Continuing through the Metropolitan division, we now find a team that most of the Sharpest Minds agree that is due for a serious regression in that midwestern Big 10 city known for its cosmopolitan nightlife and culture, Columbus, Ohio.
Columbus Blue Jackets
’16-’17 Record: 50W-24L-8OT, 108 points, 3rd In Metropolitan
Team Stats: 50.29% CF (14th), 51.17% SF (8th), 50.86% SCF (12th), 8.18 SH% (12th), 93.27% SV (2nd)
Special Teams: 19.9% PP (12th), 82.5% PK (9th)
Goalies: Obviously this is where things begin and end for the Jackets, as Sergei Bobrovsky is coming off his second Vezina trophy in four years. Bob was simply excellent yet again with a .931 save percentage overall, and a stupid .938 at evens. He also threw up an .891 shorthanded, which was one of the primary reasons that the Jackets’ PK was as solid as it was. His style is based on butterfly principles, but Bobrovsky is incredibly athletic on top of it, and can make any type of highlight reel save necessary. His only question has been that of durability, as his trapeze act style lends itself to pulling things. He was able to remain healthy last year and the Jackets with only marginal improvements in front of him and a little luck were able to get to 108 points despite being coached by a fossil that’s had a shaman’s curse put on it as far as progressive hockey thought is concerned. When Bobrovsky only played 37 games in 15-16, they managed only 76 points, so this isn’t difficult math to do. He’ll be backed up at least initially by Joonas Korpisalo, who sported a glistening .905 overall and .907 at evens in 14 games last year. Bobrovsky is going to get a lot of work once again, and the Jarmo-led braintrust had better hope he doesn’t wear down under it.
Forwards: For the longest time, the Jackets had so much redundant bad money thrown at the exact same type of forward- a winger with decent size and hands, but could never get his own shot. They’ve at least diversified things a little bit now, and the emergence of Cam Atkinson and his 35 goals on the wing last year helped add a bit of a dynamic element. But the likes of Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky are still here. Also now here is one half of the Style Boyz in Artemi Panarin, everyone’s favorite apologetic Russian racist and sexist. Panarin came over for Brandon Saad because for some reason John Tortorella never liked him, but it is not the stance of this publication to question why John Tortorella does anything and just assume it’s because he’s a few chromosomes short. And if Tortorella didn’t take a liking to Saad’s game for not being responsible enough, he’s simply going to love Panarin, so much so that this should be its own sitcom. And the problem with the Panarin acquisition is that after getting paid he spent the last 60% of the year waving his stick in the air waiting for a pass to fire the (admittedly awesome) one-timer he fell in love with. Really only Alex Wennberg here is anything close to a complete center who can do that for him, even if they have high hopes for Olivier Bjorkstrand and his creativity off the wing. So basically this team is still Torts Rangers Redux with an awesome goalie, one sniper, and no centers.
Defense: This area is where things really differ from Torts’ Rangers however, as the Jackets have two legit young monsters in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski on their blue line. It’s hard to believe Seth Jones is only 22 at this point as it feels like eons ago that he somehow fell to the Preds in the first round. All he’s done since then is drive possession from the back end with whatever partner he’s been with, and play in literally every situation. He’s huge at 6’4″, 220, and can skate like the wind. There are some concerns about him not playing to his size, but when he’s flipping the ice as consistently as he does against top competition, there’s not a lot of need to go chasing people down to decapitate them. Werenski burst onto the scene last year with gaudy power play numbers (4G, 17A), and was a Calder finalist. But Werenski wasn’t just a power play specialist, as he also was best among Columbus defenseman with a 53.01 share of attempts, even if they were sheltered minutes. If Jones and Werenski can be trusted to be on different pairings, the Jackets have some real weaponry to keep the shots away from Bob, even if the likes of Jack Johnson and David Savard and the untapped potential of Ryan Murray are still doing whatever the hell it is they do there at Nationwide Arena.
Outlook: While the Jackets have a solid foundation to repeat a certain degree of regular season success, it’s simply not reasonable to bank on a Bobrovsky winning the Vezina in order for them to not even have home ice in the first round again. And even with Jones and Werenski growing in their games in front of him, that forward corps is still a mess that lacks any real creativity or anyone who can get his own shot. And given the creativity of the division that they’re in, they’re eventually going to run into a team that has that in spades up front in either the Penguins or Capitals even if Bob conjures the undead in the crease. They’re a second round out at best, and they’d have to trade one of their two young defensemen to get more creative up front, which is exactly what Nashville did with them to send them Jones for Ryan Johansen’s puffy face. But with Bob there’s always a chance he could go full J-S Giguere and take them deep in spite of his playoff record not being nearly as solid as his regular seasons, which is more than most teams can say.
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