NHL Futures Picks: Examining the Columbus Blue Jackets Tough Road to the 2016 Playoffs

David Lawrence

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 1:48 PM GMT

The Columbus Blue Jackets year was a tale of two seasons: they were pathetic for 75% of the year and then unstoppable down the final stretch. With Nick Foligno expected to be the next captain, where is this team heading?

Foligno Is The Man In Columbus
Foligno has clearly become the man in Columbus. Everywhere you look around the arena, his face is there. After a 30-goal season where Foligno earned an All-Star nod, it’s what was expected. He set career highs for goals, assists and plus-minus. That’s why nobody will be surprised if Foligno is announced the new captain of the Blue Jackets. Since Rick Nash left the team three years ago, the Blue Jackets had not had a player wear the “C”. They’ve made a decision on the matter but they are not announcing who it is until next season. Of course, there are some other options like Ryan Johansen, Jack Johnson and Brandon Dubisnky, but Foligno is the NHL betting odds-on favorite.

 

Where Are The Blue Jackets In The Eastern Conference Hierarchy?
The Blue Jackets are a hard team to peg right now. They entered the 2014-15 season with such high aspirations after pushing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs the previous season. However, Columbus was a complete wreck to start the season, losing 17 of their first 23 games. On February 3rd, they were merely 26-33-4, which equates to 11 games under .500. The switch was flipped and the Blue Jackets were actually one of the best teams in the NHL down the stretch of the season but they had dug themselves such a huge hole, they couldn’t crawl out of it. Columbus finished the year on a 16-2-1 run but as incredible as that was, it wasn’t good enough to get them into the playoffs.

 

What Went Wrong?
The main problem for the Blue Jackets was injuries. They suffered an NHL-high 508 man-games lost due to injuries, which means they weren’t playing at full strength almost the entire way. And it wasn’t just injuries, it was losses of key players. At one point in the season, their top four defensemen were out along with three of their top four centers and the lead goaltender. That’s a lot to overcome for any team.

 

Reasons For Optimism
The Blue Jackets do have some building blocks. Sergei Bobrovsky has shown he can be an elite goaltender, Foligno is a star, Johansen is a future star, Scott Hartnell is a solid, the blue line is defense and the team will have the No. 8 NHL pick in the draft.

However, at best this still seems like a team that would be lucky to make the playoffs and might have a tough time getting out of the first round. They need Bobrovsky to be at a Vezina Trophy-like level to carry this team. Otherwise, it still looks like they’re a few bricks short of a load. Yes, they have a good line but beyond the big three, they’re relying a lot on Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Rene Bourque, Matt Calvert and David Clarkson. That’s mediocre and that’s not going to get the job done.

Is this team going to be better than last season? Yes, assuming they stay healthy. Can they make the playoffs and be a tough out in the first or second round? That’ll depend on whether Bobrovsky looks like the Vezina Trophy winner from three years ago when he had a 2.00 GAA and a .932 save percentage with Columbus or the player that he looked like last year (2.68 GAA and .918 save percentage).