On Saturday, we started off our Columbus Blue Jackets’ season prediction by going all doom and gloom and giving you four reasons why I don’t think the team makes the playoffs in 2019-20. Luckily for all of you, seasons are played by an 82-game schedule and not what I say.
Today, we look at the other side of the story. The Columbus Blue Jackets, like every NHL team, have a chance and could make the playoffs. There is a path to the playoffs. We will now share five things that must happen for the Blue Jackets to return to the postseason.
We know what the worries are. We know the team has several questions they have to answer. A closer look at the team indicates it’s not all doom and gloom. But the Blue Jackets have to show they can do these five things. If they do them, a playoff return will happen.
1. Joonas Korpisalo .920 or Higher
Goaltending is the obvious question for the Blue Jackets as Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins enter as one of the more inexperienced duos in the league. But given the depth of the team in other areas, their performance will dictate how this season goes.
Here’s the way I see it. If starter Joonas Korpisalo finishes the season under .910, the Blue Jackets are cooked. If it’s between .910 and .920, they’re on the playoff bubble depending on how the offense performs. If they get .920 or higher, they should make it.
It’s a lot to ask for a young, first-time full-time starter. But given the talent on defense, it’s conceivable to think Korpisalo can achieve this. If his preseason performance is any indication, he could surprise many and get to the magic .920 mark.
Merzlikins will get his starts too and needs to put up respectable numbers. At the end of the season, look at the save percentage and it will tell the tale if the Blue Jackets made the postseason.
2. Alexander Wennberg 50 Points
I know what you are thinking. Is you crazy, Mark? I’ve been known to be a time or two (or all the time.) But if the Blue Jackets want to make the playoffs, their number-two center has to find a way to perform the way he can.
Wennberg has done it before. He has a 59-point season on his resume. He also has 35 and 40-point seasons. Last season he finished a disappointing season with just two goals and 25 points. He knows he can play better. The team knows he can play better. It’s up to him to find his game.
Only he knows what’s truly going on. Is his relationship with John Tortorella severed? Was his health a factor last season? He says it wasn’t. Whatever happened to him last season is now in the past. It’s a new season and a new opportunity for him to make a huge impact.
With stars Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene gone, the Blue Jackets need all the offense they can get. The biggest area of improvement lies with Wennberg. If he can produce even 10-40-50, that’ll give life to the team and have them in the thick of the playoff race.
3. Seth Jones True Norris Contender
We know how high an upside Seth Jones has. His offensive instincts combined with his ability to play a shutdown role make him one of the best defenseman in the NHL.
If there’s been any issue with Jones, it’s been his consistency and he admits that. If the Blue Jackets are going to surprise some folks and return to the playoffs, Jones has to be a dominate force and show that he can consistently do it night in and night out.
Jones needs to be one of the five best defenseman in this league. He’s on the verge. But he needs to bust that door down and take his place on top of the mountain. He and the rest of the defense will need to make the goalie’s jobs easier this season. Anything sort of spectacular will leave the team falling short.
4. Texier/Bemstrom/Milano Combine for 30 Goals
Alexandre Texier likely starts on the left-wing on the top line. Emil Bemstrom could play both a fourth line role and an important power-play role. Sonny Milano has had some NHL success and can score.
Each of these three will need to make important contributions if the Blue Jackets want to return to the playoffs. Someone or a group needs to make up for the losses. While one player is not expected to do that himself, a group of young, talented players could.
The question I have is will Tortorella allow them to see enough ice time to make this happen? Are they good enough away from the puck? Texier is good. The other two have questions. But they each provide good upside in scoring. They have to bring it. Otherwise goal scoring will be difficult. Can they rise up and answer this challenge?
5. Power Play 20% Minimum
We talked about this pain point on Saturday. The power play has to perform no excuses. In today’s NHL, a decent power play can convert once out of every five opportunities. That’s two conversions in every three games. The team has fallen short of this. Luckily their 5-on-5 lifted them up.
But now the power play will help determine their season with stars gone. The recipe for success in Columbus is strong defense, timely scoring with an uptick in power-play success. Under 20% is not going to cut it this season. That won’t be enough offense.
Whether they play with more pace or show a more deceptive look, these Blue Jackets must come up with an answer here. The young guys are going to have to step up, especially Bemstrom.
If the Blue Jackets realize these five items, they will return to the playoffs. Anything less and it will be time to sweat. While a lot of things must go right, this is their path and it’s up to them to answer that call.
Can they make this happen? Starting Friday, we will all find out.