For the fourth straight season and sixth time in team history, the Columbus Blue Jackets have advanced to the NHL’s postseason with a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup at the end of the tournament. This season’s tournament will be a little bit different, with 24 teams allowed in instead of the usual 16, but we’ll get to that later.
If you missed the boat last year or lapsed during the regular season, we’ve got you covered. Consider this your unofficial primer to get you (re)started as a Columbus Blue Jackets fan. We’re glad to have you.
I’m going to blatantly rip this action from a previous year’s guide, written by the wonderful Ryan Real, because it mostly still fits!
The Blue Jackets have been bad for a very long time. They made the playoffs in 2009 (against Detroit), 2014 and 2017 (both Pittsburgh), stacking up a meager body of postseason work that stands at a combined record of 3-12. They’ve never won a playoff series. Have you ever seen the famous New York Jets draft mistake compilation? You could make one of those with draft picks, roster decisions and in-game meltdowns from this franchise over its history.
That previous paragraph still reads fairly grim. But this year feels different. Buoyed by a smattering of young, bona fide stars, the Jackets proved that last year’s incredible season wasn’t a fluke. Coach John Tortorella seems to have genuinely changed the culture for a team that now believes it can win every game it plays. This is a relatively new—and monumental—development.
We’ll talk more about this season further in the post, but we’ve got to catch you up on some CBJ history. Here’s an admittedly incomplete list of important Blue Jackets moments to celebrate (before this season):
- Inaugural season, forward Geoff Sanderson scores 30 goals (2000-01)
- Forward Rick Nash shares the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals scored (2003-04)
- Rick Nash scores The Goal against Phoenix (Jan. 17, 2008)
- Jackets qualify for the playoffs for the first time, goalie Steve Mason wins the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year (2008-09)
- Forward Vinny Prospal points at the scoreboard in a 3-0 shutout of Detroit (Mar. 9, 2013)
- In a lockout-shortened season, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky wins the Vezina Trophy for best goalie in the league (2012-13)
- Jackets qualify for the playoffs for the second time (2014)
- Columbus earns its first-ever playoff win thanks to a Matt Calvert overtime goal in Game 2 (April 19, 2014)
- Brandon Dubinsky scores with 22.5 seconds left in regulation to force overtime against Pittsburgh in Game 4, setting up Nick Foligno’s game winner in overtime (April 23, 2014)
- The Blue Jackets beat the Montreal Canadiens 10-0 (Nov. 4, 2017)
- Columbus wins 16 games in a row and posts a perfect record in December, the second-longest winning streak in NHL history (Jan. 3, 2017)
- Jackets qualify for the playoffs for the third time (Mar. 20, 2017)
- Sergei Bobrovsky wins the Vezina Trophy again (2016-17)
- Columbus traded Brandon Saad for Artemi Panarin, who immediately broke the single season franchise scoring record
- Columbus takes its first ever series lead, going up 2-0 on the eventual champion Washington Capitals, before falling in six games (spring 2018)
- Columbus goes all in at the trade deadline, acquiring Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel (February 2019)
- Columbus won their first ever playoff series, upsetting the heavily favored Tampa Bay Lightning in four games (spring 2019)
- Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Sergei Bobrovsky all left in free agency (summer 2020)
That should catch you up. There have been way more losses and sadness than good times, but the past handful of seasons have stood as the best in franchise history. Last season set franchise records for points, wins, wins at home, goals for, goals against and pretty much anything else positive you could think of. But after a five-game flameout to the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one of last year’s playoffs, it was easy to write off the Jackets as a 16-win wonder. Which leads us to...
Well, where do we start? After losing the aforementioned free agents, the Blue Jackets brought in a rookie goaltender (Elvis Merzlikins, and we will get to him later), veteran winger Gustav Nyquist, and decided to reload with youth.
From there, a quick recap:
- 0-3-1 start to the season, including Elvis allowing seven (yes, seven) goals to the Pittsburgh Penguins in his first NHL start
- Injuries - and lots of them. The only players who played all 70 games were Gustav Nyquist, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Boone Jenner.
- December rolled around, and Joonas Korpisalo found his groove, leading Columbus on a five game win streak before getting hurt in a shootout (and missing his first appearance in the NHL All Star Game as a result)
- Elvis Merzlikins, given the net due to injury, went on a tear in January, leading the team on a 10-3 stretch and into playoff contention
- A streak of eight straight losses in February drops the team to fringe playoff contention, but the Jackets hang on thanks to the NHL’s point system rewarding them for losing four of those games past regulation
- COVID-19 pandemic, and the season is paused in March
That is an exceedingly brief recap of this season, but it gets you mostly caught up on the two themes of the year for the Jackets: injuries (seriously, there were a lot of them, with even replacements and call-ups getting hurt), and the Jackets playing a ton of overtime games (23 out of 70 total this season).
Regardless of circumstances, the Jackets are here. And we’re getting restarted! Let’s take a look at that, since it’s pretty important.
With the ratification of the Return to Play, we finally have a schedule for the postseason. As for the Columbus-Toronto series, the schedule is as follows:
Game 1: Sunday August 2nd
Game 2: Tuesday August 4th
Game 3: Thursday August 6th
Game 4 (if necessary): Friday August 7th
Game 5 (if necessary): Sunday August 9th
Games between Eastern Conference teams will take place in Toronto, the Western Conference hub is in Edmonton. The Stanley Cup Final will take place in the Edmonton hub.
Players who test positive in the bubble will be quarantined until they receive medical clearance to exit isolation. Players who have had close contact with the positive player in the proceeding 48 hours (presumably teammates and opponents) will be monitored for symptoms for 14 days, but will not be required to isolate unless he tests positive or develops symptoms.
As far as “how many positive tests is too many?” the league has not set a specific number publicly. There are provisions in the return to play agreement for both sides (the NHL and NHLPA) to open a dialogue if either believe the conditions would jeopardize the tournament; one of these conditions is an “uncontrolled outbreak of COVID-19.” The document, critically, leaves out exactly what number of positives would constitute an uncontrolled outbreak. In the event that the two sides opened this dialogue, the two sides would discuss the conditions with medical directors and consultants, players, general managers, and infectious disease experts to determine the best course of action. The commissioner would then have the ability to postpone, move, or cancel games. If the NHLPA were to disagree, it could file for an expedited arbitration.
All caught up? Cool. Let’s take a look at the series.
The Toronto Maple Leafs finished third in their division this season, the best division in hockey, with 81 points this year. The Leafs are led by a high-powered offense featuring superstars Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares. Despite their high flying forwards, the Leafs have struggled in the postseason in recent years, frequently falling to the Boston Bruins. The Leafs are often undone by their shaky defense, sitting all the way down at 27th in the league in goals allowed this season. If the Jackets are going to beat the Leafs, they’re going to have to put the puck in the net.
Players to Love
Elvis, rookie goaltender, lives and acts like a rock star on the ice. He has captured hearts and minds across the city. Check out his reaction after notching his first NHL win (against former goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, no less):
The captain. American. Steady season as one of the oldest guys on the team at 32 years old. By all accounts, the nicest human to ever live. This season, a defensive wizard.
He’s big, strong and skilled. Son of former NBA player and coach Popeye Jones, a fact you will definitely hear during the playoffs. After missing the last month of the season with an ankle injury, Jones is healthy for the playoffs.
Took a puck to the head his rookie year in the playoffs and then a fan made a shirt of his busted face. This year, Werenski led all NHL defensemen in goals with 20.
A 30-year-old diminutive (5’ 7”) American forward who battled through injuries this season, generally the second leading scorer in franchise history. Loves to laugh.
If you’re lucky enough to catch one of the games in Nationwide in the future post-pandemic, there are a couple of things you need to know to blend in with the locals.
- Leo Welsh sings the national anthem and he’s awesome. After he’s introduced on the PA, the entire crowd yells “LEO!”
- The Jackets own a cannon that fires when the team skates out and after every goal. Best goal celebration in the league.
- After the third CBJ goal, fans yell “CHILI!” to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance, as fans get free chili the next day. It used to be Wendy’s, then Bob Evans, now it’s Roosters.
Highlights From the Season
Werenski's 17th of the season, a franchise record for goals by a defenseman: pic.twitter.com/kNkKwDhhQ0— The Cannon (@cbjcannon) February 8, 2020
Welcome to the playoffs. We’re happy to have you along for the ride.