This week’s Friday Feature has us glancing around the Metropolitan Division, as we ask ourselves: how do the Blue Jackets stack up against the teams they’ll need to contend with the most?
After an offseason that has seen the Jackets change drastically, mainly focusing on improving their whopping 4.02 team goals against average from last season; we all want to see this group make a push towards a playoff spot. But that’s no easy task in today’s NHL. Parity has never been greater, and teams are constantly shuffling pieces to improve on the fly and contend annually.
In short, the Jackets aren’t the only ones who have made their roster a lot better this summer … not even within the division. The hope here is that their young players can take bigger steps this season, which, combined with better health (fingers crossed) should make this team more formidable. How much more formidable is the question, after the team finished with 59 points last season. The playoff line, for the record, was 92 points – so the real question here is: can we find 33 points in the standings, without any more major moves?
I’ll point out the obvious: 16 additional wins is a huge ask, even for a team who just improved its depth on defense by adding an entire second pair this summer. Ivan Provorov and Damon Severson bring a combined 1179 games of NHL experience to a team that had just two defensemen with more than 400 games played on the roster last season (Zach Werenski and Erik Gudbranson). These guys should make a huge difference, right away.
The Jackets also turn their eyes, hopes, and dreams to the best prospect they’ve ever had; their future #1 center, Adam Fantilli. But he’ll be just 20 years old when the puck drops on opening night, and like so much of the roster, he will need time to gain experience and confidence in the NHL.
Really, it feels like once a few key players really find their way in this league, this team is headed for something special. Over the years, we have had guys who were talented, but didn’t really have their hearts in Columbus. We’ve had plenty of guys who had their hearts in Columbus, but didn’t have the talent. Very few players have checked both of these boxes – but almost never enough of them at the same time to make this team a perennial powerhouse.
But now, for the first time, there are a lot of guys who have high end talent that want to be Blue Jackets. Johnny Gaudreau chose to come here. Zach Werenski chose to stick around long-term, even through the rebuild. David Jiricek kissed the logo on the front of his sweater when he put it on for the first time. Adam Fantilli was vocal about Columbus being perfect, even before the draft. The list goes on and on.
But with all of this talent in place, the Metro division is still going to be really tough. In fact, one could make the argument that it will be tougher than ever this season: there are a few teams that are jockeying for one more run with their current cores. There are a few potential powerhouses. There’s one obvious bottom-feeder. Then there’s us, hoping to be the upstart team playing spoiler.