"We're going to come back and we're going win that Stanley Cup next year." - Nick Foligno
That was captain Nick Foligno at the final home game last season, just weeks before he would officially receive the "C" on his jersey. Leadership had clearly set the bar high for the 2015-2016 campaign, almost impossibly so.
Still, the team had those injury woes to point to last season. 508. As in, 508 man-games lost. That is basically an impossible amount to overcome. The team instead chose to focus on three other numbers, specifically 15-1-1.
That run gave them optimism coming into this season. The trade for Brandon Saad solidified a legitimate top line. All the players and coaches were echoing what the front office was saying - the playoffs are not the goal, they want to go deep into the postseason.
As we head into the back half of the schedule, let's take a moment to realize that nobody saw this coming - not the players, not any writers, no experts or analysts, no one. Well, I take that back - there is one entity that did (keep reading to find out!).
We all pretty much whiffed. I was the harshest of the writers, slotting the Jackets at 4th in the Metro. Everyone else saw a 3rd place coming for the CBJ. We did warn about some potential issues that have come up this season - the blue line, another poor start, and penalties to name a few. We did not foresee such poor performances from Ryan Johansen and the star center being traded mid-season. But hey, we have a bit of a CBJ slant so let's see what everyone else was thinking before this season got underway.
The official NHL.com preview does not offer a prediction on standings, but there are some nice nuggets here.
Foligno said there is no reason Columbus should miss the playoffs.
"That's not even an option, and it's never going to be a thought in our room," he said.
"There's a lot of talk around the League questioning our defense," Richards said. "I don't question our defense at all. I'm 100 percent confident in our group. I hope they use that as a motivational tool."
The playoff talk and discussion around the blue line was echoed by John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen as well.
The two writers for the season preview both picked the Jackets to make the playoffs - one had them 4th in the Metro and the other one picked them to finish 5th.
The Hockey Writers
Over at THW, Columbus was seen as the 5th best team...in the entire Eastern Conference.
There was no standings prediction available in this season preview from Sportsnet, but here is another common thought from September and early October that many had:
On paper this is one of the best forward groups in the league.
Pro Hockey Talk / NBC Sports
The Columbus Dispatch
Aaron Portzline predicted a second-place Metropolitan Division finish in this standings prediction with other writers who cover teams in the division. He was not alone as two beat writers from other cities picked the Jackets to win the whole thing and another had the same view as Portzline of the CBJ finishing second. Of this group of writers, the worst anyone thought was 5th-place finish for the Jackets .
From this preview of the offense:
"We’re going to make a lot of noise this season," right wing Cam Atkinson said. "You look around our room, and there’s this mix of veteran guys who have a track record and young guys who have already started to show what they can do."
The Blue Jackets have never had this much offensive talent or depth. Eight of the 12 projected forwards have scored 20-plus goals in a season in the NHL, and four of them have topped 30 in a season.
Imagine what the Jackets could accomplish if their top nine forwards and most skilled defenseman can stay relatively healthy this season, and picture what a top-tier talent like Brandon Saad could bring to the mix.
The Saad picture has come to fruition, but that's about it. The Jackets were nearly all healthy when most of the damage had already been done early in the season.
Puck Daddy / Yahoo
This one generated the most buzz before the season, as "hater" Ryan Lambert had the Jackets finishing (*gasp*) 6th in the Metropolitan. LIterally every other Puck Daddy writer thought the CBJ would end up 5th and in the playoffs.
SBNation - THE ROBOT KNOWS
The SBNation panel was not as high on the Jackets as we were as a staff. They were nearly a unanimous to finish 5th in the division and have a shot at the second wild card spot. But there was one entity that thought the Blue Jackets were going to finish in the basement.
What's the point of all this?
Well, it shows us a few things. First, nearly every human who wrote out predictions thought the Jackets were better than the worst or second-worst team in the Metro. Were they fooled by the roster on paper? The hype coming out of the organization? That's hard to say.
Secondly, obviously Nick Foligno's "Stanley Cup next year" comment was over the top in an emotional moment at last season's home finale. You're also never going to hear a player say publicly that they're shooting just to make the playoffs or any bar lower than the ultimate goal of a Cup.
The real question here lies in how the front office thought of this team. Was the playoff talk and downplaying the questions about the blue line truly how they thought of this team or simply media spin to reassure the fans? These are the people getting paid to manage this hockey team and to assemble a roster to build towards a Stanley Cup.
Were they truly shocked at the results that unfolded over the first couple months of the season? Of course, with Sergei Bobrovsky finally coming back from injury, this team could make some sort of meaningless run these next few months. The odds are obviously stacked against them in terms of making it to the postseason, and that ship has sailed for most fans long ago.
Jeff covered a lot about the past as well as what lies ahead for the future. The main question I'm asking is if fans trusted this front office the last few years and were told about how great of a team they had assembled, do they trust this same group to correct it?
Oh, and maybe we should all listen to robots instead of humans.