It's no secret that this season has been anything but what was hoped for, or even expected. We've repeatedly talked about how "historically bad" the start to the season was, and as the Blue Jackets have been mired in 30th place for most of the season we've talked about how this is probably the worst season of Jackets' hockey. Ever.
Given the expectations at the beginning of the year, it's hard to argue with that. And, if Rick Nash ends up being traded, it would signify a season that is by far the worst season in team history: bad results and driving your perennial All-Star Captain out the door. But, if you look at it from a purely points-based perspective, the recent successes (four wins in six games) have the Jackets pushing through the floor of their 2001-2002 season, a season which--ironically--ended with them grabbing Nash in the draft.
Before we look ahead to the final 25 games, let's review the final standings numbers from '01-'02.
22 wins, 47 losses, 8 ties, and 5 overtime losses - final point total: 57 points.
17 wins, 34 losses, 6 overtime losses - current point total: 40 points.
So, what we're looking for is 18 points in the final 25 games. Possible? Surely. But how likely?
First, some basic extrapolation. 18 points in 25 games = 0.72 points per game. Through 57 games, the Jackets have 40 points, which breaks out to 0.702 points per game. Moreover, since Todd Richards took over, the club is 6-9-1 in 16 games for 13 points, or 0.813 points per game. So, unless something major changes, the Jackets should be able to continue at a points-per-game pace to get them over the 58-point mark.
How does the schedule look? Here are the remaining opponents that could be considered "beatable" based on record and previous success:
New York Islanders
I'm not saying the Jackets will automatically win all 10 of those games. I'm saying those are teams that are beatable as things currently stand. That's 20 available points right there.
And further, this roster is finally starting to get healthy. Returns to action from Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski, Mark Letestu, and the anticipated comeback of Nikita Nikitin. Newcomers like Ryan Russell and Colton Gillies are strengthening the bottom six. In short, there's no reason to expect a huge drop-off in play, unless....
...the roster is gutted at the trading deadline. This is the one wild card.
If players such as Carter, Nash, Antoine Vermette, R.J. Umberger, Curtis Sanford, Derick Brassard... you name it... if this roster is gutted at the trading deadline, then of course that changes the fortunes. At that point, you're no longer concerned about the record as much as the call-ups and developing the roster for the future.
My contention, however, is that with the recent uptick in play as the roster has gotten healthier and Todd Richards' tweaks to the offensive system have taken root there's no reason to gut the roster completely. I'm not saying don't make a move or two for the future, but don't send out the kitchen sink, either.
All in all, this isn't meant to paint a picture of everything being rainbows and unicorns that fart glitter. Clearly, the Jackets are in a hole, and need to make some changes for next season. However, one of those changes--Richards for Arniel--appears to be paying some small, early dividends.
It's also clear--to me, at least--that a more permanent change in goal will pay even more dividends. No disrespect to Steve Mason's decent play of late, but if Columbus had had the kind of consistency they've gotten from a backup-level goalie such as Curtis Sanford... well, one wonders how the early part of the season might have looked. Let's say the Jackets have a Jonathan Bernier kind of goalie back there. Think they'd have started 2-12-1?
I'm rambling. The point here is this: this Jackets team is bad, but they may not be the worst Jackets team ever. They may also not be as far away as the pall cast by their record would indicate.
18 points in 25 games, boys. You can do it. Oh, and please don't trade Rick Nash.