The NHL schedules have been released. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, they perhaps have their most favorable schedule in several seasons.
Not only is their schedule geographically friendly, it’s spread out enough where they’ll be able to get practice and rest. They also have a favorable schedule during the first two months of the season.
Less Travel Especially Early
The Blue Jackets are used to having to travel great lengths in a normal season. But this season because of division realignment and how the schedule breaks down early, they find themselves having to do much less traveling than usual in January and February.
In January, the Blue Jackets go from Columbus to Nashville (333 miles.) Then they go Nashville to Detroit (456 miles.) Then it’s back to Columbus (164 miles) followed by a trip to Chicago (276 miles) and back (another 276 miles.)
That’s just 1,105 miles for the month in air travel between cities. To give you some perspective, the Montreal Canadians will go from Toronto to Edmonton on their first road trip of the season which covers 1,671 miles in the air. Overall on that first road trip, the Canadians will travel almost 5,000 air miles as they return home from Vancouver at the end of that set.
The Blue Jackets in February travel some more, but their combined travel in January and February will be less than Montreal’s on their first road trip alone. The Blue Jackets travel 2,205 air miles in February which include trips to Chicago, Carolina and Nashville.
Why is this important? Travel can have an impact on teams from a wear and tear perspective. The fact that the Blue Jackets have minimal travel to start out with should help keep them fresher especially with games coming fast and furious.
Opportunity For a Fast Start
Now that we see the Blue Jackets don’t travel as much, a closer look at their early schedule suggests that they could get off to a fast start.
They open the season in Nashville and in Detroit, two teams in which the Blue Jackets finished higher in the standings. Then they host Tampa Bay without Nikita Kucherov and Florida at Nationwide Arena. Then they wrap up January in Chicago.
February then presents a lot of home cooking for the Blue Jackets. Of the 13 games on the schedule, eight of them are at Nationwide Arena. They play in Chicago twice, in Nashville twice and in Carolina once during the month.
March and April will present the most difficult part of their schedule with most of their road games against the Lightning, Hurricanes, Panthers and Stars. All eight of their scheduled games in Florida take place Mar 31 or later. From Mar 30-Apr 25, the Blue Jackets will play a team from Florida 10 times.
Should they get through that part of their schedule, the ending plays out favorably for the Blue Jackets. Five of their last six games are at home including three with the Red Wings.
All-in-all, they haven’t seen this kind of favor in a schedule almost ever. So long as they take care of business, the Blue Jackets will have an opportunity to take advantage of this schedule. There’s one more factor to consider here.
Playing Teams While Rested/Tired
Micah Blake McCurdy (@ineffectivemath) puts out a great visual every year that documents the number of games teams play when rested or when tired. If you are playing a tired team while rested, that means you had one or more days rest going into a game against a team that played the night before. If you are playing a rested team while tired, you are playing against a rested team while you played the night before.
As you can see, the Blue Jackets find favor in this area as well despite the shortened season. While they won’t play a tired team while rested this season, there’s just one occurrence where they play a rested team while tired.
That game happens right away too. The Blue Jackets play the Panthers on Jan 28 in Columbus then travel to Chicago to play the Blackhawks on Jan 29. Meanwhile the Blackhawks have the 28th off and will be waiting for the Blue Jackets. But that is it for the season.
Now It’s On The Blue Jackets
The opportunity is there with less travel, spaced out games and a very favorable early and ending schedule. It’s now up to the Blue Jackets to be ready and take care of their business. This favor means nothing if they don’t take advantage of it. They need to start fast. They likely won’t see this kind of scheduling favor again in the future.
- The Blue Jackets are bringing defenseman Michael Del Zotto to camp on a pro tryout. I was wondering if something like this could happen given that they did lose Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara in the offseason. He is someone John Tortorella is familiar with going back to their New York Rangers’ days. There’s nothing wrong with bringing someone on to see if they still have something to offer. As we know in the NHL, you can never have enough depth. Del Zotto could provide that if given the chance. Or this could be a case of seeing if some of the youth (Andrew Peeke etc.) are ready for a full-time role. Regardless it’s a very low-risk move for the team in an effort to find depth.
- Still nothing to report on the Pierre-Luc Dubois front. GM Jarmo Kekalainen continues to insist a deal will get done before training camp. Reports have surfaced suggesting positive talks between the two sides. But until pen hits paper, it will be a story given how some other negotiations in Columbus have gone. Training camp opens in just eight days. They still have time but it is starting to run short with Jan 3 quickly approaching.
- Finally, will the Blue Jackets bring someone else on via trade? Never say never but the sense I’m getting is that they’ll start the season with who they have now. The Lightning can put Kucherov on LTIR to get cap compliant. Some other teams may have to make a move or two. But unless the perfect scenario plays out, it seems likely that no deals are on the horizon. That would mean Nick Foligno would start the season as a top-six forward on the left side unless someone dazzles at camp to say otherwise.
Here’s what the Blue Jackets top-six should look like come opening night:
- Alex Texier-Dubois-Oliver Bjorkstrand
- Foligno-Max Domi-Cam Atkinson
That should imply Boone Jenner and Mikko Koivu will start together. Then it will be up to everyone else to fight for their spot in the lineup. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll start to see how it all plays out. But again, with a lot of bodies on the roster as it is, I wouldn’t expect a trade unless the perfect situation unfolds.