Throughout August, The Hockey Writers will be releasing a series of bold predictions. Team by team, this series will take shape as we look at some of the more questionable possibilities that could come into fruition during the 2017-18 season.
As our predictions continue, we head to Columbus, Ohio, and check in with the Blue Jackets who are coming off a season filled with ups, downs and even more surprises.
The Jackets finished the 2016-17 season with a 50-24-8 record in the regular season to set a franchise record in points (108) eclipsing their previous mark by 15 points set back in 2013-14. They also set a franchise record in goals for with 249 and allowed the fewest goals in franchise history with 195.
Offensively, the team was led by Cam Atkinson’s 35 goals and 62 points, while Alexander Wennberg leading the way in the assist department with 46. On the back end, the Jackets saw rookie sensation – Zach Werenski – storm onto the scene with a 11-goal and 47-point rookie season putting him right up there in Calder Trophy voting.
In net, the Blue Jackets got a Vezina worthy season from Sergei Bobrovsky who finished the year with a 41-17-5 record in 63 games to go along with a 2.06 goals against average and .931 save percentage.
All of that, along with their extended winning streak midseason, allowed the Jackets to earn a top-three division spot heading into the postseason. However, their first playoff appearance in three years didn’t last long as they were ousted by the eventual Cup-winning Penguins in just five games leaving the Jackets and their fans wanting more come the 2017-18 season.
The Time is Now
With the new season, comes new hope and desire to top what was done just one year ago. For the Blue Jackets, that means extending their playoff stint this coming season and they might have just the right pieces to take that next step.
Their offseason hasn’t been the busiest per say, but they did make arguably one of the biggest trades of the year. Following a year of 24 goals and 53 points – which was good enough for third on the team in 2016-17 – the Blue Jackets shipped Brandon Saad back to Chicago in return for Artemi Panarin and Tyler Motte. Joining Saad was goaltender Anton Forsberg but he wasn’t the focal point of this move – obviously.
In Panarin, the Jackets got a 25-year-old with just two seasons of NHL experience under his belt. That being said, they were two very impressive seasons. The purely offensive threat has 61 goals and 151 points in 162 regular season games since coming over to North America. Add that to his eight points in 11 playoff games and it’s fairly obvious as to why the Jackets wanted the young forward.
While some could argue that the Jackets still have a fairly young squad – being that they are the second youngest franchise in the league right now in average age – the experience gained by their players over the past season can’t be ignored.
With veterans like Nick Foligno, Seth Jones and Brandon Dubinsky there to help develop the less experienced players, this team is chomping at the bit to take the next step in pursuing the coveted Stanley Cup and bring it back to Columbus.
2017-18 Bold Prediction: Columbus’ Cup Final
Call it a stretch or whatever you want, but it’s clear that the time is now for the Blue Jackets to make a push for Lord Stanley’s holy grail. With proven goal scorers in Atkinson and Panarin, legitimate depth players like Josh Anderson and Boone Jenner complimented by Jones, Werenski and Jack Johnson on the blue line, it’s safe to say that this could be the most competitive team that Columbus fans have seen.
With the strong mannered Tortorella behind the bench, the Jackets are buying into his system right now. Whether there’s an expiry date on the 59-year-old coach’s tactics or not, chances are the players will want to experience the same kind of success if they’re going to play the type of hockey that Torts likes to ice.
That, on top of the fact that windows for success can close so quickly in today’s NHL, and you’ve got the perfect equation for a team destined to push and punish their way into the Stanley Cup Final in 2017-18. Sure, it may be a stretch, but the Jackets have been building their on-ice product for a number of years using the right avenues (such as the draft). Expect the players to buy in to Tortorella’s system for at least one more year and earn a trip to the Stanley Cup Final and a shot at etching their names in hockey history.