The Columbus Blue Jackets are, without a doubt, the biggest surprise in the National Hockey League this season.
A team pegged by many pundits for last place in the Metro Division is on pace for 124 points – a 48-point turnaround from last season, which would be the largest for a team since the Jackets joined the league in 2000.
A coach many thought was an ill fit for what was allegedly a rebuild instead has them thriving in his system. Their offensive has gone from 2.60 goals per game last season to 3.34 this season. Their power play remains at a 27.7-percent conversion rate, and they have the fewest power-play attempts (83) in the league.
Their defense has gone from 3.02 last season to 2.07 this season, and that’s not all Sergei Bobrovsky.
So the Blue Jackets are rolling at an historic clip, and look destined for a playoff spot. The pundits were wrong, and Blue Jackets fans don’t hesitate to remind them of that fact. Which leads us to our Puck Daddy Roundtable discussion:
How are you coping with the undeniable success of the Columbus Blue jackets? Happy? Skeptical? Sad you were wrong?
And here … we … go.
GREG WYSHYNSKI, Puck Daddy Editor
It’s weird. This is a moment in which I feel like I should be popping bottles of Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and celebrating the hell out of my beloved little ‘Lumbus rolling through the Eastern Conference like Sauron marauding through an army with the One Ring.
Yet I have these conflicted feelings about it.
I’m conflicted because no one likes to be wrong, and clearly we missed something about this team. And not just the current incarnation of the team, but the direction of the franchise, in the sense that John Tortorella seemed like a terrible fit, for what seemed like a protracted rebuild. So perhaps we all slept on the leap the younger players were going to take, and how much a healthy Bobrovsky could transform this team. And then there were the unpredictable things, like Sam Gagner having more goals (13) than Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane at this point.
I’m conflicted because I generally don’t like John Tortorella as a coach, temperamentally and tactically. And yes, some of this is the lingering taste of bile from the World Cup of Hockey and the embarrassment that was Team USA, but that’s as much on management as it was on the coach. There’s no denying the impact he’s had on this team, and the fact that he’s probably going to win the Jack Adams unless Guy Boucher somehow makes a stronger case.
I’m conflicted because I genuinely like the Blue Jackets and their fans, but some of them have been complete [expletives] in the face of this success. And I get that, as a Devils fan: You watch the rest of the hockey world drop their pants and defecate on your team, city and existence long enough, and you’re going to want to throw as much crap back at them as possible when given the chance.
But I think part of this reaction from some segments – not all – of Blue Jackets fans on social media is also a rebuke of analytics, which told us early on that these results weren’t sustainable. They’re still fifth in score-adjusted PDO and hence punching above their weight. (From a possession standpoint, they’re in the positive at 51.17 percent.) Plus that power play is going to fall at some point, historically. Yet simply stating these facts, or even applauding how some of these metrics have turned around during their run, gets you a swift kick in the Fenwicks.
(I’ll also note that many of these same fans were as skeptical as any about Tortorella, management and the team after last season.)
So in trying to suss out my sour feelings towards Columbus this season, I’ve come to this conclusion:
The Blue Jackets are a team that’s defying conventional wisdom and proving the pundits to be inaccurate. Their fans – good, hard-working Midwesterners – are rejecting data and science, as their coach does; and in the process, they’re backing a man who I don’t respect in the job, who has shown both a disdain for the media and megalomaniacal tendencies in the past.
Apologies, CBJ fans: It’s a triggering effect.
I’m sure I’ll eventually be happy that someone Made Columbus Great Again (#MCGA).
SEAN LEAHY, Puck Daddy Editor
I had the Blue Jackets finishing last in the Metro when we made our preseason picks and that one is looking spot on at the moment…
I was worried about Sergei Bobrovsky’s health. He’s stayed off IR and been Vezina worthy through 29 games.
I was worried about John Tortorella because, well, John Tortorella. But what he’s selling the CBJs are buying.
Whatever you think the future holds for the Blue Jackets, it’s been fun as hell to see them on this ride. For a franchise that’s yet to see a playoff series win, they deserve this; the fans have been waiting a long time. After they put a scare into the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2014 we thought they’d build off that six-game series going forward. Well, the trainer’s room was busy last year in Columbus, but now they’ve been healthy and productive.
The Blue Jackets have candidates for the Vezina (Bob), Jack Adams (Torts) and Calder (Zach Werenski), plus a potential “signing of the season” in Sam Gagner ($650K, 13 goals, 22 pts.). Many are expecting them to regress over the course of the final four months of the season, but it’s always good to have new blood rise to the top in the NHL.
JEN NEALE, Puck Daddy Editor
I’m not totally surprised at the success of the Blue Jackets. I figured it would come before too long because they had a pretty good stockpile of young talent. The success of the Calder Cup champion Cleveland Monsters last season further cemented my theory that the big club would be better sooner rather than later.
However, I didn’t think the success would come under John Tortorella.
Yes, he’s won a Cup and coached some pretty good teams deep into the playoffs, but he’s kinda’ crazy. I’ve been watching this season wondering when he was going to wear on the young players enough to break their confidence.
Some news came out last week that made it all make sense. Columbus management told Torts at the beginning of this season to turn down the intensity and the antics. In talking with Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler, who played for Torts in Vancouver, they both were pretty emphatic in saying they enjoyed playing for him, he was just really intense. If all he’s focusing on is coaching without the sideshow of his personality, that’s a great sign.
The only real question remains for me is if Sergei Bobrovsky can stay healthy the rest of the season and through the playoffs. This team isn’t going anywhere with Curtis McElhinney in net.
JOSH COOPER, Puck Daddy Editor
I’m happy with the Blue Jackets’ success. Seeing John Tortorella go from the ‘worst coach in the world’ at the World Cup of Hockey to a potential Jack Adams winner in the NHL is just fascinating.
I’ve never fully grasped the overall dislike towards Tortorella. Sure he’s had his moments, and his time in Vancouver was a flop, but ultimately he has won everywhere else he has gone. He also often gives us something to write about as media, even though he can bite our heads off when he’s in the mood.
Throughout the season, this team hasn’t been a paper tiger like other recent surprise groups. The Blue Jackets are tied for the NHL’s top offense at 3.34 goals per-game and rank second in defense, allowing 2.07 goals per-game.
Columbus has always felt like a market with a lot of NHL potential. The Blue Jackets are the only major pro team in town and when the they’ve played well in the past, the city has rallied around them. There’s a long way to go for Columbus to make a run, but this has been one of the more fun, and unexpected stories of the season.
RYAN LAMBERT, Puck Daddy Editor
As I said last week I think it became apparent in recent weeks that they’re a mediocre team that punched way above its weight for the first few weeks of the season. That’s better than we had any right to expect entering the year.
But anyone expecting them to keep up this pace all year is delusional; they don’t have the personnel to keep going toe-to-toe with everyone in the best division in the league.
With that said, they’ve banked enough points to basically guarantee themselves a playoff spot. But if they draw the Capitals or Flyers in the first round, the most likely result is a quick exit.
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