The Columbus Blue Jackets are coming off a tumultuous season. In the shortened 56-game schedule, they finished with a record of 18-26-12, finished in last place in the Central Division, and missed the postseason for the first time in four seasons.
This piece will put the Blue Jackets’ 2020-21 campaign in review. We will grade the team’s coaching, goaltending, defense, offense, and special teams and explore noteworthy points of the season.
While it would be unfair to place all the fault on what went wrong this season on coaching, the staff did make some questionable calls at times. The coaching staff, especially John Tortorella, were at the center of many controversies.
Many of those controversies centered around the staff’s handling of young talent like Jack Roslovic and Patrik Laine. However, some of the biggest questions came when the decision was made to bench two centers, Roslovic and Kevin Stenlund, despite the team’s struggles and lack of depth at that position.
While not all of the problems for the team were solely on coaching, the staff made enough mistakes and questionable calls and were average this season, earning a C+ grade for 2020-21.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the Blue Jackets’ season was the struggles at goaltender, which is normally a strength for Columbus.
This season, four different goaltenders started at least one game. They combined for a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.29, a save percentage (SV%) of .904, two shutouts (both Elvis Merzlikins), and none of the four had a winning record. The league average GAA was 2.73, and the average SV% was .908, both of which are better than the Blue Jackets’ marks.
With the goaltending giving up nearly one more goal than the league average and the inconsistencies of Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo leading to a decrease in their trade value, the goaltending in Columbus earned a D- grade for this season.
The defense of the Blue Jackets was another usual strength that struggled this season. The key difference was a massive offloading of defensive experience in trades last offseason and this season.
The team was inconsistent on defense for most of the season. They allowed 184 goals (fifth-worst in the league), allowed 3.29 goals a game and had a combined plus/minus of minus-203. The goal differential on the season was minus-50.
The biggest factor in the struggles on defense was sloppy play in the defensive zone. Out of the 429 giveaways for the Blue Jackets, 215 (50.12%) of them were in the defensive zone, giving easy chances to opponents.
With the defense’s struggles, inconsistencies, and sloppiness with the puck, they earned a D for their season grade.
There are no surprises that the Blue Jackets’ offense was one of the team’s weak points. Add injuries, trades (such as center Pierre-Luc Dubois and captain Nick Foligno), and a lack of a center to the equation, and the offense really struggled.
They scored a fifth-worst 134 goals and had a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of only 46.25, meaning that they took fewer shots than allowed. Those metrics are well below the league averages for goals and CF% (159 and 50%, respectively). The team also averaged only 2.44 goals a game.
Once again, the offense struggled, and they earned a very poor D+ grade for 2020-21.
Special Teams: D-
Special teams is the last part of the team we will look at, and it may have been the weakest link on the team.
Like in the past few seasons, the power play was abysmal this season. The Blue Jackets were the third-worst in the league with 18 power play goals on a league-low 117 opportunities (15.4%). The league averaged a power play percentage of 20.1%.
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The penalty kill struggled at times as well. Columbus gave up 28 goals on 133 opponent power plays. They finished with a penalty kill percentage of 78.9, which is one percentage point below the league average of 79.9%.
Even though the penalty kill was not awful, the struggles of the power play pulled down the special teams. As a matter of fact, it took a hot streak on the power play and penalty kill to achieve those numbers. The special teams finish with a mark of D-.
2020-21 Key Points
- 37 different players suited up for the Blue Jackets in 2020-21 (33 skaters and 4 goaltenders).
- Columbus lost over 1,500 games played from the offseason to the trade deadline.
- Gabriel Carlsson was the only Blue Jacket to score their first career NHL goal.
- The Blue Jackets only had 48 points in the standings this season (a franchise-low) and missed the postseason for the first time in four seasons.
- 2020-21 was John Tortorella’s last season. He finishes as the winningest coach in franchise history with a record of 227-166-54 and is the only coach to win a playoff series in Columbus.
Cody Chalfan is currently a journalism major at the Ohio State University who grew up in Columbus and loves hockey, especially the Blue Jackets. He is disabled, therefore he is a major advocate for the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone movement. A piece he wrote focusing on the Blue Jackets’ work on expanding the sport into the local special needs community can be found here. Cody can be contacted via Twitter (@cachalfan) direct message for comments, constructive criticism, or story ideas.