One team is tearing it all down, with an eye towards resetting the entire franchise and building for contention way down the road. And, where do the Jackets end up?
I’ve been a hockey fan for over 30 years, and this is the first time I’ve seen the Philadelphia Flyers execute a proper rebuild. Their current M.O. seems to be to deal away the core of the team and acquire draft picks and prospects. Quite similar to the position the Jackets were in 2-3 years ago; the Flyers are hoping the reset leads to a more skilled, competitive team in a few years’ time.
But if there’s one thing we all know well: John Tortorella hates losing. So, I think we can count on the Flyers being a plucky, hard working team, that tries to grind out games in a 2-1, 3-2 fashion. If there are more than five goals scored in many of their games this season, they are probably in big trouble – the talent just isn’t there in Philly. This is a team that should be competing for the first overall pick at the 2024 NHL Draft.
In all, I see the Metro as a division with five clear and distinct tiers this season. There’s that top tier, which includes the Carolina Hurricanes (say, the 115-120 point group), with the New Jersey Devils possibly knocking on the door. There’s a second tier, where I have the Devils at the higher end – as well as the New York Rangers (we’ll call this our 100+ point group). I think these teams will be vying for the #2/3 seeds in the division all season long.
Then, I feel like there’s a pretty significant drop-off to the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, who I have in tier three (the 90-100 point group). Either team could contend for a bubble spot – or fall completely out of the running by mid-season. Next up, tier four, we can pretty much call the Washington Capitals tier (80-90 points). They’re in a little bit of a no-man’s land, where I don’t think they’re good enough to contend for a playoff spot, but they aren’t falling into high draft lottery contention either. At the bottom, by a stretch, are the Philadelphia Flyers (say, 55-65 points).
So, which tier do you think we can place the Jackets into? Realistically speaking, without massive breakout seasons from at least a couple of players like Kent Johnson, Adam Fantilli, Adam Boqvist, Kirill Marchenko, David Jiricek, Yegor Chinakhov or Cole Sillinger, this team is in that “Washington Tier” of 80-90 points.
Assuming they’re relatively healthy, I think we can expect Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine, Boone Jenner, Emil Bemstrom, Zach Werenski, Ivan Provorov, Damon Severson, and on down the list; to at least make this team competitive on a nightly basis. They aren’t going to get shelled by the top teams in this league any longer – the games will be closer and more entertaining. They will even win a few more of them.
But, to go from 59 points to a playoff spot, is really a big ask. Their biggest addition this summer, at least for the immediate future, without any doubt in my mind, is Mike Babcock. He’ll get these guys all playing the same way, and there is a ton of talent here. But it needs to mature a little bit to reach its full potential, and a full year of battle testing is the best way to do that.
So, let’s hope for a bounce back season from the Jackets this year. If Elvis Merzlikins can return to form and give this team quality goaltending, anything can happen. I’m just hesitant to call it “playoffs or bust” at this point.