For this writer, it’s gotten to the point that the 2019-2020 season is a thing of the past. It is now the off-season. Certainly, I could be proven wrong and a miracle Stanley Cup playoff will materialize out of thin air – but it won’t feel like a continuation of the season.
As it is with many off-seasons that don’t end in a playoff run, it’s time to look at the past, take stock of what’s occurred, and hammer out a few Top-whatever lists for this season and season’s past. I do feel the need to put a plug in for The Athletic’s Joe Posnanski’s list of Top 100 baseball players in history. 100 articles on 100 players. Read one article a day and you’ll get through the rest of the pandemic, one can hope. It’s a bit off-topic to bring up a baseball series in a hockey article but there’s a connection. I finished all 100 essays. They were well written, informative, interesting – and turned up the heat on a baseball fandom that was mostly burnt-out coal.
The same thing happens when I think about The Greatest Columbus Blue Jackets Team in History. A team that turned up the flames a bit higher than the rest. This is a subjective topic and I’m sure it will elicit some strong thoughts from my fellow Cannonites. We all have different favorites or different reasons for the same favorites. On the other hand, the CBJ haven’t exactly blessed us with a plethora of great teams to choose from. Maybe four? Five if generous and inclusive of this year?
It’s helpful that three of them happened each of the previous three seasons (who knows how this season would have ended? You can surmise in the comments if you like). Let’s take a look at a few numbers.
NOTE: For simplicity’s sake, 2016-17 is “Pre-Bread”, 2017-2018 is “Bread 1”, 2018-2019 is “Bread 2”.
Pre-Bread leads the way in the standings as the CBJ surprisingly finished with a strong 50-24-8 for 108 points. Bread 2 wasn’t too far off, though. 47-31-4 ends up 10 points behind in the standings due to little help from the loser point.
Comparing seasons starts to show trends in 5 on 5 play. Bread 1 was the season of chances and the ruler of the “should have” advanced stats – we certainly saw that from Day One with Artemi Panarin. An impressive 300+ more scoring chances during that first Panarin season compared to the other two – a CF% 51.4 and FF% of 52.6 outpace the other two seasons. Bread 1 crushed the other two seasons in xGF and xGF%. However, the actual scoring didn’t follow along. Bread 1 only scored 1 more goal in 5v5 than Pre-Bread. Bread 2, however, finished with 18 more goals than Bread 1. Overall in all strengths, Bread 2 scored 256 goals with Pre-Bread coming in at 247, despite a much worse power play – 15.4% vs 19.9%.
At this point, I’m dropping Bread 1 to 3rd place and will not discuss it further.
On the defensive and goaltending stats, Pre-Bread had a xGA of 153 and gave up 132 goals. +21! Sergei Bobrovsky was +24. (Pre-Bread also outscored xGF by 13, but only by 3 with Bob in net). Bread 1 was -15 in that space, Bob was -7. By just about every defensive metric, Pre-Bread tops Bread 2.
Jarmo and Co. repeatedly pointed to the Pre-Bread season’s offensive output to minimize the departure of Bread. Bread 2 was better offensively, though. What really changed was the goaltending – which we all know. Bob won a Vezina one season. Bob was not great the other.
So that’s a little bit of a look by the numbers.
I have to be honest, though. I almost don’t care. I certainly enjoyed watching all three of those seasons – all had highs and lows, highlights and slumps. A lot of my favorite things aren’t ‘the best ever’. They are the things that elicit the most emotion, the most unique feeling, and the rosiest glow afterwards.
One of these seasons is unlike every other season in the history of the Columbus Blue Jackets to me. It is for that reason that I think that particular season is the greatest ever in Blue Jackets history. The only season to ever leave me feeling this kind of disappointment. Disappointment that a CBJ team…underachieved. That’s the 2018-2019 Bread 2 season.
So, elpalito…a team that disappointed you is your greatest team ever? Yeah. Think about it. In the 20 years of the Jackets existing – how many times did the team have so much talent that you felt they were squandering it in season? Not putting in as much as they could? Not being united? For me, just the Bread 2 team. Bob wasn’t Bob. The defense was porous at times, the offense sometimes erratic. The power play not great. None of those things should have come to pass. Not this regular season.
It really very much helps that the team surged at the end and made the playoffs. There they did some relatively memorable things, if I recall.
The 2018-2019 Columbus Blue Jackets gave me two feelings of fandom that I’d never had before for my hockey team – disappointment of the worst kind…and elation of the greatest sweep of a President Trophy winner in the history of the NHL.
They are the best team in Columbus Blue Jackets history.