Sun. May 26th, 2024

Just five games into the 2023-24 season, the Columbus Blue Jackets look dramatically different than they did all of last season. While it’s still early, it’s easy to see why.

The Blue Jackets did earn their third win of the season Saturday night against the Minnesota Wild 5-4 in overtime. It marked the first time that the Blue Jackets had more wins than losses in their record since March 2022 when they were 32-28-3 at that point of their season.

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On the second night of back-to-back, the Blue Jackets registered over 50 shots on goal and dominated possession against a team they’ve traditionally had a tough time with in the Wild. They looked fast all night. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any stretch. But it was one in which the team deserved to win and found a way to do so.

New Look Blue Jackets

The reason these Blue Jackets are different isn’t because of Saturday night’s result. They’re different in part because their roster is much different now than it was in Game 82 last season.

Why is it so much different? Besides the obvious of knowing changes needed to be made on the roster, they’re different because there is a level of accountability going through this team.

Head coach Pascal Vincent has said that there will be accountability while they work on improving the culture around the team. But not just accountability, hard accountability in which everyone takes notice.

Pascal Vincent has shown a willingness to make tough decisions for accountability sake. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Why this elevates to a new level is because of the willingness of Vincent and the Blue Jackets to do what they’ve done. What have they done to this point?

Two recent mainstays in Eric Robinson and Liam Foudy were non-rostered and placed on waivers. Robinson cleared and was assigned to the Cleveland Monsters. Foudy was claimed by the Nashville Predators. They were each waived due to the need for a roster spot. Who supplanted them?

Mathieu Olivier and David Jiricek.

Olivier was on injured reserve but couldn’t return until a roster move was made. Robinson was ultimately the hard choice the Blue Jackets made. He had plenty of opportunities to make an impression. While he did play in Game 1 of the season, Robinson didn’t show enough in their sight. The team ultimately decided what Olivier brought was more valuable to them at that time.

As for Jiricek, his play did the talking. Since coming up to the Blue Jackets when Zach Werenski was injured, he’s played well. He’s played well enough that the team was willing to waive their former 2018 first-round pick in Foudy.

Think of the possible options the Blue Jackets could have done instead of waiving Foudy. They could have assigned Jiricek back to Cleveland. They could have assigned another waivers-exempt player to Cleveland. They could have completed a trade of another player. They didn’t do any of that. They made the tough decision of exposing Foudy.

Then factor in the other changes made in the offseason. It adds up to a different-looking Blue Jackets team. However, the story of accountability is just getting started.

No One is Excluded

True accountability happens when everyone from top-to-bottom is subject to the same standard. These Blue Jackets just five games in have already shown that they are using the same standard when holding guys accountable.

Look no further than with Damon Severson. His turnover last Monday against the Detroit Red Wings put the game out of reach. What did Vincent do? He planted Severson and his $50 million contract on the bench for the third period.

Think of how other players would respond to this kind of move. If the $50 million man can sit, anyone can. It doesn’t matter if you’re an up and coming star or a fourth liner, they’re potentially seconds away from having their ice time taken from them. That should serve as plenty of motivation. So far, it has worked.

#CBJ Damon Severson owned his third-period benching in Monday’s loss to Detroit. Said he “made a key mistake at the wrong time” on the Red Wings’ 2-0 goal. “I’m well aware that I can’t do that. Just keep it simple.”

— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) October 18, 2023

Need some other examples of guys being held accountable? What about defensemen Adam Boqvist and Andrew Peeke? Both players have been healthy scratches together since Werenski’s return from injury. Why? That’s because Jiricek’s play has warranted the move coupled with Boqvist and Peeke not playing to their potential.

But wait, there’s still more. Jack Roslovic, who was one of the Blue Jackets’ better offensive performers last season, found himself healthy scratched. Then when he did play, he was a fourth liner. To his credit, he has responded well. His last two games including Saturday night in Minnesota have been his best of the young season. He found himself promoted back to the top-six with Patrik Laine out of the lineup.

Accountability Just Step One

While accountability is an important element on any team, that’s just step one. What happens after is where these decisions are measured.

Again it’s early. But these Blue Jackets have responded well to the strong accountability being shown. They have a winning record after five games.

Severson handled his benching as one might expect from a veteran player. He knew he made the mistake and understood the reasoning for not playing. Roslovic was among the Blue Jackets’ best players both Friday and Saturday.

Jack Roslovic has responded well to the higher standard the Blue Jackets are trying to get to. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In order to get the most out of this accountability, it’s up to Vincent to make the tough decisions. But it’s also up to him to help get the best out of these players when a tough decision impacts them. That’s when a team’s culture really starts to take shape.

These Blue Jackets have shown in these first five games that they’re not afraid to make a move that could turn heads around the hockey world. Two recent mainstays are gone as a result. What does the rest of the season look like for Boqvist and Peeke now? They have to wait their turn. It could even become a trade if the right situation comes up.

A Work in Progress

One of the most notable quotes in the early going from Vincent has been “We’ll get there.” When it comes to the play on the ice and establishing the culture off the ice, he has used the phrase “we’ll get there” numerous times. That doesn’t just happen overnight.

It takes a series of consistent, hard decisions in order to establish the standard and culture of the team. Given the events of the offseason, Vincent and the Blue Jackets clearly saw the need to start fresh on the topic of accountability. They’ve shown the willingness to do it. Now it will be their job to consistently stick to this standard and make it the norm in the locker room.

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The Blue Jackets were faced with tough decisions. They met them head on and showed a willingness to make those tough decisions. That resonates with the team. It shows if the players do their part, there will be room for them on this team.

Olivier over Robinson. Jiricek over Foudy, Boqvist and Peeke. Severson benched. That’s the kind of accountability these Blue Jackets have sorely lacked in recent seasons. We won’t see the full fruits of this labor for a while yet. But should they stay on this path, good things will eventually come to this team.

There is still a long way to go before we deem the Blue Jackets’ journey to accountability a successful one. At this point, they’re on the right track.

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