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Josh Beneteau The Hockey Writers

Published on Wednesday, April 6, 2016





The Blue Jackets Should Follow Toronto And Commit To The Kids

The story about how bad the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs have been this season has been told over and over again. However, the feeling around the teams has been different. The Maple Leafs knew they were going to be bad while the Blue Jackets were expecting to be a contender in the playoffs. Those preseason expectations can have a big effect on whether a season is successful. For that reason, the Maple Leafs’ season could be considered a success and the Blue Jackets a failure, despite them currently having similar records.

As the teams faceoff with each other one final time on Wednesday before the season ends on the weekend, it’s worth looking at how the Blue Jackets can mould their roster to be like the Maple Leafs.

Obviously, Toronto has the benefit of a larger budget to add people to the coaching and management staff. But Columbus can make shape its roster like Toronto, bringing in youth and flipping veterans for draft picks. It won’t be easy and it will take a long time, but as Toronto has shown this season, a similar plan can bring hope to the fan base and the franchise.

Selling Off The Veterans

The Toronto Maple Leafs put a for sale sign outside the Air Canada Centre in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline and took offers on basically everyone. In total, they made five trades in the month leading up to the trade deadline, cutting the big contracts and turning soon to be unrestricted free agents into drafts picks and prospects.

The result? A bunch of openings on the roster were created and a large group of prospects from the AHL were called up to get some NHL experience. By trading for future assets instead of win-now players, the Leafs were able to open the roster for young players and give them experience.

Columbus, on the other hand, didn’t make any trades around the deadline. It wasn’t for lack of trying, as Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch wrote on the morning of the deadline.

The team was trying to cut experienced players like Fedor Tyutin and Scott Hartnell, but it didn’t happen. They should have found a way to turn them into draft picks and prospects but couldn’t likely because of the long term contracts those players carry.

But the cuts should be bigger than that. Any draft pick is more valuable than David Clarkson, while veterans like Gregory Campbell and David Boll would have given a contender more depth for a long playoff run.

“We’re going to continue this in the offseason,” said Blue Jackets’ GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a press release after the deadline. “We’re going to continue working. We’ve got a big draft coming up this offseason and we’re going to do well there, and there are a lot of things we can do before that, too.”

But veterans like Campbell and Boll don’t have as much value at the draft as they do at the deadline. The Blue Jackets should have converted those players into future assets when they had the chance, just like the Leafs.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Giving Young Players Every Chance To Succeed

The second part of the plan to bring new hope to a franchise is to showcase the future talent to the fans. The Blue Jackets have begun to do this, with players like Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson and Sonny Milano getting into some NHL games this season. And the Blue Jackets already have young players Seth Jones, Ryan Murray and Boone Jenner playing key roles on the team. But there is room for more.

The Maple Leafs had a completely fresh face of players take the ice after the deadline. In total, 12 players have made their NHL debuts for Toronto this year.

By comparison, only five have made their debut for Columbus. That’s a big difference and considering they didn’t make any roster shaking trades, that is a pretty stale rotation of players.

It sounds like Kekalainen at least values these young players. After the trade deadline he made sure to mention the team is looking to the future.

“We’re obviously not going to mortgage the future to get benefit in the short term,” he said. “Everybody’s after our young guys and our future, but that’s not something we’re interested in.”

Even if all the rookies don’t become full-time NHLers, the experience of playing for the big club gives the team the best evaluation of its system. But of course, the only way to have a deep prospect pool is to draft as many of them as possible.

(Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

(Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Having A Bank Full Of Draft Picks

It’s one thing to have a top-five draft pick turn into an NHL superstar. It’s another when a fifth rounder does. That’s how dynasties like the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks sustain their success.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have 12 draft picks in June, including two in each of the first four rounds. Columbus has five picks, including no picks in the fourth and fifth rounds.

Obviously more draft picks doesn’t guarantee more successful future NHL players. But the more a team picks, the better chances it has at finding the future. Columbus needs to position its development with this mindset, so that the future of the team can grow and develop together.

Success Has To Start Somewhere

Toronto has been developing itself this way for the past two-years under president Brendan Shanahan so they have a bit of a head start on Columbus. But that doesn’t mean the Blue Jackets can’t start now. They missed their chance to convert veterans into draft picks at the deadline, but can still build their pool of prospects at the draft and through trades over the summer.

On top of that, there is no guarantee Toronto will successfully build a Stanley Cup champion this way. That team is still far from success in the standings too. But, there is hope. The Toronto rebuild in it’s current form has been very apparent and very well messaged to the fans. The fans are already getting familiar with future stars like Morgan Reilly and William Nylander and the fans know patience will pay off.

That is the success of the Toronto plan. And that is what Columbus needs to capture in its own rebuild.


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