The Columbus Blue Jackets have officially been eliminated from playoff contention as of Saturday night and although there won’t be any postseason hockey in Ohio, there are a lot of positives coming out of this season. The 2021-22 season has had quite a few ups and downs, however, it has become clear that the future of the organization is very bright.
The Blue Jackets were expected to finish near or at the very bottom of the NHL this season. While they were unable to qualify for the playoffs and currently sit 20 points out of the final wildcard spot, for a majority of the season, they were in contention to overtake the Washington Capitals, who occupy that position. After a difficult March and April, they fell off heavily. However, they still sit 27 points above the bottom of the league, meaning they were closer to the playoffs than they were to last in the league. Based on the pre-season expectations, this is a victory for the team as they push through many difficult personnel changes.
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To start the season, the team had an entirely new coaching staff, a new captain, a revamped leadership group, and a massive influx of younger players, which is typically a recipe for a difficult season. The fact that the playoffs were even still seen as a realistic possibility following the new year would’ve been surprising to quite a few experts before the season. While this season won’t be remembered as one of the best in franchise history by any means, it proved that the new group in Columbus still carries the never-say-die attitude that defined the previous era of Blue Jackets hockey.
The Resurgence of Patrik Laine and Boone Jenner
The Blue Jackets had two players who needed to step up their game this season, their superstar acquisition from last season, Patrik Laine, and their new captain, Boone Jenner. They both certainly did just that. If they had been healthy the entirety of the season, Laine likely would’ve neared the 40-goal mark which he’s only hit once in his career to this point. Meanwhile, Jenner could’ve easily set a new career-high in goals as he’s sitting seven goals below his personal best of thirty from 2015-16 through 23 fewer games played.
Their increased play is evident in more than just goals, however, both were on pace for career-highs in points if they had been able to play a full 82 game season. Laine has been near a point per game multiple times in his career, however, he’s never actually been able to reach that milestone. If this season were to end today, he would do so for the first time in his young career as he currently sits at 56 points through 56 games played. Jenner on the other hand is only five points below his career-high of 49. If these players can both duplicate this season’s performance and stay healthy going forward, they can give the Blue Jackets a chance to make the playoffs again very, very soon.
The Debut of Young Talent
There has been certainly no shortage of NHL debuts in Columbus this season, as Cole Sillinger, Yegor Chinakhov, Kent Johnson, Nick Blankenburg, Trey Fix-Wolansky, Justin Danforth, and quite a few others have had that exciting experience this season. Many of these players will be key pieces of the Blue Jackets in the near future, and although some of them won’t; there’s certainly excitement watching someone make an impact in the NHL at such a young age, or in Danforth’s case after such a long journey.
Sillinger, Danforth, and Chinakhov have been regulars in the line-up this season and have helped the team exceed expectations as previously mentioned. They’ll only improve from here and become even more important pieces of the puzzle, while the recent additions of Johnson and Blankenburg to the roster are a simple reminder to the fans about just how bright the future can be in Columbus.
The 2021-22 season has been a difficult one for the Blue Jackets and their fans, specifically over the last couple of months. However, it’s also been an important transitional season that the organization was able to make entertaining. At the very least, this season showed that the team will continue overcoming the odds, despite major personnel changes, as they have in the past and once again proved how much potential they have for the future.