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Another Year, Another Tough Division for the Columbus Blue Jackets

It seems like every year the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves in one of the National Hockey League’s toughest divisions. This year is no different; the CBJ won their 24th game last night and find themselves in third place with 55 points, just seven points ahead of Carolina (who has two games in hand).

I wanted to see if the Blue Jackets really do perpetually play in a meat grinder or if was overblown grousing, so I took the last 10 seasons (2008-09 through last night’s games) and averaged the points for each division. The league realigned in 2013, so there are five seasons (including this one) of Metropolitan Division play and five seasons of Central Division play (including the lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign).

What I found: over the past 10 seasons, the Blue Jackets have played in the toughest (most average points per team) or second-toughest division nine times. And the one other time? 2013-14, when they missed out on playing in the second-toughest division by a whopping one-third of a point. The Blue Jackets also played in the toughest division four times, with a chance to make it five and three consecutive this season.

CBJ Division History

Year Division Average points per team CBJ points CBJ Finish Division Rank
17-18 Metropolitan 53.1 55 3rd 2nd-toughest
16-17 Metropolitan 97.5 108 3rd Toughest
15-16 Metropolitan 95.9 76 8th Toughest
14-15 Metropolitan 91.9 89 5th 2nd-toughest
13-14 Metropolitan 91.5 93 4th 3rd-toughest (by .3 points)
12-13 Central 57.8 55 4th Toughest
11-12 Central 96.2 65 5th 2nd-toughest
10-11 Central 93.6 81 5th 2nd-toughest
09-10 Central 96.6 79 5th 2nd-toughest
08-09 Central 97.6 88 5th Toughest

Greg Wyshynski of ESPN used to say that getting Columbus out of the Central and into the Eastern Conference was crucial to the fate of the franchise. He meant that fewer West Coast road trips and the chance to establish rivalries with neighboring teams would help grow the fan base, but you can’t help but look at that chart and remember thinking, “Boy, it sure would be nice to get away from Chicago and Detroit to maybe have a chance.”

Be careful what you wish for, I suppose? At least a change in management has built a competitive team that can now hang in one of the toughest divisions in hockey, even if the current point and playoff systems leave much to be desired.

It’s frustrating, obviously, because the Jackets are finally a good team and what do they get? No free points when playing a division opponent. Las Vegas plays in a good division and have certainly earned what they have against everyone they’ve played, but it sure would be nice to have Arizona, Vancouver and Edmonton to beat up on. Instead, the CBJ do something like drop two games in a row and are suddenly three spots behind (for the record, the Metro currently averages almost five points more than the Pacific).

What a unique situation to finally leave the steel cage of the Central Division and the front half of the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty only to get some of Crosby and Ovechkin’s best teams, along with a bumper crop of sleeper teams year in and year out. It’s impossible to know for sure how playing against such tough competition over the last decade hurt a franchise as moribund (and previously inept) as Columbus. But it definitely didn’t help.