The cold, hard truth of the Blue Jackets’ series loss to the Washington Capitals isn’t pleasant and portends a summer of seismic decisions for the franchise going forward.
First, the unwelcome reality:
The Jackets aren’t good enough to survive a first-round series against either the Penguins or Capitals, one or both of which they will most assuredly need to get past to get to the conference finals in the future.
We already knew, from the 2014 and 2016 playoffs, that Pittsburgh was far superior to the CBJ. Two series wins in six and then five games proved that.
Now, it’s apparent Washington also has our number. The Blue Jackets couldn’t win the series, couldn’t win a game, after stealing a 2-0 lead away from home with a pair of overtime victories.
Given that advantage, against a team with the Capitals’ previous playoff demons, the CBJ couldn’t shut the door, or even put its collective hand on the doorknob.
Washington led for 184 minutes in the six-game (almost seven, because of overtimes) series. The CBJ led for 20:47.
You can lie to yourself and say that four of the six games went to overtime, so the Jackets are close.
But the truth is the CBJ was seldom the better team over long shifts, aside from the final 10 minutes of Game 2, the third period of Game 5 and the first four minutes of Game 5 OT and Game 6.
Washington proved deeper down the roster, more talented at the top end and its coach made the right move to right the series (changing goaltenders late in Game 2), while John Tortorella flailed without impact.
Assessing Tortorella as the Blue Jackets’ coach is complicated.
He has righted the culture here after arriving early in the season three years ago with the team off to a winless start.
He has guided the Jackets to its first consecutive playoff appearances in franchise history.
He has quieted his volcanic eruptions that typified his time in New York and Vancouver that made his hiring here eyebrow-raising.
But there are reasons team management extended Tortorella’s contract by just one season after a 50-win, 100-point season in 2017.
Among them...is he the sort of coach whose impact wears thin the longer he coaches a roster?
It seemed so early this year when veterans Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky woefully underperformed.
All of those vets, save Dubinsky, eventually rediscovered their mojo.
Did Torts find a way to reach them, or did the Blue Jackets’ trade deadline deals provide the right mix to solve most of the veteran issues.
Tortorella has just one season remaining on his deal at a bargain rate.
Would he be willing to do what Washington’s Barry Trotz did this year -- coach the season and the playoffs with no future guarantee?
That’s for Torts and Jackets’ brass to sort through in what will be an interesting discussion.
Team management must also determine the future of Brandon Dubinsky.
Tortorella has at least outperformed his contract.
That's certainly not true of Dubinsky, whose spot on this roster is up for debate give that he's only halfway through a six-year, no-trade deal that will pay him $5.8 million through the 2020-21 season.
Given his production, or lack of it, this year and the fact he gained only four minutes of ice time in Game 6, Dubinsky appears a huge financial drain on the CBJ’s resources.
No one is taking him off the Blue Jackets’ hands at that rate of compensation, so the team must figure out how to restore Dubinsky, deal with the distraction he will continue to be if underperforming, or eat the deal and move on.
What about Bob?
Dubinsky’s money would come in handy if the Jackets decide Sergei Bobrovsky is worth the $10 million annual deal he’ll probably believe is merited after this season.
Bob was much more stout in these playoffs than he’s been in two previous first-round losses to the Penguins, but he wasn’t good enough to get the Jackets past Washington.
Is that his fault, or the fault of the players around him?
Uh, yes it is.
The fourth Washington goal in Game 6 that restored a two-goal Capitals' lead just as Nationwide started to believe a comeback from 3-2 would be possible...that’s a goal Bobrovsky must stop.
Then again, he made several phenomenal saves in a series where he was under siege throughout.
With deficiencies exposed in every area by the Capitals’ depth and talent, the Blue Jackets could theoretically plug some serious holes with the return they’d get from trading a two-time Vezina-winning goal-tender.
But trading Bobrovsky and turning the net over to Joonas Korpisalo is a move that, if it goes south, dooms the CBJ to seasons of playoff-free hockey.
Is it wiser to pay Bob and keep him, knowing he can get you to the post-season but may not be good enough to get you very far?
Or is it better save the money, bet on the kid, and use Bobrovsky’s star power to bring a robust haul of centers and forwards the likes of which Pittsburgh and Washington possess?
If you know those answers, go pick up your ringing telephone and share your wisdom with Blue Jackets head of hockey operations, John Davidson.
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