Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen wants his team to be written off this year, following the loss of some of his most important players.
After being eliminated by the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the playoffs’ second round last season, things went all downhill. Their last position in the playoffs marked the furthest they’ve ever been in the postseason and there was hope that the team could be kept together. However, some of the most key players have opted to move on, leaving the team in as poor a state as it’s been in a while.
The Blue Jackets lost one of the NHL’s biggest producers in winger Artemi Panarin, who joined the New York Rangers, while goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky signed with the Florida Panthers. Center Matt Duchene also showed his back and is now with the Nashville Predators, and the Carolina Hurricanes have since gotten forward Ryan Dzingel to join them.
The team made one of the biggest gambles in recent league history when they kept Panarin and Bobrovsky amid strong signals that they would leave during free agency this summer. And they lost several picks in order to acquire one-year rentals in Duchene, Dzingel, goalkeeper Keith Kinkaid and defenseman Adam McQuaid.
The risks paid off as Columbus made it as far as they’ve ever been in the playoffs but, as it relates to their immediate future, the bold moves now seem regrettable.
Kekalainen, though, is fully confident in the team and loves that they’re being written off.
“Yeah, I like that. Let's have all the people write us off,” the GM told ESPN in an interview. “That's perfect motivation for our group.
“We made the playoffs three years in a row. In the last three years, there are four teams with more wins in the regular season than we had. The year before Panarin arrived, we had 108 points. We didn't have Pierre Luc-Dubois then, for example. And we didn't have Duchene or Dzingel until the deadline, and we were in the playoffs. Our core group -- the guys that wanted to be here, the guys that wanted to win with the Blue Jackets - they're all here.”
While he admits that there’s no direct replacement for Panarin, not even league-wide, he reckons the squad could work together to fill the void left by the 27-year-old.
“There's not a player that can replace Panarin one-for-one,” he added. “Not too many around the league can. We're going to have to do it by committee. And there's going to be a lot of players hungry for that ice time that he's going to leave open.”
It appears that the bookies are among those who have written the Blue Jackets off ahead of next season and Betway is offering 25/1 odds on them winning the Metropolitan Division. If you’re having any difficulty finding a trustworthy sportsbook, definitely head to https://bestsportsbooks.ca/; they’ve got you covered.
Meanwhile, Bet365 has Columbus’ chances of conquering the Eastern Conference at 22/1, with the Tampa Bay Lightning considered to be the favorites at 16/5 with Paddy Power. William Hill has the Toronto Maple Leafs at 5/1. The Lighting is also favored to win the Stanley Cup next season, with Betfair offering 7/1 odds on their chances while the Blue Jackets are way back at 50/1 with 888sport.
The team’s GM could be applauded for his optimism but he’s likely well aware that even making the playoffs next term is much easier said than done.