For the first time in a long time, the Columbus Blue Jackets actually had a very successful season -- just not in the most typical sense of the word successful.
A lot of the hockey world had pegged the Blue Jackets as a lock for a wild-card spot before this season even started, and after a seven-game losing streak to start the year, they proved any expectation of a playoff birth to be unrealistic at best.
Although the team did win some games after the team fired coach Todd Richards and replaced him with John Tortorella, things still didn’t change all that much. To top it all off, starting goaltender, and former Vezina winner, Sergei Bobrovsky suffered three groin injuries throughout the year, crippling the Jackets already slim playoff hopes.
This year also saw an end to the Ryan Johansen era in Columbus. The Jackets got very good value for the centerman, grabbing defenseman Seth Jones from Nashville, a player with number-one potential.
But the Jackets finished 27th overall, so how could this season be seen as a success?
Well, that’s exactly it. They finished low and are assured a favorable spot in the draft order. They have the fourth-best odds of grabbing the No. 1 pick, and can fall no further than No. 7.
The Blue Jackets simply were not ready, and are not currently ready to be a legitimate contender, and that’s not a bad thing. They just need to continue to put time into their rebuilding process and to continue developing their prospects into quality players.
They can’t try to cut corners like they have in the past, like with the Brandon Saad trade. Not that it was a poor trade for Columbus – because as of now Saad is clearly the best player in the deal, but Columbus traded a good amount of depth to acquire Saad. It was the type of move that would put a team “over the top” – but the Jackets were nowhere near the top.
With their star centerman traded, and plenty of prospects set to make an impact on the Blue Jackets’ roster, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Jackets made no moves this offseason. It may actually be the correct move.
The Jackets are one of five teams that can say they have a 30-goal scorer that is 22 years old or younger, that being Boone Jenner. That’s pretty good, but it looks even better when you add to the fact that Saad, who scored 31 this year, is just 23 years old. They have two of the league’s 28, 30-goal-men and both of them have yet to hit their prime.
Once the likes of Oliver Bjorkstrand, Kerby Rychel, Sonny Milano and Alex Wennberg develop, alongside whomever Columbus takes in the draft this year, the Jackets’ top-six is pretty set, and will look pretty dangerous if they can secure a No. 1 center through the draft. The Jackets also possess a solid veteran core of Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Hartnell and Nick Foligno, who will help ease the pressure of the youngsters until they’re ready to bear the load.
Very little needs to be said about Columbus’ backend going forward. Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, Jack Johnson and David Savard are all top-four D-men and Zach Werenski looks like he could be as well in just on year’s time. Rather than having one superstar defenseman, like the Stars or Senators, providing the bulk of the offense from the team’s D-corps, the Blue Jackets blueline is extremely balanced, and adding a player like Werenski will only help to develop what should become one of the better backends in the league.
Bobrovsky missed a lot of time this season, but luckily enough for Blue Jackets’ fans they didn’t have to watch another year of Curtis McElhinney. What they got instead was actually a pleasant surprise. Joonas Korpisalo came out of the AHL and played better than anyone could have expected of a 22-year-old. In 31 games, Korpisalo posted a .920 save percentage to go along with 16 wins. Bobrovsky cannot get too comfortable in Columbus’ crease, especially after posting his worst stats since 2011-12. Bobrovsky has three years, and over $21 million remaining on his contract, but now the idea of Korpisalo outplaying him and winning his starting job could become a reality for the Jackets.
All things considered, the Blue Jackets do have a pretty bright future ahead of them, thanks mostly in part to a blueprint for an incredibly balanced lineup. Their fans, and management, just need to continue to be patient and trust in their rebuilding plan.