The Columbus Blue Jackets have now played three-quarters of their regular-season games, 42 of 56. It’s time to take another look at my preseason “5 Bold Blue Jackets Predictions for 2020-21” and my “Blue Jackets’ Bold Predictions: Mid-Season Update.”
It’s hard to believe that the mid-season update was less than a month ago – the compressed 2020-21 NHL schedule is making time fly! Not only are we just 14 games from the end of the (regular) season, the trade deadline looms on Monday. (As I write this, we’re waiting on word of trades involving Blue Jackets Nick Foligno and David Savard.)
The Blue Jackets’ Season So Far
It would be misleading to say that the season has been hot-and-cold for the Blue Jackets in 2020-21. It is more accurate to say that the season so far has been tepid-and-cold. The longest winning streak has been two games, which the team has accomplished only four times. That’s offset by four two-game losing streaks – and a five-game losing streak, and a four-game losing streak, and two three-game losing streaks. Yikes! The consecutive wins add up to eight games total, while the consecutive losses include 23 games.
The latest quarter, Games 29 through 42, saw the Blue Jackets fall from a playoff contender to a draft lottery contender. The team record during the stretch was a miserable 5–7–3 for 13 of a possible 28 points in the standings (46.4%). Oh, and three of the five wins were in overtime or a shootout, so the opponents, teams against which Columbus was directly competing for playoff spots, earned 21 of 28 possible points (75%). The team also saw continued tinkering of the roster and lineup by coach John Tortorella.
Of the 14 games in the third quarter of the season, only the first pair were against a team directly competing with the Blue Jackets for the fourth and final Discover Central Division playoff spot. The Dallas Stars lost in OT and won in a shootout. Both teams took three points from the two-game series. The quarter also included losing both halves of two-game series against the lowly Detroit Red Wings and the tough Florida Panthers. (No “loser points” for OT or SO losses in either series.)
An even split of four games against the Tampa Bay Lightning (all in regulation) was, in a way, the high point of the past 14 games. Unless you prefer the four games with the Carolina Hurricanes, in which the Blue Jackets won two (in OT and SO) and lost two (one in OT). That’s five points for Columbus and six for Carolina.
Checking Up (and Down) on Earlier Predictions
Before the regular season began, I made five “bold” predictions. At midseason, I made predictions for the second half. Holy cow! I even wrote a couple of columns before the predictions about what I expected from the Blue Jackets in the 2020-21 season. Let’s revisit my predictions and check on my scorecard.
Preseason Bold Predictions
Looking back, I must have been young and unjaded when I made my preseason predictions. Yes, they seemed bold at the time. Now a couple of them look like, “sure, now that was pretty bold. You needed a crystal ball to guess that?” And some of them look like, “dude, do you even know the shape of the puck?”
- Prediction #1: Atkinson Will Bounce Back (but Won’t Lead the Team in Goals) This prediction is still looking pretty good. Cam Atkinson has certainly had a bounce-back year with 13 goals in 42 games. And he’s a goal behind Oliver Bjorkstrand for the team lead right now.
- Prediction #2: Dubois Won’t Make Waves After it became know that Pierre-Luc Dubois wanted out of Columbus, I expected him to continue to play his heart out for the team until a suitable trade could be arranged. He didn’t. On the bright side, the return for Dubois was the sometimes-dazzling (yet unfulfilled) Patrik Laine and the surprisingly effective Jack Roslovic.
- Prediction #3: Foudy Will Force Himself into the Top Six Liam Foudy did not play his way onto one of the top two forward lines in Columbus. But he did look pretty good in Cleveland of the AHL and is (sort of) back with the Blue Jackets.
- Prediction #4: The Goalie Tandem Will Stay Intact Yup, both Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo are still Blue Jackets. Keep an eye on the team’s announcements for the next couple of days – one may be gone before Monday’s trade deadline. (But a goalie is more likely to be traded over the summer. Not that I’m officially making any prediction or anything like that.)
- Prediction #5: Zach Will Outshine Seth Defensemen Zach Werenski and Seth Jones both started the season slowly. Werenski spent some time injured. They’ve both been playing pretty well recently. Jones has 21 points in 42 games, Werenski has 20 points in 35 games. Still one-quarter of the regular season to go.
Okay, maybe I’m being a little hard on myself in evaluating the accuracy of my first set of predictions. Or maybe not. Numbers one, four, and five are still to be determined, but not sure things. Numbers two and three are dead-in-the-water.
Midseason Bold Predictions
After taking stock, I took another shot at the halfway point of the regular season. Here’s what I had to say:
- Prediction #1: The Forward Lines Start to Stabilize Nope, coach Tortorella (whose contract expires at the end of this season) is still mixing things up. Not as much as earlier in the season, but the pairs of forwards playing together regularly that I expected haven’t truly appeared. But over the past few games, there have been fewer surprises to start games. Maybe Torts is, in fact, warming up to certain forwards playing together regularly. Maybe. For now.
- Prediction #2: The Blue Jackets Won’t Be in a Playoff Position at the Trade Deadline. Yup. ‘Nuff said.
- Prediction #3: At Least One Familiar Face Will Be Traded David Savard was a healthy scratch for Game #42, which likely indicates that he will be on the move before Monday’s trade deadline. Center Riley Nash would also have likely been traded, but he wasn’t held out of the lineup and is injured. Captain Foligno will have a say in whether or not he’s traded.
- Prediction #4: The Desperately Needed First-Line Center Doesn’t Appear Presto-Chango! Abracadabra! Nah, that didn’t work, so I guess this prediction is accurate. But there’s still time before Monday’s trade deadline. . . .
- Prediction #5: I Will Be Wrong On At Least One Prediction Whew! It was pretty close (and perhaps still is), but I almost scored on my first four midseason predictions. Which would have made this prediction wrong. Which would have made it right. But if all the others and this one were right, then this one would be wrong. Right?
Let’s score it like this: #1: Perhaps. #2: Yup. #3: Pretty soon. #4: Not so far (and maybe not until summer). #5: Huh? I’ll score it three-for-four with one no-decision. (We’ll probably revisit this scoring at the end of the regular season.)
I ended my midseason predictions story with, “if I’m as wrong on the midseason bold predictions as I was with the preseason Bold Predictions, the Blue Jackets might be in fine shape when the trade deadline hits.” I also wrote that “[t]he Blue Jackets need to win at least half of the next dozen games – without giving up ‘loser points’ – to be in position to make a run at a playoff spot down the stretch.”
The team won four of the 12 games and gave up loser points in three of the four. The Blue Jackets are not in “fine shape,” and they are not “in a position to make a run at a playoff spot down the stretch.”
Pre-Prediction Stories and Projections for the Columbus in 2020-21
We can even go back a little farther into my preseason prognostication, to Oct. 26, 2020, when I wrote “Columbus Blue Jackets Roster Now Heavy Down the Center.” It was actually fun to go back and re-read this article. At the time, the Blue Jackets’ centers were Dubois (now gone in trade), Max Domi, Mikko Koivu (since retired), and Nash (who likely would have been traded if he wasn’t injured).
The article’s 2020-21 outlook was “With a now-proven goaltending tandem, a top-four D returning from the 2019-20 team that allowed the third-fewest goals in the league, and the augmented center position (as well as another year of experience for the young wings), the Blue Jackets could very well be the sleeper team to pick this season.” That was “sleeper” for the Stanley Cup, not “sleeper” just to make the playoffs. My, how things have changed!
And let’s not forget about “Blue Jackets Need Plan B Following Nyquist Surgery.” We (the THW Blue Jackets writing team and some other Columbus-oriented journalists) were pretty sure that the club would make a trade for an experienced winger to fill in for the injured Gus Nyquist. Not only were we pretty sure, but we were also pretty wrong.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The trade deadline is Monday. Savard, perhaps Foligno, and maybe defenseman Michael Del Zotto (who has expressed a desire to remain in Columbus) might be traded. As well as one of the goalies. And maybe a surprise player. Or two. What or who comes to Columbus in return? I am not making any prediction here, but I expect the Blue Jackets to gather draft picks and prospects rather than roster players for Savard and Foligno. And I hope (not predict) that Foligno returns to Columbus as a UFA this summer.
Pete Bauer is both a hockey fan and player. As a columnist for The Hockey Writers.com, he covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, NCAA hockey, and NHL trends, statistics, and history. He’s considered the go-to guy for info on the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHL Players’ Association and other hockey-related legal mumbo-jumbo. He’s a frequent guest on a variety of podcasts. You’ll find all of his THW columns here. Pete is also the author of over a dozen books on photography, digital imaging, and graphics, including “Photoshop CC for Dummies.”