Predicting the Blue Jackets’ Season Using NHL 20

Every hockey fan wants practical, calculated predictions for the 2019-20 season, right? It makes for good content, because everyone is able to agree or disagree on whatever they think.

Well, I’m no different. After much thought, I decided to do the only thing that made sense. I did what any other hockey fan in their mid-20’s would do before a hockey season.

I fired up my PlayStation and simulated the season using EA Sports NHL 20 to see where the Columbus Blue Jackets finished. Okay, I’ll admit it, obviously, my simulation isn’t going to determine how the year will actually play out. However, what I will do is take the simulation and say whether I agree with what happened or not.

The rosters and lines are up-to-date almost perfectly based on what’s been used during training camp in real life. Only two factors about the roster are notable, one being that Vladislav Gavrikov is not yet on the game.

Additionally, Brandon Dubinsky wasn’t used in the sim due to his injury. His role on the team this year, when he returns, will likely be a fourth-line spot.

Other important notes before getting into the sim:

  • The Blue Jackets overall rating is 84
  • All-star difficulty was used (the second hardest difficulty)
  • Injuries were off
  • Jakob Lilja was the fourth line LW

First Half of the Season

The Blue Jackets started out hot in the simulation. They won their first four games handily. Right after, though, they lost five in a row. This began a stretch of struggles that lasted the rest of the season.

The first month, the Blue Jackets finished 5-7-0. According to my calculations, they finished on a 1-7-0 stretch, which is not good. After Christmas passed, the Jackets were 12-24-4 heading into the New Year. Only the Ottawa Senators were worse so far.

I can’t see it playing out this way in real life. Despite all of the questions, the Blue Jackets still a lot of have talent and will be on a mission to prove themselves.

Not only did the team not have many points, but they weren’t scoring much at all. At the 40-game mark, Pierre-Luc Dubois was the leading scorer with 19 points. I won’t believe that to be their fate with Cam Atkinson on Dubois’ side on the top line.

Curtis McElhinney, Pierre-Luc Dubois
Pierre-Luc Dubois (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The blue line for Blue Jackets is massively underrated to me in NHL 20 and in real life. There are obviously the two big names in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, but the depth is impressive too.

That’s what I believe many people are missing about this team and what was apparent in the simulation. I think the defense will be tight and develop into the backbone of the team.

Second Half of the Season

The second half of the season brought more of the same for the Blue Jackets. They still couldn’t score much and gave up a lot of goals. They finished up 32-44-6 (70 points). Again, only the Senators were worse.

Goaltending had a lot to do with this. Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins are rated 80 and 75, respectively, which probably makes them the lowest tandem in the game.

I’ll stick by my prior thoughts and say I don’t think the Jackets will be this bad. Particularly, I believe this because of John Tortorella. He rubs some people the wrong way, but he preaches fundamentally-sound hockey. The Blue Jackets are at the point where if the players didn’t like Tortorella, they’d be gone. Not one player is going to get away with being selfish, and I think that’ll be important this season.

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella
John Tortorella (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Additionally, I believe certain players will elevate their game to a level we haven’t seen before. Dubois, specifically, I can see taking a big step. He normally gets better in NHL 20 around his third year, and that’s what year he’s at now.

Around the league, you can attach certain name to the identity of a team. Dubois has the potential to be that in Columbus. When people think of the Blue Jackets for the next ten years, they just might think of Dubois first. He, and others like Jones, keep the Blue Jackets relevant this year if you ask me. I can’t see them finishing with only 70 points.

Pierre-Luc Dubois Leads the Way Statistically

Leading the team in points was Dubois with 64. He also was tied for the team lead in goals at 23 with Oliver Bjorkstrand. Many forwards for the Blue Jackets were down in points from where they were last year in real life.

Points were hard to come by defensively, too. Werenski had 30 points and Jones had 32. Let’s be honest, there’s no way their point totals will be that low in real life if they play in most of the games.

For the goalies, Korpisalo played in 69 games and had a 27-35-5 record. His save percentage was .893 and goals against average was 3.49. Merlikins played in 20 games and had a 5-10-1 record. His save percentage was .885 and goals against average was 3.70.

Joonas Korpisalo Blue Jackets
Joonas Korpisalo (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There also wasn’t a Blue Jackets player with a positive plus/minus rating. That was pretty much the last straw for me in taking a look at the statistics. It just felt like the Blue Jackets didn’t have a chance at all with how some of the stats turned out.

All of this isn’t to say NHL 20 is bad, though. It’s a fun game and they do a great job adjusting player ratings as they succeed or struggle in real life.

Some of the young Blue Jackets forwards will rise in ratings as the year goes on, which factors into how a simulation goes before the season. Alexandre Texier and Emil Bemström will definitely be rated higher than 80 and 68 respectively when the year finishes.

It is hard to predict how the year will go, but I’ll take the Jackets finishing around 90 points and contending for a playoff spot. I’m not sure which goalie will lead the way, but I have a good feeling about Korpisalo. It’s going to be exciting to see how he handles the increased responsibility.

Other Fun Notes from the Sim

  • Colorado Avalanche offered Matt Calvert in a trade
  • Vancouver Canucks really wanted to trade Brandon Sutter to the Blue Jackets (as in, they offered him about five times)
  • Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup over the Winnipeg Jets
  • Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy