“Basically, it’s been a kick in the teeth for us.”
John Davidson, Blue Jackets president of hockey operations and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, tried to put the disappointment of the 2015-16 season into words earlier this week. With one analogy, he summarized what many people involved with the organization felt.
“Talking with our coaches a lot, talking with our players a lot, we’ve had exit meetings with everyone and there’s a lot of major disappointment,” Davidson said. “There’s a lot of ‘what could have been’ type of thing. We wasted an opportunity, and that’s factual.”
After ending the 2014-15 season with a 15-1-1 record in their last 17 games, the Blue Jackets had high expectations for the 2015-16 campaign. They felt the club was ready to take another step and return to the playoffs, but the season got off to a rocky start and it was unable to be salvaged.
“Did we over-promise? I thought our team going into this season was a playoff team,” Davidson said. “I said publicly that I liked our team going into this season better than the season before. Some things were (better) and a lot of things weren’t. The numbers bear that.”
The Blue Jackets’ management team had a busy summer working to improve the roster. Columbus made one of the NHL’s biggest trades of the offseason when it acquired Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks in a seven-player blockbuster.
In addition to bringing in Saad, every player who experienced some sort of injury during the previous season came back to Columbus with a clean bill of health in time for training camp.
There were no reasons to believe this wouldn’t be a breakout season for the Blue Jackets.
“To say the least, it was a disappointing year,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. “I’ve always said that you learn the most about people when you go through adversity, and we lost our confidence when we got kicked in the teeth, like John said, and we couldn’t recover from that. We weren’t strong enough to recover from that.”
Kekalainen said many of the young players as well as the veterans were taught a valuable lesson from the season.
After losing the first seven games out of the gates, John Tortorella replaced Todd Richards on Oct. 21. Additionally, the Blue Jackets made headlines on Jan. 6 when they made the biggest trade of the season, bringing Seth Jones into the fold while sending Ryan Johansen to Nashville.
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But the work doesn't stop: Kekalainen said the management will continue to look at every opportunity to improve the team during the off season.
“We have to take responsibility for that, move forward,” Kekalainen added. “We obviously had a lot of time to analyze things and we will keep analyzing things and we have to make our decisions, but I think we’re going to be stronger because of the experience that we’ve gone through.”
Kekalainen has a full calendar that will rack up plenty of frequent flier miles; he'll be scouting for the NHL Draft, going to the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Russia (where several Blue Jackets will represent their countries), amateur and pro scouting meetings, traveling to Cleveland for the AHL's Calder Cup Playoffs to watch the Lake Erie Monsters and going to the NHL Scouting Combine, among other events.
“We’re going to do everything we can to find the solutions here and be better,” Kekalainen said.