Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 11/10/11

How could it have gotten this bad this quickly in Columbus? Before the season, some felt this was a playoff team. Justifiably so, as there was a lot more optimism surrounding the team than usual. However, Thanksgiving is still two weeks away and the Blue Jackets’ season is, figuratively, over – and there are countless reasons for it.

Through the first 15 games, with a 2-12-1 record, the Jackets are on pace for 27 points. 27. Only the Edmonton Oilers last year had a fewer number of wins, let alone points. (Granted, the Jackets won’t end the season with 27 points; but in the same breath, they won’t even sniff the playoff picture, miracle permitting.) They have carried over the success – or lack thereof – from late last season. Since Feb. 25, the Jackets are 5-24-8.

A lot of pundits believe the end is near for GM Scott Howson and head coach Scott Arniel. And they are probably right.

One part of me believes Arniel should get fired. I mean, not too many coaches in Arniel’s position would survive after getting beat 19-6 in a three-game span, like Arniel has of late. At this point, though, what’s the point of cleaning house up top? Before the season commenced, the goal for the Jackets was to make the playoffs. Right now, I don’t know if Scotty Bowman could turn Columbus into a playoff team.

Arniel is a bright guy. Someday, he should be able to succeed behind an NHL bench. He’s just in a terrible position. And don’t forget, I find that it’d be difficult to fire Arniel and/or Howson when Jeff Carter hasn’t been in the lineup since Oct. 15. Carter and James Wisniewski, who were the prize off-season acquisitions, have yet to play in the same game together.

There are a lot of issues in Columbus, and coaching isn’t at the top of that list. What is? Goaltending and defense.

The goaltending is unbelievably bad. I can name you 40 goalies (at least) that are better than Steve Mason. He currently possesses a 3.88 goals-against average and .866 save percentage, and seems to be getting worse. He is far from an NHL starting goaltender. If he ever becomes one again, it probably won’t be in Columbus. He needs a change of scenery. We’ll see if Mark Dekanich – when he returns from injury – can make any difference between the pipes. That won’t be easy, though, because of the personnel in front of him.

All we heard this summer was Carter this and Wisniewski that, and how they would help lead the Jackets to their second ever playoff berth. I think Carter is a good (not great) player, but on any other team Wisniewski is a second pairing defenseman. And the fact that he is their ‘best’ defenseman should tell you how bad that blue line really is.

Another thing that you can point to, big picture wise, is their drafting over the years. The Blue Jackets have had some first round busts and then some. Gilbert Brule. Nikolai Zherdev. Nikita Filatov. Alexandre Picard. And it won’t take much longer for Derick Brassard to be mentioned in that same breath. Columbus’ drafting and scouting over the years has been a weak link, and it has shown.

Little things are hurting the Jackets, too. Among them, the power play hasn’t been good in who knows how long. The penalty kill hasn’t been too much better. They find ways to lose, rather than find ways to win. These are trends that have gone on too long in Columbus.

On top of this horrific start, the attendance was disappointing in October (but has since improved). But that shouldn’t be a reflection on the Blue Jackets’ fan base. They have great fans who deserve to see a (consistent) winner on the ice. They’ve been teased in recent seasons with good starts and hot streaks, only to see it all fizzle and result in another season that ends after Game 82. They’ve been told the postseason is coming, only to be denied all but once.

This season has just been rough from get go. And I don’t blame Jackets fans for not spending their hard earned money to see a team like this.

If it somehow gets worse, you have to wonder if Rick Nash becomes available for the right price (not shopped, but available). Nash should be commended for his long-term commitment to Columbus (under contract through 2018). For a team like Columbus, though, getting a lot of assets in return for a premier forward like Nash could be intriguing. That said, I don’t see the Jackets parting (yet) with the only superstar they’ve ever known, a la Ilya Kovalchuk and Atlanta.

Sooner or later, Arniel will get canned. Howson may not be far behind. But it’s not just their fault for this god awful first month-plus. The team is playing just about as bad as they can (in what some say is the most important regular season in franchise history), which could be a reflection of the leadership than coaching/management.

Whatever the case may be, the Blue Jackets are more than just a mess. They are the worst team in hockey. By a country mile.

Photo credit: Getty Images
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