Welcome back to our 2020-21 Columbus Blue Jackets season preview. In case you missed our first installment, we discussed the possibility that they could pounce on cap-strapped teams should they choose to do so.
Today, we turn our attention to division realignment. A lot of news broke Friday night as there was a tentative agreement for a 56-game regular season to start on Jan 13 assuming no further delays. While there is still a lot that has to be worked out, we seem to be heading for hockey in less than one month’s time.
With this return-to-play comes division realignment. While the situation in Canada is not fully resolved yet, we do have an idea of what the divisions could look like should an all-Canadian division come to life.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are going to see new faces in 2020-21. Outside of the Carolina Hurricanes, the rest of the “Central” division will feature new division rivals for this season.
The question we want to consider is how will realignment impact the Blue Jackets. Is their potential schedule easier now? Do they have a clearer path to the playoffs?
Multiple reports are suggesting the playoff format will be made of the top-four teams in each division. Then whoever comes out of each division will make the Stanley Cup Semis or the final four.
Setting the Scene
On the surface, it does appear that the Blue Jackets getting away from most of the Metropolitan Division will be a good thing. This means the Penguins, Capitals, Rangers, Islanders, Flyers and Devils will be in another division. There is a lot of talent within these teams. A potential path to a top-four finish would have been a challenge.
While it will be a challenge to get a top-four spot from the Central, the path appears easier. Let’s start by looking at the point totals from last season of this new division.
- Lightning: 92 points (.657).
- Hurricanes: 81 points (.596).
- Stars: 82 points (.594).
- Blue Jackets: 81 points (.579).
- Panthers: 78 points (.565).
- Predators: 78 points (.565).
- Blackhawks: 72 points (.514).
- Red Wings: 39 points (.275).
Meanwhile the top-four in the other division now would read Bruins, Capitals, Flyers and Penguins. Yikes. I haven’t mentioned the Islanders or Rangers yet. Plus Buffalo has improved especially up front. This division is a nightmare.
But that doesn’t mean it will be a cakewalk for the Blue Jackets. The Lightning just won the Stanley Cup. The Stars lost to the Lightning in the Final. The Hurricanes also seemed prime to rise.
The Central Will Be Easier, But…
However it is obvious that being in the Central is an easier path. The Red Wings are in a clear rebuild. They’ll be better than last season but they’re still a long ways off. The Blackhawks have several questions on their team including aging stars and who will take the reigns in net.
The Lightning are the class of the NHL so penciling them in to win this division won’t surprise anyone. That would mean three of the Stars, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Predators, Panthers and Blackhawks will get a ticket to the dance (sorry Detroit.)
This is where the Blue Jackets could see an advantage. They have in recent years played these teams tough. But ultimately, making these playoffs will be dictated by how they do against these other teams.
If the Blue Jackets are to find success in this division, they will have to be much better offensively. Without Gus Nyquist to start, they’ll have to find a way to score more without one of their most consistent players.
If there is one area the Hurricanes, Stars and Predators can hurt the Blue Jackets, it’s that they are all stingy on defense. Whether they do change their style from last season or players just step up, the biggest question hovering over this team is where will the extra scoring come from. A lot will ride on how Pierre-Luc Dubois, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Max Domi and Cam Atkinson fare.
What Did We Learn?
We learned that being in the Central division will be an easier path to the playoffs. We also learned that it will still be a dogfight to make it.
For the Blue Jackets, this will mean overcoming some old familiar faces. Sergei Bobrovsky, Alex Wennberg and Markus Nutivaara would love nothing more than to derail the Blue Jackets. The same can be said for Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen.
If one thing will come from this realignment, the Blue Jackets will have no shortage of motivation. They gave the Lightning a hard five-game series and now will see each other a lot more in 2020-21. The games with the Panthers and Predators should be feisty as well. Imagine if these games at the end had a playoff spot on the line. Spicy.
But in the end, the move to the Central division will benefit the Blue Jackets. The road to a playoff spot became much easier than before.
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.