The circle of life. You know the song. You know the movie. But did you know that this applies to the Columbus Blue Jackets too?
It’s no different this season. At the start of every new season, the Blue Jackets find themselves in a repeating pattern of activity where they’re written off by all of the hockey experts before the games even begin. Then the season starts and they are better than what was predicted. The same cycle happens over and over. It’s truly the circle of life for them.
Ah, the Hockey Experts
In year’s past, the experts wrote off the Blue Jackets because of big-name departures. Remember when nobody gave them a chance once Artemi Panarin bolted for the New York Rangers? There was no way they could rebound from such a big loss.
Except the Blue Jackets not only qualified for post-season play, they knocked out the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games with all five games at ScotiaBank Arena. Not many saw a Blue Jackets’ victory coming in that series.
Last season saw a lot of crazy things happen. Pierre-Luc Dubois asked for a trade. Josh Anderson was traded before the season started. It was a tough year on everybody in the hockey world. The Blue Jackets lost key pieces and paid for it.
But now here we are again and no matter what you read, the predicted Metropolitan Division standings seem to have one thing in common. It’s that the Blue Jackets will not only finish in last, but they’ll finish in last by a wide margin. Let me give you some perspective on just how wide a margin it is.
BetOnline recently released the odds of teams winning the Metro. The New Jersey Devils have the second-worst odds at 16/1. The Blue Jackets have the worst odds at 80/1. Woah.
This means that the Blue Jackets in the eyes of BetOnline have a five times worse chance of winning the Metro than the team in seventh. Clearly they do not believe in the Blue Jackets this season.
In fact, I have yet to see someone publish a Metro prediction that didn’t have the Blue Jackets in last. So yes, it is the circle of life and we are to the point where everyone has already written off this team before their first game against the Arizona Coyotes.
Perhaps we need to slow this train down some. Don’t write off these Blue Jackets just yet.
Reasons For Optimism
Let’s be clear. The Blue Jackets have major questions on this roster. Who is their true number-one center? How does their center depth hold up against their division rivals? What do we even make of this defense?
The list of questions is long. But to say that they are hands down the worst team in this division is premature. Could it work out that way? Sure. But let’s discuss that in 2022 not October 2021.
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The goaltending situation is a wildcard. Elvis Merzlikins will start the season opener. Then from there, coach Brad Larsen will decide who to play. Both Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo will get playing time. This is a good duo considering that both could start in this league.
When Merzlikins is on, he’s very hard to beat. Even in a down year, he finished with a .916 save percentage. If the team in front of him is better and he plays like he did last season, it’s fair to think he has a chance to break .920. Having a .920 goalie will win you lots of games.
And when Korpisalo is on, he’s tough to beat too. Last season was bad for his standards. But he has that Toronto bubble performance on his resume. He also has All-Star on his resume. Then consider it’s a contract year for him. He has everything to play for. He’ll want nothing more than to play his best.
Certainly the defense in front of them is a question. It doesn’t scream shutdown defense. But perhaps Zach Werenski is ready to be a number one on his own. Maybe Adam Boqvist is the next coming of Erik Karlsson. Jake Bean getting a bigger role could unlock his potential.
And up front, while center ice is an issue, the wingers are not. Patrik Laine’s revenge tour could start Thursday. But unlike last season, he has a dynamic playmaker in Jake Voracek who can get him the puck. Oliver Bjorkstrand is still somehow underrated but is a very good player. Gus Nyquist is back and ready to contribute.
When you have talent, you have a chance.
Don’t Write Them Off Yet
These Blue Jackets do have talent. If they get good goaltending and their power play sees a dramatic improvement, they’ll be in a lot of games.
I’m not sitting here telling you the Blue Jackets are a lock for the playoffs, far from it actually. I predict they finish the season with 82 points which wouldn’t be enough to qualify. But other teams could vastly underperform. There could be devastating injuries that change the entire course of a season. These are things we can’t predict. That gives these Blue Jackets a chance.
Certainly a lot has to go right for them to make something out of this season. But let’s put a stop to writing them off on Opening Night. It’s amazing what motivated talent could do for a team. They may come to surprise all yet.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.