It’s an easy statement to say that Columbus Blue Jackets are the hottest team in the NHL right now. They beat the Minnesota Wild on New Year’s Eve for their 15th consecutive win in the game affectionately deemed “The Unsustainabowl.” In addition to being humorous, this title serves as both a shot at the analytics crowd as well as a way of underscoring the rarity of such an event.
Columbus Blue Jackets Ring In 2017 In All The Right Ways
The Wild hosting the Blue Jackets normally would’ve been a game with virtually no talking points outside of the respective fanbases. But with both franchises on their longest win streaks since coming in to the league 16 years ago, it grew to a level of hype this match-up has likely never seen, or may never see again.
With Minnesota riding a 12-game winning streak and Columbus on a 14-game win streak, it became the match with the longest respective win streaks in North American sports history. The MLB hasn’t seen a game like this since 1884, and the NBA and NFL hadn’t since these two cities were in their first seasons in the NHL. Truly something that should be cherished, and not soon forgotten.
— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) December 31, 2016
It’s getting more and more difficult by the day for people not to talk about the 1992-93 Penguins’ single-season winning streak, but it’s important to take this season one game at a time. Although that would be a wonderful accomplishment in the path to widespread legitimacy for the Jackets, no one should be upset if it doesn’t happen. What’s more impressive is how the players on the ice have looked during and before this streak.
The Source of Success
Perhaps the most impressive offseason pick up across the NHL, former sixth overall draft choice Sam Gagner is on pace to have more goals and assists respectively than he had total points last year. Gagner has seemingly found the right fit in Columbus, and he has been absolutely pivotal in the league’s top powerplay unit. As a result, his tally of six goals on the man advantage has already equaled his career best in that category, and in only 34 games to boot.
When supposed bottom-six skaters are able to play at Gagner’s level throughout the first half of the season, the results are bound to be overwhelmingly positive. And when you take a closer look to the scoring chart, he’s not the only bottom six guy having a career year. Josh Anderson is playing in his first full NHL season and has already contributed eight goals in addition to his stout defensive play and unflinching forecheck. Throw in contributions from the likes of Lukas Sedlak and Markus Nutivaara and you have some seriously impressive young depth.
If you take a look back, even to last year, and compare the bottom six production to that of Rene Bourque, Gregory Campbell, and Jared Boll, the success this season becomes less surprising than most would have you think. With all due respect to the aforementioned three, at this point in their respective careers they didn’t offer much more than a few punches and consumption of cap space. By dumping these deadweight players and replacing them with young, eager scoring threats, management has set a solid foundation for future success.
Focus On What’s Right, Not Just Winning
Once again, this win streak is something that is truly unforgettable, and it showcases all the changes John Tortorella and Jarmo Kekalainen have brought to the capital city. As promised, the drafting has been very solid since Kekalainen has come to town. And with the hard-nosed, hard skating, end-to-end philosophy that Tortorella brings, things are looking to be more sustainable than you’d likely hear on most media outlets.
Tortorella has opted for youth, a strategy that has proven successful throughout his career. Opting for young talent rather than seasoned veterans gives him more of a chance to instill the his system and to sell it to the players themselves. It has become clear, even from the end of last season, that the players are fully buying in to Tortorella’s ideas and the results are evident on the ice.
If the top players like Brandon Saad, Nick Foligno, Alexander Wennberg, and Cam Atkinson can continue to produce even slightly below the rate they have this season, the Columbus Blue Jackets should comfortably find themselves playing in the postseason. Throw in the bottom six players like Anderson, Sedlak, and Nutivaara and you truly have a mixture for success.
While it is important to hold on this new-found optimism, don’t be surprised if, and when, the Blue Jackets regress like the analytics groups say they will. Because even if they regress from where they are now, the result will likely still be at least one playoff series. Enjoy the ride while it lasts, Fifth Liners, and always be looking forward.