Blue Jackets bench Johnny Gaudreau in loss to Capitals: 'Didn't like his game'

Columbus coach Pascal Vincent wasn't impressed with what Johnny Gaudreau was giving him on Saturday.

Blue Jackets head coach Pascal Vincent turned some heads when he glued Johnny Gaudreau to the bench for most of the third period of Columbus's 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

After the loss and surprise benching, Vincent made it clear this was a coaching decision and maybe an attempt to send a message to Gaudreau and the rest of the bumbling Blue Jackets.

"I'm coaching a team and the guys that are going are going to play," Vincent said, via Brian Hedger of the Columbus Dispatch. "Everything's earned and when the game starts it's not about your name. It's about what's in front of the jersey and who we believe are going to give us a chance to win.

"We know Johnny can make a difference when he's skating and when he's involved, and tonight I felt he wasn't there. It doesn't matter who you are ... It's about the Blue Jackets and I didn't like his game."

Specifically, Gaudreau didn’t play the final 16:07 of the third period. Vincent really stuck to his guns by not sending Gaudreau back out on the ice when the Blue Jackets received two power-play chances to try to tie things up.

Blue Jackets coach Pascal Vincent was not impressed with Johnny Gaudreau on Saturday. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Blue Jackets coach Pascal Vincent was not impressed with Johnny Gaudreau on Saturday. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Gaudreau should bounce back for Blue Jackets — to an extent

It’s easy to see why Columbus might want to light a fire in a slow-starting Gaudreau. It’s been an ice-cold start for the former Calgary Flames star, as Gaudreau only managed one goal and five points through his first 11 games of the season.

Yes, the “small sample size” caveats apply here. Gaudreau’s shooting percentage is at just 3.1%, which would easily mark a career-low and pales in comparison to his career 12.4% rate. While his 115-point final season with the Flames set the bar too high, last season’s 74 points in 80 games stands as a better baseline for the $68-million man than this meandering first month of 2023-24.

All of that said, it’s still a surprising situation, and one that’s garnering snide reactions.

With the Flames enduring their own miserable struggles, you could get buried in the number of “Johnny Huberdeau for Johnny Gaudreau” trade jokes rolling out of the Calgary area.

For better or worse, Gaudreau isn’t alone in being benched this year as the Blue Jackets evoke memories of John Tortorella.

It’s been a bumpy start to the season for Kent Johnson, a promising player the Blue Jackets selected fifth overall in 2021. So far this season, Johnson’s been a surprise healthy scratch, received a lengthy in-game benching like Gaudreau did and was also sent to the AHL.

Benching skilled, prominent players is ultimately an intriguing gamble, especially for Vincent, a first-time NHL coach stepping into a job jarringly vacated by the disgraced Mike Babcock.

For a team that needs to clean up a ton of messes, you need “buy-in” up and down a flawed roster. That said, there’s a risk that you could strain relationships with important players.

Maybe these gambits will pay off, but so far, the Blue Jackets stand at a mediocre 4-5-2.