Blue Jackets’ Gaudreau & Laine Not Meeting Expectations 

As someone who has closely followed the Columbus Blue Jackets closely since their inception as an NHL franchise, the 2023-24 season began with palpable excitement as Patrick Laine and Johnny Gaudreau were joined by highly touted 2023 first-round pick Adam Fantilli. Envisioning an improved offensive attack and potent power play, the reality has been a bitter pill to swallow, with the Blue Jackets off to a 4-11-4 start and a last-place standing in both the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. 

Laine’s lethal shot, once anticipated to fire the cannon with regularity at Nationwide Arena, has been disappointingly muted. Goals are sparse – just two in nine games – and the flashes of brilliance have become more rare. In the realm of expectations, Laine’s time in a Columbus uniform has fallen short. Possessed with elite talent, the disheartening realization that he hasn’t met the lofty expectations that were set forth when he was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets is tough to put into words. His arrival was met with excitement, hoping he would be the star forward the Blue Jackets desperately needed, someone they could count on to score 30-40 goals a season, but the results on the ice tell a different story. 

Patrik Laine Columbus Blue Jackets
Patrik Laine, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Then there’s Gaudreau, the highly-skilled winger the Blue Jackets believed would bring finesse and creativity to the lineup in a Patrick Kane-like fashion. However, the on-ice creativity and magic that was expected have been elusive itself. Gaudreau’s performance leaves fans yearning for the spark that was supposed to elevate the Blue Jackets into a perennial playoff contender. As someone chronicling the Blue Jackets’ season, it’s a challenge to convey the disappointment felt by the fanbase, a fanbase that has been referred to as the best in the NHL. 

The emotional investment the fans have in Laine and Gaudreau goes well beyond wins and losses. It’s about the dreams they had for them, the hope that they would be the missing pieces in the Blue Jackets’ quest to rise above mediocrity. Instead, in late November, Blue Jackets fans find themselves in a state of longing for what could have been if Laine and Gaudrean had lived up to expectations. The resilience of the Blue Jackets faithful persists, but the disappointment lingers, and they continue to support the team with the belief that the performance on the ice will turn around. 

Johnny Gaudreau Columbus Blue Jackets
Johnny Gaudreau, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Head coach Pascal Vincent, known for accountability, took a bold step by benching Laine and Gaudreau after lackluster performances and making each a healthy scratch. They’ve been mere ghosts on the ice, and their lackluster performance has left fans questioning their impact on the team.

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Criticism of Laine only intensifies as his tendency to float on the outskirts of the offensive zone becomes glaring during games. He can look like a world-beater one shift and a minor leaguer the next. It’s just frustrating to watch with all of the talent he possesses. The lack of playmakers on the roster only magnifies this deficiency in Laine’s game. Gaudreau, supposed to be the solution to that problem for Laine, also comes up short in all areas. Despite his impressive offensive numbers with the Calgary Flames, including a career-high 115 points in 2021-22, Gaudreau has been nowhere near being the same player in Columbus, adding to the Blue Jackets’ struggles. 

In an effort to get Laine and Gaudreau going, I’d play them with Fantilli on the top line and give it time for the trio to develop some chemistry on the ice. I understand Laine wants to play center, but it simply has not worked out with him in the middle. He’s a winger. Move him back to where he once belonged. 

Blame Extends Beyond Laine and Gaudreau

However, the blame doesn’t solely rest on Laine and Gaudreau. Vincent’s decisions, like limiting Fantilli’s ice time, add another layer to the unfolding drama. If ice time comes on an earned basis — and it should — why isn’t one of the Blue Jackets’ best players in most games this season not receiving more ice time? It’s puzzling, to say the least. Management, led by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, faces scrutiny for decisions that have contributed to the prolonged mediocrity. 

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Past mistakes echo through the organization, from the ill-fated hiring of Mike Babcock to relying on Laine and Gaudreau as leaders and saviors. Columbus finds itself trapped in a cycle of unfulfilled promises, leaving fans yearning for a brighter future that continues to elude them. With an exciting group of young players in the organization, my hope for better days remains optimistic, because it costs the same.