Tag Archives: Jarmo Kekalainen

2019-20 Metropolitan Division Outlook

As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)

The projected standings below are only a forecast.

They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).

There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.

As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.

Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.

A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.

Projected Standings After ZERO Months

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Washington Capitals, 107 points
  2. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 102 points
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 93 points
  4. wc1-New York Islanders, 91 points
  5. wc2-Philadelphia Flyers, 91 points
  6. New York Rangers, 89 points
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points
  8. New Jersey Devils, 84 points

Washington Capitals: Pros and Cons

Year after year, Washington finds themselves at the top of the Metropolitan Division with or without any sort of logical explanation.

The last time the Capitals didn’t finish 1st in the division? It was the 2014-15 season when the New York Rangers followed up a 2014 Stanley Cup Final appearance with 113 points and the President’s Trophy.

Once again, the Caps will find a way to turn things on late into the season and manage the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, but they’ll be doing so without a long list of members from their 2018 Stanley Cup championship roster.

After matching his regular season goal scoring total in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Devante Smith-Pelly wasn’t able to get back to form and subsequently reassigned to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears during the 2018-19 season.

Now, he’s an unrestricted free agent.

Also departing Washington this summer were the likes of Brett Connolly (signed with Florida), Andre Burakovsky (traded to Colorado for Scott Kosmachuk, a 2nd round pick in 2020 and a 3rd round pick in 2020), Nathan Walker (signed with St. Louis), Matt Niskanen (traded to Philadelphia in exchange for Radko Gudas) and Brooks Orpik (retired)

Madison Bowey was traded to Detroit in February. Jakub Jerabek left via free agency last season and is now playing in the KHL. Philipp Grubauer was traded to the Avalanche last June. Jay Beagle signed with the Vancouver Canucks last July. Alex Chiasson joined the Edmonton Oilers last October.

With such a quick turnover in the makeup of their lineup, the Capitals’ championship window may already be closing– and fast.

At least Garnet Hathaway, Richard Panik and Carl Hagelin all signed four-year contracts with cap hits under $3.000 million.

How would the Capitals fail?

Radko Gudas and Tom Wilson end up suspended for the entire season somehow and get the rest of the Capitals in trouble for something.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Pros and Cons

Phil Kessel is signed through 2021-22 at $6.800 million per season. Alex Galchenyuk is signed through 2019-20 with a cap hit of $4.900 million.

Using the money saved from trading Kessel to Arizona and hoping Galchenyuk will suddenly become a 30 or 40 goal scorer simply because he’s now on the same roster as Sidney Crosby, Penguins General Manager, Jim Rutherford, figured it’d be a smart move to lock up Brandon Tanev in free agency with a six-year contract at $3.500 million per season and a modified no-trade clause one offseason removed from signing Jack Johnson.

If there’s any positives for Pittsburgh, it’s that Crosby still exists and Mike Sullivan remains the head coach. Oh and Evgeni Malkin exists too, though some would find it hard to believe, since he wasn’t included in the top-100 players of the last century list.

As long as Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith can weather the storm of an insufficient defense, injuries and inadequacy from last season, then there’s a good chance the current longest active playoff appearance streak remains alive.

If not, well, just look for Rutherford to continue to move chairs around on the Titanic.

This team is starting to spring a leak. If they’re not careful, they’ll sink in the standings.

But since the season really doesn’t start until January anyway for the Pens, they’ll work their way into a playoff berth as they’ve done for the last dozen years or so.

How would the Penguins fail?

Rutherford trades another goal scorer for a “glue guy” and clones Tanev and/or Johnson. Realistically, Murray continues to cool down from his meteoric rise a couple of seasons ago and won’t cost too much as a pending-RFA.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Pros and Cons

All my ex’s live in… everywhere but Columbus.

The Blue Jackets lost Artemi Panarin to the New York Rangers, Sergei Bobrovsky to the Florida Panthers, Matt Duchene to the Nashville Predators and Ryan Dzingel to the Carolina Hurricanes, but they brought in Gustav Nyquist and brought back Marko Dano via free agency.

Yeah, ok, so it wasn’t a great summer for Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen and Blue Jackets fans– even if they knew at least one of their big names (Bobrovsky) was never going to re-sign.

But while a lot of armchair GMs think the Blue Jackets are destined for a rebuild, there’s a glimmer of optimism if Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins can carry the weight of the crease, while younger players like Alexandre Texier, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson continue to emerge.

Making it as far as they did into the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs was vital to the experience gained by Columbus’ core.

Though they’re likely not going to a be a dominant force in 2019-20, they should be in contention for what would be a fifth playoff berth in seven years under Kekalainen’s reign.

And if they turn heads again like they did when they swept the President’s Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the First Round, then there’s sure to be some interest in lacing up the skates for the Blue Jackets in the future.

Then again, it could be tank city until Korpisalo or Merzlikins becomes a legitimate starter and somebody becomes an 80-point scorer again.

It just takes some time… Oh and someone should probably re-sign Zach Werenski while you’re at it.

How would the Blue Jackets fail?

The Union doesn’t lose. Ok, if everybody leaves, then it might.

New York Islanders: Pros and Cons

Having Lou Lamoriello as your General Manager means some players are going to love him (if they’ve already been with him for many years before) and some players are going to be chased out of the city when they are told they are going in a different direction, but then don’t quite land who they think they’re getting, only to leave you once again for… well, Semyon Varlamov isn’t really an upgrade at this point.

But Robin Lehner’s gone after winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy with the Rangers Islanders last season after having a remarkable career-year in the face of addiction and other struggles.

New York’s only getting older and Anders Lee took a “hometown discount” to stay on Long Island.

Speaking of Long Island, is it too early to start construction on the Belmont Park arena yet?

Something has to distract everyone from the undercutting of several prospect’s development– whether they’ve rightfully had a chance to prove themselves at the NHL level or not.

Barry Trotz is a great head coach, but how much more can he do with a middle of the road team that gives up on prospects too early?

Get them back to the Second Round only to be crushed by a team that’s mixing youth, speed, skill, grit and actually playing 21st century hockey?

It’s almost as though the Islanders learned nothing from 1995-2006.

How would the Islanders fail?

It’s [the] trap!

Philadelphia Flyers: Pros and Cons

Flyers General Manager, Chuck Fletcher, actually hasn’t had that bad of an offseason– at least when it comes to tweaking his roster.

Sure Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun are both 32-years-old, but they’re decent top-4 defenders that should be able to lead from the back end with Shayne Gostisbehere as Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov come into their own.

Speaking of Provorov, he’s still an unsigned-RFA and Philadelphia has more than enough money (about $13.400 million in cap space) to get some sort of a deal done right now. Why wait until the last minute? What’s that? Travis Konecny needs a contract right now too? Oh never mind. Let’s make things complicated!

Besides giving Kevin Hayes a seven-year contract worth $7.143 million per season with a no-movement clause, the Flyers should have– a lot of explaining to do when their experiment doesn’t work out.

The Hayes contract is bad, but just how bad can things get with Hayes back on a team that’s coached by… Alain Vigneault!?!

Vigneault’s the real wild card here as the jury is still out on whether or not his style still fits the game or if the Rangers were just that bad in his final year with New York.

All things considered, Philadelphia should be back into playoff contention. Just not Cup contention in 2019-20.

How much more of this can Claude Giroux take?

How would the Flyers fail?

Alain Vigneault, Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien can’t figure out who is actually the head coach on a night-to-night basis even though Vigneault technically owns the job (Yeo and Therrien are assistant coaches for the Flyers, if you haven’t heard). Oh and goaltending if Carter Hart gets injured.

New York Rangers: Pros and Cons

The Rangers landed the biggest prize in free agency, signing Artemi Panarin to a seven-year contract worth $11.643 million per season.

Though they are still in a rebuild, Panarin’s addition to the roster helps make New York more of an attractive destination and speeds things up in the overall plan.

It doesn’t hurt that GM Jeff Gorton had the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft too. Kaapo Kakko is ready for the limelight in Manhattan as Henrik Lundqvist’s reign is in its twilight days.

Lundqvist is under contract through the 2020-21 season and at 37-years-old– it’d take a miracle for the Rangers to win him a Cup at this point.

The Rangers only have one forward over the age of 30 (Matt Beleskey’s 31) and two defenders 30 or older as well (Brendan Smith, 30, and Marc Staal, 32).

Beleskey is likely to bounce around the organization between New York and Hartford (AHL), while there’s a good chance Smith could be buried as well.

But their “veteran presence” is valuable to time on ice management among the younger skaters that might not be quite as NHL ready as Kakko and friends.

Jacob Trouba is new to the Rangers and destined to anchor their new-age defense from the top pairing, while Kevin Shattenkirk joins the long list of buyouts in recent years by New York.

The Rangers are short almost $5.400 million in dead cap space thanks to Shattenkirk, Dan Girardi and Ryan Spooner’s buyouts around the league (Shattenkirk and Girardi were Rangers buyouts, but Spooner had retained salary and was bought out by the Vancouver Canucks this offseason).

Next year, New York faces almost $7.500 million in cap penalties from the trio of buyouts before Spooner comes off the books entirely and the number dips down to about $2.544 million from 2021-22 to 2022-23.

Also another Harvard product– Adam Fox– is the new Jimmy Vesey experiment, but on the blue line. And Vesey? He was traded to Buffalo.

Panarin and Kakko are worth watching this season, while the rest of the team remains to be seen.

How would the Rangers fail?

Henrik Lundqvist stops looking so good all of a sudden. That man is stunning.

Carolina Hurricanes: Pros and Cons

Though the forecast says otherwise, Carolina should actually be closer to playoff contention than you may think coming off their 2019 Eastern Conference Final appearance.

Hurricanes General Manager, Don Waddell, has weathered the storm this offseason. Actually, his job was made pretty easy when the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to a five-year offer sheet worth $8.454 million per season.

Considering the value Aho brings and the potential that’s still there– that’s a steal.

Though a little more than $21 million in signing bonuses through the first two years is considered a “hefty” price for an owner to pay, let’s remember that we’re talking about professional sports.

If Montreal really wanted to make things difficult for Canes owner, Tom Dundon, then they should’ve offered something with a larger cap hit, but that would’ve meant a steeper price to pay in compensation had Carolina not matched the deal. #AdvantageCarolina

Aho will be 27 by the time his new contract runs out, which means he’ll be a pending-UFA in 2024, but there’s plenty of time to worry about the next contract when the time comes.

Right now, the Hurricanes have added some much needed top-six/top-nine forward depth in Erik Haula (acquired from Vegas) and Ryan Dzingel (signed via free agency), while adding a 1st round pick in 2020 (or 2021 if Toronto’s 2020 1st rounder is a top-10 overall selection) and swapping Calvin de Haan with the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling (there were other pieces involved, like Anton Forsberg going to Carolina too).

The average age of Carolina’s skaters? 25.

Considering how far the core went in 2018-19, that’s beyond impressive and it’s a testament to head coach, Rod Brind’Amour.

In July, Petr Mrazek re-signed with the Hurricanes on a two-year deal and James Reimer was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers as Curtis McElhinney signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Though Alex Nedeljkovic might be another year out from competing for the starting job, the crease is Mrazek’s to lose once again with Reimer looking to rebound from a dismal time in Florida.

Carolina is poised for another deep run, but how soon will it be given the fact that their emergence as a contender means that every other team wants to beat them that much more from night-to-night?

How would the Hurricanes fail?

The Canes have a strong analytics department, so the only thing that could naturally disrupt their plans? Regression (and no WiFi).

New Jersey Devils: Pros and Cons

The Devils won the draft lottery and procured Jack Hughes with the 1st overall pick in June.

New Jersey was third-to-last in overall standings last season.

Though they added P.K. Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators in June, drafted Hughes and have Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Will Butcher on their roster, the Devils still need a lot of pieces to improve.

Hall’s a pending-UFA at season’s end. His next deal– whether it’s with New Jersey or not– determines the fate of this team.

Cory Schneider’s still under contract through 2021-22 and Mackenzie Blackwood is only 22-years-old.

Goaltenders are rarely superstars when they’re that young, so while Blackwood may be the starter heading into the season and goalie of the future for the organization– it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some ups and downs before the dust settles.

Now for the good news.

Nikita Gusev was acquired in a trade with the Golden Knights and Ray Shero doesn’t have a lot of no-trade clauses to deal with if the Devils look to sell at the trade deadline.

How would the Devils fail?

If they somehow lose the Taylor Hall trade a few years after winning it.

DTFR Podcast #164- The Free Agency Mega-Hour

Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #163- Cap’n Crunch

The salary cap isn’t going up as much as everyone hoped. Also, there were plenty of trades, buyouts and extensions handed out in the last week. Nick, Colby, Cap’n and Pete examine each move and pick 2019 NHL Awards winners.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #157- Play Gloria, You Jerks

Nick, Cap’n and Pete mourn the Columbus Blue Jackets, review the Vegas Golden Knights front office moves, Ken Holland to the Edmonton Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers new assistant coaches. Finally, the guys preview the 2019 Eastern Conference Final matchup between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes, as well as the 2019 Western Conference Final matchup between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #148- Regrets-ing

The DTFR Duo honors Ted Lindsay, addresses a potential outdoor game hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes, talk John Tavares’ “welcome” back to Long Island, can’t figure out the Ottawa Senators coaching change circus and more.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show onPatreon.

DTFR Podcast #147- Trade The Whole Team

It’s the DTFR 2019 Trade Deadline recap! Plus a few other notes from the last week around the NHL.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Analysis: McQuaid’s a solid trade for Columbus

Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen checked everything off his shopping list, both in the days leading up to and including the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline.

Kekalainen got a number one center on Friday in Matt Duchene, he added a quality top-nine forward in Ryan Dzingel on Saturday, added depth in the crease with Keith Kinkaid early Monday morning, then completed the puzzle among current NHLers in a transaction with the New York Rangers on Monday afternoon.

The Blue Jackets acquired Adam McQuaid from the Rangers in exchange for Julius Bergman, a 2019 4th round pick and a 2019 7th round pick.

McQuaid, 32, was originally drafted in the 2nd round (55th overall) by Columbus in the 2005 NHL Draft, but was traded to the Boston Bruins on May 16, 2007.

He went on to become a solid top-six defender with the Bruins, winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, while remaining a stay-at-home, shot blocking machine.

John Tortorella is going to like having him around in the defensive zone.

For the first time since being drafted by the Blue Jackets, McQuaid will have a chance to suit up in Columbus red, white and blue.

In 36 games for the Rangers this season, he has two goals and three assists (five points), with a plus-three rating and 33 penalty minutes.

Hampered by injuries in his final season with Boston, McQuaid amassed 1-3–4 totals in 38 games with the Bruins in 2017-18 and has 15-56–71 totals in 498 career NHL games with New York and Boston.

In 68 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, he has three goals and eight assists (11 points) along with a plus-13 rating and 30 penalty minutes.

McQuaid scored the only goal in Boston’s series clinching sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final and had four assists in the B’s 2011 Stanley Cup championship.

He should slide in place of Scott Harrington or Dean Kukan down the stretch for Columbus and help bring some vital postseason experience, along with veteran leadership, to the Blue Jackets blue line.

Bergman, 23, was previously acquired by Columbus from the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 22nd as part of the Duchene trade and appeared in 33 American Hockey League games with the Belleville Senators this season prior to being assigned to the Cleveland Monsters (before being traded once again).

The young defender had six assists with Belleville and has 16-51–67 totals in 223 career AHL games with the Worcester Sharks, San Jose Barracuda and Belleville.

He was originally drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 2nd round (46th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft.

With the addition of a 4th round and 7th round pick in this year’s draft, the Rangers now have ten picks in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft in June.

Analysis: Kinkaid paints light in Columbus’ crease

Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen was active on Monday, first adding depth in the crease, having acquired goaltender, Keith Kinkaid, from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a 2022 5th round pick.

Kinkaid, 29, has a 15-18-6 record, 3.66 goals against average and ,891 save percentage in 41 games played this season playing behind a lackluster Devils defense.

Sergei Bobrovsky‘s 2.75 GAA and .908 SV% in 45 games played keeps him ahead of Kinkaid as the Blue Jackets starter, however Kinkaid provides some healthy competition for the role of the backup goaltender down the stretch as Joonas Korpisalo‘s 3.07 GAA and .896 SV% in 21 games played hasn’t been ideal.

Kinkaid has a 64-55-17 record with a 2.90 GAA and .906 SV% in 151 career games with New Jersey since making his NHL debut in the 2012-13 season.

He has a career-high three shutouts this season and led the United States to a bronze medal at the 2018 IIHF World Championship, where he posted a 2.29 GAA and .912 SV% in nine games.

It’s a low risk, high reward transaction for Columbus, as Kekalainen only gave up a 5th round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, despite ridding his organization of nearly every selection they’ll have in the 2019 Draft by Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.

No, seriously, the Blue Jackets have their own 3rd round pick and Calgary’s 7th round pick in this June’s Draft.

Columbus Blue Jackets 2018-19 Season Projections

Hello Columbus Blue Jackets fans, I’m not Cap’n Cornelius, but since we know each other and I visited your wonderful city in August, I was determined to deliver some Blue Jackets forecasted stats throughout the season.

Alas, the regular season started almost a month ago, but I promised I’d have some forecasted stats for Columbus’ entire roster for the entire season by the end of the month and I have finally gotten around to it.

These things take time when you’re transferring data into a new system and trying to watch every game on TV, as well as exist on Earth among its people.

For now, let’s pretend the season hasn’t started or that we’ve all jumped into a time machine and gone back to October 1st. How would things play out for the Blue Jackets this season?

Based on last season’s results– a 45-30-7 record, good enough for 97 points on the season and 4th place in the Metropolitan Division as the first wild card team in the Eastern Conference– Columbus is poised for a bit of a bounce-back in the division standings.

Why? Because the other teams ahead of them got worse– namely the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.

The Flyers are off to their usual slow start (wait, I forgot, we’ve time travelled back to the beginning of October) just overall worse and the Capitals look to be dethroned by the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Metropolitan crown at the end of the regular season.

Last season’s Blue Jackets won two playoff games on the road against the eventual Stanley Cup champions, then lost the next four games to extend Columbus’ misery as the only NHL franchise without a playoff series win.

Ian Cole and Matt Calvert left for the Colorado Avalanche in the offseason and defender, Jack Johnson, signed a long-term five-year contract with the Penguins.

Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky survived an offseason of trade speculation, but they’ve both still pending-unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2018-19 season.

That’s the major storyline to the Blue Jackets this year– will it be one last hurrah or will Panarin and/or Bobrovsky leave the city in the dust among the cornfields on its outskirts in what might become the franchise’s greatest departure(s) since trading Rick Nash to the New York Rangers in 2012?

If this season is a failure, is it head coach, John Tortorella’s fault, a roster problem or General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen‘s inability to construct the necessary components of a successful organization?

Critics will be sure to point out all the flaws that mar the franchise, but one thing’s for certain– there’s a lot of expectations.

One way to generate an unnecessary buzz about expectations is to believe your educated guesses about how players should perform this season makes any difference to what actually goes on the ice.

Fear not, for I am about to do just that.

Before I do, however, I’d like to remind those of you in the audience that are familiar with my roster forecasts before and inform those of you that are new here for the first time of my actual area of expertise.

It’s words. My degree is in communication.

There’s nothing that I will present here that you cannot do yourself, better and/or read anywhere else. All of this is an educated guess– an educated expectation– thanks to one of my sport management classes from college.

A player who performs better than their expected outcomes here is merely exceeding these presented expectations. A player who doesn’t meet the expectations could’ve been injured, a healthy scratch or on a chronic cold streak that’s technically unpredictable.

Anything else is just an error outside my expertise and/or Microsoft Excel’s fault.

That, or there’s a little gut-feeling added for players with substantially fewer career NHL games played than the rest of the data shows (basically, if someone’s projected to score 100 goals and has only played in nine games, I might tweak the result until they’ve played a quarter of the season and have either proven themselves as Wayne Gretzky 2.0 or nothing like “the Great One”).

Take a look at the charts below as though everything were to fall in line and nothing bad could ever happen– an utopian view, if you will. Some things may pan out, some things may not– it’s just a suggested (expected) outcome in a sport that’s highly unpredictable thanks to its collective nature and sheer puck luck.

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Columbus Blue Jackets Forecast Through 0 Games (82 Games Remaining)

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As has been the custom since his arrival via trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, Artemi Panarin is expected to lead the Blue Jackets in points with 30-49–79 expected totals. The next best player on the team? Cam Atkinson.

Atkinson’s bound for 27 goals and 24 assists (51 points) this season, while the third best forward on the team, Pierre-Luc Dubois, is expected to match his rookie season totals with another 48-point season, at least.

Alexander Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand are both landing somewhere in the mid-40s in total points as complementary complete players for the Blue Jackets this season.

In the meantime several other forwards fall within the 40-point range, while free agent signing, Riley Nash isn’t expected to break into the 30-point plateau after amassing a career-high 41-point season with the Boston Bruins in 2017-18.

On defense, by default (thanks to Seth Jones‘ delayed start due to injury) or by talent, Zach Werenski emerges as the best two-way defender in Columbus with 14 goals and 30 assists (44 points).

Werenski’s expected totals tops Jones (9-28–37 expected totals) by seven points and is in a league of his own compared to his teammates on the blue line.

Ryan Murray (4-19–23 expected totals) and David Savard (7-19–26 expected totals) land in a respectable range for top-4/top-6 defensemen.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky is looking for redemption with an expected goals against average of 2.37 and an expected save percentage of .923 over the course of 2018-19. Backup netminder, Joonas Korpisalo seeks to provide healthy competition with an expected 2.68 GAA and .917 SV% prior to puck drop on the season.

Of course, now that we’re a month into the regular season, it’ll be time to update this entire forecast once Columbus is about a quarter of the way through their 82-game schedule.


Feel free to check out this season’s forecasts for Boston, Carolina or Vegas.

Dr.Strangepuck or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the 2018-19 Columbus Blue Jackets

The 2018-19 Columbus Blue Jackets are a riddle.  Wrapped in an enigma.  On paper, this is the best team the organization has ever put on the ice.  Its top line features two wings capable of putting in over 30 goals and perhaps the first true top-line center the Blue Jackets have ever had in their history.  On defense they feature a top defensive pairing that, arguably, has two Norris Trophy candidates (albeit one will start the season on the IR).  In goal, they have a two-time Vezina winning goaltender.  Is there another team in the league that can say this? No.

Yet, if you have read the season previews of the experts, you would come away thinking that this Jackets team was appreciably worse than the one that made the playoffs the last two seasons.  The Jackets continue to be the Rodney Dangerfield of hockey, grabbing at their red tie, searching for some respect.  Certainly, their playoff performances have not helped.  All-world goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, has yet to put in a performance equal to his Vezina-winning status in the playoffs.  The Jackets offense went missing after going up 2-0 on the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Washington Capitals.

So, it isn’t surprising that few of the experts were willing to go out on the limb and predict great things for the Blue Jackets in the 2018-19 season.  Further complicating matters are the contract situations of the aforementioned Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin.  The situations, particularly Panarin’s, received more off-season attention from the hockey media than the additions of Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair to a forward group that was already quite deep.  There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth over the Jackets not moving Panarin in the off-season.  However, any trade of Panarin will be a trade the Jackets lose in the short term.  Therein lies the problem.

If you are Jarmo Kekalainen and you look at this team and you know it is better than last year’s and you know that last year’s team had the misfortune to play the team that won it all in the first round, do you make a knee jerk move that makes the team appreciably worse in the short term?  What if you think the team, as built, is capable of winning a Cup this year?

We know the answer, as we prepare for Panarin to take the ice on opening night for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The Jackets stuck to their guns, didn’t accept offers for Panarin that they viewed as too low to allow them to compete for a Cup in favor of staying the course and making a run for a title.  Most of the experts expect Panarin to be dealt at the deadline, but many of the same people assumed he’d be moved draft weekend.  There is always the possibility that Panarin is moved at the deadline, but this only happens if the Jackets are out of playoff contention, which seems unlikely given what we know about the team.  Bobrovsky is even less likely to be moved given the limited value of goalies, even great ones, in trade.  So, enjoy watching them play what may be their final seasons with the Blue Jackets.

The assumption seems to be that somehow the Panarin and Bobrovsky situations will be such a distraction that Columbus won’t be able to overcome this and will miss the playoffs after a trade deadline fire sale.  This seems to ignore the fact that both Panarin and Bobrovsky will want to have great seasons to justify long-term contracts netting them $10 million per year or more.  This is especially true for Bobrovsky who just turned 30.  A bad season for Bobrovsky could damage his market value, regardless of the Vezinas on his resume as teams might question “is he starting to slow down.” Likewise, it would be in Bobrovsky’s best interest to play well in the playoffs for once.

Another factor lost in the supposed turmoil is the Jackets depth.  The top line is a bona-fide top line when a year ago it was a serious question mark.  Meanwhile, the depth the team lacked in 2017-18 has returned through a combination of underrated off-season moves and development of players in the Jackets’ organization.  Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had a solid first, full NHL season last year is poised to put up better numbers this season and has landed on the second line where he should receive more ice time and be freed up to play a more offense-first role.  Sonny Milano will start the season on the fourth line…but it is a fourth line featuring free agent additions Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair, which could quickly see its ice time increased if the third line struggles to find the net.  Every line has two wings capable of putting in 20 plus goals.  Every line has a bona fide NHL center, which has not always been the case for the Blue Jackets.  The biggest question will be whether coach John Tortorella, fresh off a contract extension, will learn from ice time mistakes he made in the playoffs and truly adopt his own “safe is death” motto to allow players like Milano to learn from their mistakes without being stapled to the bench.

The next question is whether Alex Wennberg will actually earn the second line center position he has been gifted the last two seasons.  There is no denying that he regressed last season–look at his game score numbers, look at his power play performance, which was a large part of the team’s struggles on power play.  His pre-season performance was lackluster, at best.  He’s already been demoted to the second power play unit.  The Jackets making a run for the Cup will hinge, to some extent, on Wennberg performing to the level of play some would like to attribute to him or the Jackets finding a replacement at the deadline (hey there, Matt Duchene).

There is some question about the performance of what I will term the “Underperformer Line” featuring Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and Josh Anderson.  It is probably unfair to Anderson to lump him in as an underperformer last season as he had to deal with injuries and bounced up and down the lineup without consistent line mates.  Jenner and Dubinsky, on the other hand, struggled mightily.  Particularly Dubinsky, who had to deal with scurilous rumors from the team’s road trip to Vegas.  All accounts are that Jenner and Dubinsky were leaner at camp, but neither left an indelable impression in the pre-season games in which they appeared.  If they struggle, it is probably less of an issue as the “fourth line” can easily replace them, but it would be best for the careers of all three players if they bounced back, if not to prior form, to something better than a typical third line.

With all of the above taken into account, despite the angst of the experts, the Jackets will likely make the playoffs.  I also think that Bobrovsky will play the best we’ve ever seen in the playoffs to get them out of the first round–his next contract may depend on it.  From there, it is up to Tortorella, Wennberg, Jenner and Dubinsky, in particular, to address the issues that held the team back last season or for the coaching staff and management to overcome those issues prior to the trade deadline.

There are plenty of reasons for anxiety if you are a Blue Jackets fan.  But, like Slim Pickens at the end of Dr. Strangelove, you’re already riding the bomb down, might as well enjoy the ride.