The new year is upon us, and it’s time that the Blue Jackets look ahead to what 2017 has to offer. While there is plenty the new year will have to offer this team, here’s a preview of some of the bigger items.
The Blue Jackets Look Ahead to 2017
Catching Up in Games Played
For almost the entirety of the season, the Blue Jackets have played the fewest games in the league. There have been stretches where they have had as many as five games-in-hand over other teams, like the Philadelphia Flyers. This has been a big part in being able to maintain the highest points percentage recently. Obviously, consistently winning has been the biggest part in that.
One thing we know for sure is that the Jackets will soon be catching up with the rest of the league in the number of games played. The implementation of the “bye” week this season is going to have Columbus catching up in GP sooner than later. By next week, the Blue Jackets and Penguins will be even with 39 games played a piece. Even though they haven’t had their bye week yet, the 11 back-to-backs remaining will help get the Blue Jackets even with the rest of the Metropolitan Division in no time.
Big Metro Slate Ahead
Another thing to be expected is a Metro-heavy schedule for the rest of the season. So far in 36 games played, the Blue Jackets have only played 5 divisional games, going 5-0-0 in those games. What that means is that they still need to play Metropolitan teams 25 more times in their remaining 46 games. That proves to be a tough remaining schedule, with 54% of the opponents coming from the toughest NHL division. Breaking down the remaining schedule further, 20 of their last 46 games are against teams currently in a playoff position.
Possibility of Regression
All season long, and through much of the winning streak, people have kept claiming that the Blue Jackets success is “unsustainable.” Now, the wiser analysts have began to change their tune and have said that yes, the Blue Jackets are actually a good team. That doesn’t mean they won’t regress in some areas through the rest of their season. As previously pointed out, the Jackets have a tough schedule ahead. As nice as it would be for Columbus to string together 62 straight wins, that’s not going to happen.
One area that is talked about quite a bit when regression comes up is the power play. Currently, the Blue Jackets lead the NHL in PP% at 28.3%. That’s 4.3% better than the second team, the Anaheim Ducks. The team has lead the league just about all season, and even with some regression, they could realistically still finish at the top. The power play might falter a bit in the second half of the season, but don’t expect it to plummet in relation to the rest of the league. Their first power play unit is dynamic, and has proven to be hard to slow down.
With the Jackets having their best season in the franchise’s history, and leading the league, there are bound to be a couple worthy All-Star selections. The first Blue Jacket that deserves to be selected without a doubt, is goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who was just named the NHL’s First Star of the Month in December. Bobrovsky, who was named to the 2015 All-Star Game in Columbus but had to miss it due to an injury, has been on fire all season, and currently leads all goaltenders with 25 wins.
The next name that is more than deserving to be named to the Metropolitan’s roster is RW Cam Atkinson. Atkinson leads the team in goals (18) and points (38), which is also good enough for a tie for 6th in the league lead in points. Cam has been having a career year, and is on pace to score more than 30 goals for the first time in his career. He should be a sure thing to make the All-Star Game. Alexander Wennberg, Brandon Saad, and Nick Foligno could also make arguments to be selected, but unfortunately they won’t all be able to make it.
2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs
At this point, it would take a meteoric collapse for the Blue Jackets to miss the playoffs. They only need 44 more points to reach 100 points, which should be enough to snag a playoff spot. With the pace they’re on, that won’t be a problem. Even when they slow down, the Jackets should be able to make it comfortably. They look like a lock for a top three spot in the Metro thus far. It will be an exciting time in Columbus when they make their third ever appearance in the playoffs.
This section could be a stretch, but there are a couple legitimate possibilities of Blue Jackets bringing home awards. First, as mentioned before, is Sergei Bobrovsky. Right now, it looks like a two-horse race for the Vezina between Bobrovsky and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk. With Bob beating Dubnyk on New Year’s Eve, the slight edge favors the Top Cop for now.
Another possibility is John Tortorella winning the Jack Adams. You would have gotten laughed out of the room if you suggested this prior to the season, but what he’s done this season in Columbus has been phenomenal. The players have bought in, and the culture has taken a huge change for the better.
The last award that a Jacket could take home is the Calder, by Zach Werenski. He’s been great on the top pairing, and has been right there with the other rookies in the points race. It’ll be hard to take down Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine, but Werenski has a shot. As we’ve seen this season, you never know what might happen.