You saw all the predictions about the Columbus Blue Jackets in the preseason. Nobody gave them a chance to do anything this season.
No matter how their season finale in Pittsburgh on Friday finishes, it’s safe to say that once again, the Blue Jackets have exceeded the expert’s expectations. When the vast majority thought that they’d finish in last place, the team again proves their doubters wrong.
Setting the Scene
The Blue Jackets entered the 2021-22 season knowing they were in a reset. Most of their previous core was gone. The time came for new leaders and a new core to take the reigns.
Seeing this, experts across the hockey world thought that the Blue Jackets would be one of the worst teams in the NHL. They had a starting goalie in Elvis Merzlikins who had never been a true number-one in the NHL before. They had a young and inexperienced defense who was going to have many growing pains. Oh and Seth Jones was gone too.
At forward, the Blue Jackets had many questions. Would Patrik Laine rebound? Who would step up at center? Who was ready to take the next step in their development? Without a true, generational talent on the roster and a lot of young players stepping into big roles, the Blue Jackets were already thrown in the lottery.
Fast forward to now. The Blue Jackets are at hockey .500 playing their 82nd and final game of the season. A win against the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday would give them a winning record at 38-37-7. Even if they lose, it doesn’t change the reality of the situation. This team, albeit filled with holes and questions, was not a last place team. In fact, they weren’t even close to that.
The Blue Jackets will finish the season in 21st place in the NHL standings. That’s 12th from the bottom. In other words, 11 teams did worse than the team many thought would occupy the basement. Once again, the experts overlooked many aspects of the Blue Jackets. Those aspects have made them out to be better than most thought.
This season was never about the playoffs. While that’s the goal of every team, the Blue Jackets looked at this season as a stepping stone to a brighter future. In that sense, this season was a success. Many important questions were answered. While many questions remain, being one game away from a winning record at this stage is an impressive accomplishment.
How Did This Happen?
The question many are asking themselves is why, and how? How were these Blue Jackets able to prove many of the doubters wrong? Here are a few of those reasons in no particular order.
- Laine finished the season at a point per game for the first time in his career. He played more like himself.
- Cole Sillinger has aced every test thrown his way. His 16 goals are as many for an 18-year old as Patrice Bergeron had in his 18-year old season.
- Jake Voracek filled a massive hole on the Blue Jackets. He was a playmaking force the team has been missing since Artemi Panarin left town. He has plenty left in the tank too.
- Gus Nyquist had one of his most productive seasons after missing a season due to shoulder surgery. His presence is a big thing for the Blue Jackets. It’s no wonder he loves it in Columbus and would be willing to stay should the team want him.
- Prior to his injury, Boone Jenner was on pace for a career season. He played most of the season as their number-one center. He’s a big reason why Laine rebounded. They played a lot together. Making him the captain is showing to be a correct choice so far.
- Jack Roslovic has made tremendous strides in his overall game. With all of the late season injuries taking place, Roslovic has played top-line center and flourished. He has a career-high in goals to show for it.
- Zach Werenski is showing he can be a true, number-one defenseman. He’s logging the minutes. He’s playing all situations. He continues to grow as a defender.
- Vladislav Gavrikov showed how valuable he is to this blue line. He’s their best shutdown defender and just goes about his business without complaining or grumbling.
- Andrew Peeke opened everyone’s eyes and played the last half of the season on the top defensive pair on the right side. He’s also more physical than ever. He’s also become one of the league’s premier shot blockers. Friday will mark 82 games in his season, an amazing accomplishment for someone who many thought would have trouble staying in the lineup.
There are other reasons too (Justin Danforth’s emergence, Oliver Bjorkstrand’s continued scoring, the breakout of Nick Blankenburg.) This season has been full of good stories and successes. It proves the Blue Jackets are on the right track heading into another interesting offseason.
All of the above has happened, and we haven’t even talked about their most exciting prospect in Kent Johnson. Plus they have a chance at a pair of top-12 picks at this upcoming NHL Draft to add to an already exciting group.
Think Twice Before Burying the Blue Jackets
Now let’s see what excuses the experts will use this offseason to try to write the Blue Jackets off in 2022-23. Every year it’s always something. And most every year the Blue Jackets outperform those expectations.
Want to say they’re not a playoff team next season? Do that at your own risk. The Blue Jackets have the talent, cap space, draft capital and prospects to make big moves this offseason should the opportunity present itself.
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Yet again, the Blue Jackets can walk away from this season happy they accomplished a lot and knowing they put many experts to shame thinking they’d be in last place. Will next year finally be the year this trend changes?
Given the recent track record, probably not. But the Blue Jackets do not care and have never cared about what the outside world thinks of them. They believe things are heading in the right direction.
If the Blue Jackets believe it, maybe the experts should believe it too.
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.