Columbus Blue Jackets Are Still Not Playoff Bound


There is nearly three months left until the puck drops, but now that the NHL has hit a lull in its summer activities, there is one item that needs to be cleared up: the Columbus Blue Jackets still aren’t a playoff team.  Sorry to be the guy that rains on your parade, good people of Ohio.

After the Blue Jackets made a stunning trade for restricted free agent Brandon Saad on the eve of free agency (and subsequently re-signed him), high praise from all over the hockey community poured in to the team: they just acquired a 22-year old stud forward who is one of the game’s rising stars and sent notice throughout the league that they are ready to be major players.

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It wasn’t just the acquisition of Saad that had people hopping on the Columbus Blue Jackets’ bandwagon.  They already had a couple of all-star forwards in Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno on the roster, so the addition of Saad would deepen an already-strong top six forward group.  The team finished last season on a torrid 16-1-1 stretch, lifting them to a 42-35-5 record.  While the 89 points was nine points shy of a playoff spot, the Blue Jackets finished with 393 man games lost due to injury, most in the NHL.  This included significant time missed from building blocks Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Murray, the latter missing 70 games due to various injuries to his knee and ankle.

A developing core of players.  A former Vezina winner in Sergei Bobrovsky in net.  A little bit of better luck in the health department.  Momentum from a fantastic finish.  All that’s left is to punch that playoff ticket, right?

Well, not quite.

For all the positive reviews the forward group has received, there are legitimate questions on the blue line.  There are some pieces to work with- Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin, David Savard– but not nearly enough depth to compensate for its deficiencies.  With Bobrovsky in net, the Blue Jackets don’t need to a bunch of Norris Trophy candidates on defense, but some level of competency would help.  Last season the Ble Jackets finished 25th in the league in goals allowed per game, allowing 3.02 goals per game.  Beyond the goal totals, they allowed the third most shots on net per game at 33.4.  It isn’t a formula that is sustainable for successful teams.

It’s not just the team defense either.  For those with an eye towards advanced statistics, the team finished 25th and 26th in the league in Corsi For Percentage and Fenwick For Percentage, two key statistical measures of possession.  For those who are not familiar with these metrics, it’s a very simple concept: they are indicators of puck possession and the more a team has the puck, the better.  These models show that the Columbus Blue Jackets were amongst the worst teams in the league in driving possession.  That doesn’t mean they can’t be successful with these metrics, but it is more difficult to win when you’re chasing the puck more often than not.

The other factor going against the Columbus Blue Jackets for next season was their success in the shootouts.  The finished 9-2 in the shootout which was the best win percentage in the league in the skills competition.  While shootout success can be wildly inconsistent from year to year, the league is hoping to see less games go beyond overtime with the implementation of its new three on three format.  The Blue Jackets 33 regulation victories had them in the bottom third of the league in that category as well.  Can the Blue Jackets count on racking up the points again in the shootout to keep them afloat?

There is also the issue, that unfortunately, the team can’t do anything about: the division they play in, which is tops in the league.  Between the Rangers, Capitals, Islanders, and Penguins, the Metropolitan Division is pretty well stacked at the top.    While Columbus appears to have improved on paper, none of the top four teams appears to have gotten appreciably worse.  The Atlantic Division features the conference champion Lightning, the Carey Price-led Canadiens, the Red Wings, up-and-comers like the Senators and Panthers, and despite some questionable moves, a formidable Bruins team.  Do they have an extra nine points in them and the ability to jump over three teams in the process?

This isn’t to knock what the Columbus Blue Jackets have done so far this summer.  There is still plenty of time before the season starts, although it seems that most teams have done their heavy lifting already and only a few impact free agents remain.  The possibility of acquiring more blue line help seems remote now.  With over $65 million committed towards the salary cap next season and the team needing to sign restricted free agent Matt Calvert, it’s likely the roster you see now is close to a finished product and will take the ice come October.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have taken another step forward and once some of their young defensive prospects mature, they should be a perennial playoff participant.  Unfortunately for them, that won’t be this year.

UPDATE: Reports earlier say that Matt Calvert re-signed for an average salary of $2.2 million, bringing the Blue Jackets’ salary cap to approximately $67.2 million.

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