This season has been the pits. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The 2015-16 Columbus Blue Jackets, expected by many to make the playoffs, and potentially be a 100 point team, crashed out of the playoff race before Halloween. 0-8-0. Todd Richards went out the door, John Tortorella entered. Ryan Johansen was eventually traded for Seth Jones, and the Blue Jackets have limped along ever since.
I’ve been extraordinarily critical of the team this year, as have many other fans. I have a multitude of issues with what has transpired this season. I will not rehash all of them here, as I want this piece to remain positive in nature.
In that spirit, one of the stormclouds among the staff here at the Cannon will attempt something he hasn’t done much this year: Eric Seeds will attempt to highlight some positives this season that the team can build on heading into next season. A little cheer and happiness goes a long way, so let’s see some!
First and foremost, I want to mention Brandon Saad. Saad, newly acquired this past offseason in a trade involving Marko Dano and Artem Anisimov, is having a career year numbers-wise in Columbus. While he may not be matching the same team success he saw in Chicago his first years in the NHL, Saad has put up outstanding individual numbers in Columbus. He currently leads the team in goals scored with 19, and has registered 19-16-35 through 52 games played. He is also at 49.3% Corsi for the year (meaning the team has the puck 49.3% of the time he is on the ice), a fairly decent number, given the struggles this season.
Saad is also on a long term contract. At $6 million dollars per year, Saad is one of the higher paid skaters on the team, but he is producing relative to the value of his deal. He is also under contract through the 2020-2021 season, which will allow the team to build around the young winger going forward. Saad was critiqued heavily before ever taking the ice for the Blue Jackets- pundits and fans alike wondered if Saad could continue to produce without having Jonathan Toews for a linemate. Given that he has not only met but exceeded his numbers from his time in Chicago, one can safely say that the Blue Jackets have a great young player that they can build around going forward.
Another positive going forward is Alexander Wennberg. Wennberg has had to step up during the second half of the season with the trade of Ryan Johansen, and the playmaking center has taken several steps to grow his game. At 50.9% Corsi, Wennberg has had control of the puck for more than half of the time he has been on the ice this season. Posting 5-14-19 thus far this season, Wennberg has clearly shown an ability to set others up this season. He is on pace to surpass his rookie season numbers of 4-16-20 easily.
Given that Wennberg is only 21 years old, one hopes that his goal scoring will improve going forward. He has some nice moves to score, as we saw in Vancouver on Thursday night with his shootout winner. If he can ever harness that aspect of his game, Wennberg has a chance to develop into a top 6 center for the Blue Jackets moving forward. He has only taken 59 shots on goal this season (89 total attempts), and one would like to see that number go up going forward.
A third positive for the Blue Jackets going forward is Seth Jones. Much has been said about how he has transitioned to Columbus and how he is supposed to develop into the number one defenseman this franchise has long sought going forward.
"Jonesy’s been good, he’s a rangy right-handed, well-positioned player that has the ability to get up the ice to show us some four-man fronts to bring us some offence," said Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella. "We’ve put him into a lot of situations that I don’t think he’s been put into prior with Nashville."
Jones has seen his ice time increase by nearly 5 minutes per game since his arrival here in Columbus, and he has put up six assists in twelve games with the team. While he has not yet found the back of the net (shooting just 1.1% on the season, with 1 goal in 95 shots on net), that number can only be expected to rise. Jones is being counted on to step into the offense and lead or join rushes forward, in addition to maintaining a solid presence on the blue line.
Jones’ addition also solidifies the top pairing, allowing for more clarity in the bottom 4. As long as he and Ryan Murray continue to develop and grow together (and both should), then the Blue Jackets may have the beginnings of a solid blue line, and perhaps the start of building the best defensive corps the team has seen in franchise history.
Finally, at least for me, I remain positive and hopeful in Coach Tortorella. Torts came to Columbus amid a swirl of controversy- he had worn out his welcome with the New York Rangers (including a public feud with Brandon Dubinsky), and had famously crashed out of Vancouver. Torts was under pressure immediately to end the losing streak and turn the fortunes of the team around.
As we know, the latter has not happened yet. Torts has been vocally critical of the veterans on the team, increasingly leaning on the youth of the team (sometimes by choice and others, such as in the case of Joonas Korpisalo, by having no other option) to carry the team. This has produced mixed results, as the team has gone 20-21-5 since Torts took over.
What I am looking forward to, personally, is next season. While this one may be lost, Torts has a reputation among the NHL for developing young talent (which the Blue Jackets have in spades) and for helping players reach a level that they may not have hit otherwise. Brandon Dubinsky in particular has credited Torts for helping him with his development into the player he is today.
It was noted on Twitter the other day that Torts used his time during his injury recovery to plot the team’s training camp schedule for the upcoming offseason (which, if rumors of how difficult a Torts training camp is are true, will put the team through the gauntlet) in the hopes of having one of the most well-conditioned teams in the NHL. He may have a reputation, but he has shown an ability to be honest and to admit his mistakes and to work to better himself and the team (though the Torts Line Blender™ has its moments of annoyance- Ryan Murray and Dalton Prout should never play together, nor should Seth Jones and Fedor Tyutin, and adding Saad to a line with Gregory Campbell and Rene Bourque is borderline criminal).
In the end, while this season may be, ahem, less than we had hoped for, there are still things to build on going forward, and some bright spots for the Blue Jackets as they move into the future. Not everything is doom and gloom, and I for one will work on being more positive for the rest of the season.
Plus, hey- how great is Auston Matthews going to look in Union Blue next season?