NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Columbus Blue Jackets:
1. How long will the rebuild take?
After going 18-26-12 and failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time since 2016, the Columbus Blue Jackets will have a new look this season. They traded captain Nick Foligno to the Toronto Maple Leafs and defenseman David Savard to the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, and traded defenseman Seth Jones, an alternate captain, to the Chicago Blackhawks on July 23, after he declined to the sign a contract extension.
Jones was traded along with a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft (No. 31, defenseman Nolan Allan) and a sixth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft for defenseman Adam Boqvist and first-round (No. 11, forward Cole Sillinger) and second-round picks in the 2021 draft. The following day, forward Cam Atkinson, another alternate captain, was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for forward Jakub Voracek.
They also changed coaches, replacing John Tortorella with assistant Brad Larsen, who was promoted June 10.
“If you want to get to the ultimate goal you are going to have to make changes sometimes that are hard. That’s what we’ve done,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “We have a plan. We are going to build it the right way and get back to the playoffs and be a Stanley Cup contender and ultimately win it.”
2. Can Jones be replaced?
Jones played in all situations and led the Blue Jackets in average ice time for six straight seasons, including 25:14 last season. Zach Werenski, who signed a six-year contract extension July 29, is Columbus’ clear No. 1 defenseman now after scoring 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) and averaging 24:22 in ice time while limited to 35 games last season because of a sports hernia.
Boqvist, a right-shot defenseman like Jones, scored 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) and averaged 16:59 in ice time in 35 games with Chicago last season. The 21-year-old will get a chance to play a larger role with Columbus, which might need to add another right-shot defenseman with Dean Kukan and Andrew Peeke as its other options on that side.
3. Will Patrik Laine be more comfortable in his second season in Columbus?
The Blue Jackets need Laine to rebound after the forward struggled to adjust and scored 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 45 games following his trade from the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 23. Perhaps a change in coaches will help the 23-year-old, who scored at least 28 goals in each of his first four NHL seasons, including an NHL career-high 44 in 2017-18.
“Last season was a tough one, but I’ve put it in the past and am looking forward to getting back to Columbus and helping this team move forward,” Laine said after accepting a one-year qualifying offer as a restricted free agent July 28.
4. How will Larsen handle his first NHL coaching job?
Larsen worked seven seasons as an assistant with Columbus under Todd Richards (2014-15) and Tortorella (2015-21) and has an established relationship with the players who remain after the offseason roster overhaul. But guiding a team in transition will be a challenge and Larsen’s only previous experience as coach was two seasons with Springfield of the American Hockey League (2012-14).
Following a strict taskmaster like Tortorella, Larsen will have to find his own voice on the bench.
5. Do the Blue Jackets have enough centers?
Jack Roslovic showed potential at center after being acquired with Laine in the trade with Winnipeg for center Pierre-Luc Dubois, scoring an NHL career-high 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists) in 48 games. But with Max Domi not expected back until December following surgery June 3 to repair a labral tear in his right shoulder, Columbus isn’t deep at the position and might have to, at least temporarily, move some forwards around.
Alexandre Texier, who scored 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 49 games last season, likely will get a look in the middle of the second line after the 21-year-old shifted between left wing and center during his first three NHL seasons. Other possibilities include Boone Jenner, who played left wing last season, Kevin Stenlund and Sean Kuraly, who signed a four-year contract July 28 after five seasons with the Boston Bruins.