Many seem to agree that the Columbus Blue Jackets are an improved team. What many can’t seem to agree on is where they will finish in the Metropolitan Division.
With as many as five teams projected to make the playoffs from the Metro, it’s no wonder there are varying opinions on the division. In what order will the teams finish? Will a team not getting attention make a surprise run and grab a playoff spot? It’s all very possible.
If the Blue Jackets finish 6th or worse in the division, they can’t get a playoff spot. That could potentially open the door for a team like the Flyers to sneak by them. But there are some who think they win the division.
Why is that? How can a team have a range of outcomes? That’s because the team has many questions to answer. The answers to these questions will tell us where the Blue Jackets will finish.
Let’s now look at what is influencing the experts and their prediction for the Blue Jackets.
Playing 5 on 5
This killed the Blue Jackets, especially early in the season. They were one of the worst teams in the NHL at 5-on-5 play. Although the numbers at the end got better thanks to their furious finish, the Blue Jackets still finished with a goal differential of -21 at 5-on-5.
Again, most of this happened early in the season, when the Blue Jackets were in the midst of fighting through an insane amount of injuries. But this is still a major concern, given that most of last year’s roster is back.
There are new faces on the team. Brandon Saad is there, along with Gregory Campbell. The rest of the team, for now, is healthy. There is reason to believe that the team will improve on their 5-on-5 numbers. Saad along with Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno have the potential to dominate the league. We will know in short order if the 5-on-5 issues were only because of the injuries, or if there is a deeper problem in place.
One expert has cited 5-on-5 as why the Blue Jackets will miss the playoffs. You’ll notice that McCurdy in his model has the Blue Jackets third from last in the Eastern Conference. The model takes many things into consideration, which he explains in the link. 5-on-5 is a major part of this.
While many agree that the forward group is among the NHL’s best, they also agree that the defense is the biggest question mark. Although the team looked to make changes, the team didn’t make any moves.
The team feels that a healthy Ryan Murray is the best acquisition of the summer. They didn’t need to acquire someone just because. Some experts think that the Blue Jackets made a mistake here.
They say that outside of Murray, the Blue Jackets don’t have much of a defense. Yes, their past performance hasn’t been great, but it is improving. Add another year of development and playing together, and you have a unit who could surprise some people. Don’t think they don’t know that they’re being talked about. They’ll come out fired up, eager to prove that they can play well.
When healthy (notice a theme yet?), Bobrovsky is one of the NHL’s better goaltenders. However, he has missed stretches of time in the last couple seasons. Most recently, a groin injury kept him out.
Once he came back, Bobrovsky carried the Blue Jackets to an incredible finish. The obvious question is, can he stay healthy for an entire season? He took time this summer to change his workout, hoping that it would help him prevent injury.
He is now bigger and stronger than he was last season. Now he has to go out and prove he can stay out there. And there are nights in which he will rest. Can Curtis McElhinney hold the fort down when Bobrovsky doesn’t play?
Bobrovsky has won a Vezina. Given the wide range of outcomes here, it’s no wonder the fate of the Blue Jackets rests with a healthy Bobrovsky. If he plays like a Vezina winner, Columbus could make a deep playoff run. If he’s injured, then a free fall could take place.
So Where Does Columbus Finish?
That’s the million dollar question. If everything goes right, they win the division. If everything goes wrong, they’re out of the playoffs.
The forwards are among the NHL’s best top to bottom. The defense is not as bad as many think. Bobrovsky has major upside. As a whole, the team is trending in the right direction.
The Blue Jackets finished 5th in the division last season. Can they jump four teams and win it? Yes, they can. However, everything has to go right for this to happen. The more likely outcome is a jump of one to two spots. Other teams such as the Capitals, Penguins, and Islanders have improved. The Rangers are still good.
I have the Blue Jackets finishing third in the division, behind the Capitals and Rangers. That’s firmly in the playoffs. They have to avoid the slow start. Given the new pieces in place, and the focus they had this preseason, the Blue Jackets have a chip on their shoulders. They’ll come out on fire. What happens after that will decide how their season will finish.