Adam Fantilli, Columbus Blue Jackets, Commentary, Jarmo Kekalainen, Kent Johnson, Pascal Vincent

Blue Jackets Key Decisions Have Shattered Trust With Fanbase

Another game, another blown multi-goal lead. This time, the Blue Jackets saw a 3-0 third period lead disappear in under seven minutes.

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To their credit, the Blue Jackets were able to gather themselves enough to not allow another goal in the third period. That secured them at least a point. However, they never touched the puck in overtime and the game was over in 33 seconds.

Drew Doughty scored to lift the Los Angeles Kings to a 4-3 overtime win over the Blue Jackets. The win propelled the Kings to an NHL-record tying 10-0-0 road record to start their season. They turned it on in the third period and the Blue Jackets were too nervous to do anything about it. Our Nick Arnold shared his three takeaways from the game.

Related: 3 Takeaways from Blue Jackets 4-3 Loss to the Kings

This game was the latest in a long line of games in which the Blue Jackets held a lead in the game before finding a way to lose. How different would the narrative be if they secured just a few extra wins out of these games? We’d be discussing a playoff race rather than them being in last place in the Eastern Conference by points percentage.

That’s where this column is going to focus on. The Blue Jackets have played well enough in spurts in which they shouldn’t be in last place in their conference. But the fact is they are and the blown leads are a significant factor in that outcome.

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The truth of the matter is this mess started before the season. While the Blue Jackets play again on Thursday, Friday and again on Sunday, they will have opportunities to win and get the season back on track.

But an evaluation of some key decisions at different levels of the team have directed contributed to the Blue Jackets being where they are. As a result, fans have had enough. What little trust there was at the start of the season is mostly gone now. It’s going to be up to the team to earn it back. That won’t be easy.

Shattered Trust

Let’s go back to the end of last season to set the scene. The Blue Jackets endured an injury-plagued season that saw them out of contention in November. It ultimately cost head coach Brad Larsen his job. GM Jarmo Kekalainen called it a move that was absolutely necessary.

Then the Blue Jackets took their time in interviewing coaching candidates. They ultimately landed on Mike Babcock. That situation was well documented. He didn’t even make it to training camp.

The Blue Jackets had to act quickly to get a coach in place. Enter Pascal Vincent. He was there as an associate coach so he had familiarity of the situation. He said at his introductory press conference that he wanted to have a team Columbus could be proud of.

Can anyone honestly say they’re proud of what they’re seeing on the ice right now?

Pascal Vincent Columbus Blue Jackets
Pascal Vincent eventually wants a team fans can be proud of. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sure, team building is a process and it takes time. But when the same thing happens over and over again with the same results, tough questions have to be asked. No one should be proud of a team that’s in the basement of the standings. We’re much closer to having an in-depth conversation about what Macklin Celebrini would bring to the Blue Jackets than anything in regards to a playoff race.

How can any fan say they fully trust what they’re seeing from the players, coaches and management? While it’s definitely not fair to single one person out when it’s a complete disaster, everyone on the team shares in it. That’s just the reality. While there are some fans who see some progress such as good play for two periods and some individual performances, the expectation was set as soon as Kekalainen said “we always expect to compete for the playoffs.”

Had management said this is a rebuild and set reasonable expectations, we’re having a different conversation right now. But what is the Blue Jackets’ direction? What steps have they taken to be an annual playoff contender? Based on the team’s performance, it’s fair to question where the team is currently going. Without a clear and concise direction, trust with the fans has been shattered and may even be irreparable at this point.

Effect of Key Decisions

As stated above, the issues facing the Blue Jackets lie at the feet of everyone top-to-bottom with no exclusions. Everyone has a responsibility to be better at their job. If everyone can finally start doing their job, perhaps we’ll see some progress.

For the players, it comes down to execution. They score the goals. They make the plays. They make the on-ice decisions that directly lead to outcomes. It’s also on them to not play scared when the third period starts. Had they played the third on Tuesday against the Kings like they did the first 40 minutes, we’d be discussing the Blue Jackets being the team to finally defeat the Kings and their road record. But alas, their nervousness was on full display for everyone to see and the result was another crushing loss to add to the scores of crushing losses they’ve had this season.

For the coaches, it comes down to gameplan and deployment. Why on earth are Adam Fantilli, Kent Johnson and David Jiricek stapled to the bench in the third period? Coach Vincent did say he was concerned about matchups. The Kings definitely had an influence on that. But these players are the future of the Blue Jackets. We’re talking third overall, fifth overall and sixth overall in the last three NHL Drafts. What is the actual benefit of them watching the game especially when they played well in their limited ice time?

Vincent said the team as painful as it can be must go through these things to learn. Isn’t benching your top prospects the exact opposite of going through these things to learn? Again, what is the direction here? If nothing else, the Blue Jackets should feature these three players. Let them learn what it takes to be in the NHL. What has been tried with trusting others hasn’t worked. The record speaks for itself.

For management, they make the decisions as to who to sign among many other things. The Babcock hiring blew up in their face. That shattered trust. Several signings are not working out as intended. That’s breaking trust too. How much leeway does management get especially when you consider their lack of previous results? One playoff round win and one bubble-round win since 2013. Changes would have been made in other markets a long time ago with these kind of results.

But not in Columbus. That leads us straight to the top. Ownership is absolutely in on this one too. They get the ultimate say in who leads the team. They’ve stuck with this current management group. Their action or lack there of could ultimately have massive effects on the Blue Jackets down the road.

Many fans are already fed up and have stopped going to games. Some are thinking about joining them. What about the players? Do they want to be part of a team in which consistent losing is a thing?

Columbus Blue Jackets Starting Lineup
Consistent losing wears on everyone which has shattered trust with fans. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While it’s respectable for ownership to allow hockey people to do their job in a hands off approach, there are times where they need to be more visible. This seems to be one of those times, no?

Ownership did release a statement indicating not anticipating any further changes at this time. That was at the beginning of the season. What about now? Are they on track to meet the goals set out? Being in 30th place likely will fall massively short of those goals.

Trust Hasn’t Been Earned

The Blue Jackets being where they are in the standings is a result of key decisions at all levels of the team. This has shattered the trust of many loyal fans who have been around since the beginning. They deserve much better than what the decision makers have given them.

Can this broken trust be fixed? It’s not impossible and it will take many wins and results to get there. But it will take a lot of hard work to start the process. The issue is it might not even be repairable.

It’s the NHL. Results matter, not moral victories. The fact remains the Blue Jackets haven’t accomplished anything of substance to earn the overall trust of the fans. They don’t seem that close to getting on the right road either.

It’s just business as usual in Columbus. If they want progress, this must change whatever it takes.

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