With expectations considerably lower than they were a year ago, the Blue Jackets could have a decent season if everything goes right for them.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, the Blue Jackets.
THN's Prediction: 6th in Metro
Stanley Cup odds: 45-1
Key additions: Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW; Sam Gagner, RW; Scott Harrington, D
Key departures: Fedor Tyutin, D; Jared Boll, RW; Justin Falk, D; Kerby Rychel, LW; Michael Chaput, C
-Can Sergei Bobrovsky stay healthy? Having pushed through a plethora of groin-related injuries, Bobrovsky started his season early thanks to World Cup duty with Russia. That’s not ideal. And while it’s nearly impossible to predict a player getting hurt, it’s for the best that Columbus has Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo coming up the pipe. On top of his body, Bobrovsky has also struggled with the mental part of the game recently. He needs some positive results early.
-Who is the No. 1 center here? Nothing wrong with the Ryan Johansen-Seth Jones trade from the Jackets’ perspective, other than the fact no one replaced Johansen on the depth chart. Boone Jenner will get a look, while other possibilities include Brandon Dubinsky and Alexander Wennberg. All three are No. 2 centers in an ideal world (Jenner is usually a winger), but Columbus doesn’t have another option right now. If the team is going to make noise in the near future, it needs to find that dominating guy down the middle. Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Jackets’ 2016 first-rounder, may be that player, but he will need some time before he can be expected to take on such a big, meaty NHL role.
-How does the defense look? Pretty fun, actually. Jones brought much-needed minute-munching with his skill, and a full year of David Savard will help. Ryan Murray played all 82 games last season, and Zach Werenski is a rookie to watch closely. That’s a top-four you can really make hay with, though there will be the awkward task of pushing Jack Johnson down the depth chart. If Columbus is going to improve, however, it’s the younger generation taking over that will make it happen.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
Before last season started, the Blue Jackets were probably one of the most overrated teams in the league. Many experts were enamoured by their big hot streak to end the 2014-15 season and with the acquisition of budding star Brandon Saad, big things were expected. The numbers crowd was a bit more cautious and pointed at their shaky D-corps and poor bottom six as a sign that the team may not be as good as most people think.
Flash forward one year and the team remains mostly the same, but the perception has shifted significantly after a disastrous 2015-16 campaign. Just like the Blue Jackets weren’t as good as their perception before last season, they’re not as bad as last season would suggest either.
The forward group is solid, headlined by the aforementioned Saad and Nick Foligno, who should bounce back this season. The team has a very strong top nine and the fourth line should feature more guys who can actually play this season, as opposed to a combination of Gregory Campbell, Rene Bourque, Jared Boll and David Clarkson.
The defensive is still shaky overall, but there’s a lot more promise on the horizon. Zach Werenski should make the team and he was lights out in his first season after the draft. Former second overall pick Ryan Murray might finally break out, and this could be the year Seth Jones shows he can be a legit number one D-man.
The biggest question mark is in net, which was once the team’s biggest strength. Sergei Bobrovsky is just a few years removed from a Vezina trophy, but his play has dipped significantly since then and he’s had trouble staying healthy. Last season was his first below average effort since 2011-12 and he’ll need to bounce back for the Blue Jackets to be competitive.
In recent years, the Metro has been a gauntlet, but it’s softened to the point where the only real certainties are Pittsburgh and Washington. If the blue-collar forward group stays solid, the defence matures, and Bobrovsky bounces back, the Blue Jackets could fulfill on the promise they showed prior to last season.
Up next: Calgary Flames