackets Cannon is an ode to Ohio’s history and has become a fun tradition at their games. The Cannon fires when the game starts, when they score a goal, and when they win a game. Come Sunday April 14th, when they are back on home ice, they’ll look to keep that Cannon active.
What do you think will be the Blue Jackets’ fate? Tweet us: @puckitupblog.