Well, hope it was all worth it.
GM Jarmo Kekkelainen wasn’t going to let his squad go quietly into that goodnight last spring, and went all in at the trade deadline, bringing aboard Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel for the Jackets playoff push. It got them a stunning, historic sweep of the historically good Lightning. And that’s it.
Is that enough? For a fanbase that had seen their team accomplish exactly dick for their entire existence, it may be. Those memories will last a bit. But not that long, and soon they’re going to crave real success, like a division title or conference championship, two things the Jackets haven’t come within a $50 cab ride of. And neither of those look to be coming any time soon, as the squad that brought a playoff victory for the first time to Ohio has been shorn of three big pieces…and Dzingel. It’s not exactly a husk that’s left…but it’s the h-u-s of that.
Let’s run it through.
47-31-4 98 points (5th in Metro)
3.12 GF/G (12th) 2.82 GA/G (11th)
50.0 CF% (12th) 50.3 xGF% (14th)
15.4 PP% (29th) 85.0 PK% (2nd)
Goalies: Jarmo probably should be sued by the season ticket holders for negligence for heading into the season with Joonas Korpisalo as the starter. The story they’ll try and sell is that Korpisalo is 24, and heading into his prime, so there’s always a chance for a big step forward. It’s going to have to be an awfully big step, because Joonas hasn’t shown much in his brief cameos as Sergei Bobrovsky‘s backup. He’s played 90 games, and has a career .907 SV%, which would be just about league-average now. League-average isn’t going to get it done for this Jackets squad.
The wildcard is Elvis Merzlikins, and no he doesn’t have the traditional back-to-school parade here in Chicago. But I will allow for all the Fu-Schnickens jokes you want to make. Merzlikins was great in the Swiss league the past few years, but it’s impossible to know if that means anything. They seem pretty high on him, but he’s going to have to do an awful lot of heavy lifting if this team is going anywhere. That would also mean Korpisalo snuffed it, which is almost certainly doom for the Jackets.
Defense: The one unit that wasn’t scorched by free agent departures. Columbus can still roll out Seth Jones, Zach Werenski (assuming he ever signs), Ryan Murray, and Markus Nutivaara for two-thirds of the game, which is a nice place to be. It’s not Carolina’s blue line, but it’s still one of the better ones around. And they’re just running it back, as there’s been no additions to it in the offseason. So the top four will still be supported by David Savard, Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan, and Adam Clendening. Or some combo thereof, to be more precise. There’s a chance that Vladislov Gavrikov is part of the equation as well. The Jackets can at least point to this and know what they’ll get, which is more than you can say for the rest of the team.
Forwards: Ouch. At the moment, the Jackets are maybe one line and a lot of questions and hope. Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois are still a formidable tandem, and Atkinson scored before Panarin arrived. They signed Gustav Nyquist possibly to put on that line, but Nyquist is a support-scorer these days, not a main man. Alex Wennberg and and Josh Anderson will probably anchor the second, but that’s where it starts to sound short for the Jackets. Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky are still here to belch and fart and call it leadership, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Boone Jenner are going to have to seriously build on promising seasons from last campaign for the Jackets to score enough, and that’s always a dicey bet. They might need to toss prospect Liam Foudy into the deep end right away to up the amount of skill to even acceptable.
Prediction: The Jackets are in deep. They’re clearly behind the Penguins, Caps, Canes for the automatic spots in the Metro. The Islanders may have fallen farther than they did, which helps, and the Rangers and Devils probably aren’t ready to cycle back up past them just yet. Who ever fucking knows with the Flyers? So that leaves them tangling with the other division for wildcard spots, but there just doesn’t look like there’s enough scoring up front with this lot. And Jarmo already scraped the savings vault to go for it last year.
Hope those Tampa memories keep them warm for a while. It might not be enough to keep Torts from throwing himself off the roof in January.