Searching for silver linings in a lost season
It hasn't been ALL bad
BREAKING NEWS: The Columbus Blue Jackets are having the season from hell.
Oh wait, you knew that already, didn't you?
It felt like everything that could go wrong did go wrong this season, and we'll have plenty of time between now and the start of fall training camp to go over that. For now, however, let's try to look on the bright side. Are there things this season which we can be thankful for?
Top prospects shine
Kent Johnson, the #5 overall pick in 2021, has been productive all season despite often finding himself buried in the lineup. Fortunately he has earned more consistent top 6 minutes as of late and is making the most of it. He's fourth on the team in assists (24) and fifth in points (40). He's also fourth among rookies leaguewide in points.
Arguably an even more impressive debut has come from 2018 second round pick Kirill Marchenko. We had to wait four years for him to come to North America, but it has been worth the wait. He's sixth on the team in points (25) and third in goals (21)...despite appearing in just 55 games since his call-up in December. He is just one goal behind Seattle's Matty Beniers for the rookie lead, and tied with Dallas's Wyatt Johnson. Each has played at least 20 more games than Marchenko. In addition, he has an infectious enthusiasm which has earned the affection of coaches, teammates, and local media alike.
Lightning strikes twice
Some players had career years in the better-than-expected 2021-22 season, and it was fair to wonder whether those multi-year veterans could sustain that. In some cases, at least, they have.
Sean Kuraly hit double digit goals for the first time last season, with 14 (he had just 24 total in four full seasons in Boston). He hit 10 goals again this season, through 67 games. He isn't picking up as many assists, but one of his linemates has remained productive: Eric Robinson went from 7 goals in 2019-20 to 8 in 2021 and 10 last season. This year he is at 12, and has also appeared in a career high 71 games.
Captain Booner Jenner entered the league as an offensive winger and scored 30 in his third season. After that, however, he had five straight seasons of fewer than 20 goals each, and seemed more like a checking line player. Beginning last season he became the top line center and was on pace for another 30 goal season before suffering a season-ending back injury. Would his back hold up this season? Could he possibly score as much?
He missed time with a thumb injury in December, but has played 67 games vs. last year's 59, and has improved from 23/21/44 to 26/19/45. He is four goals, three assists, or four points from tying his respective career highs.
Finally, Patrik Laine eased a lot of concerns last season by putting up an even 56 points in 56 games, largely thanks to a red-hot February. He was more consistent throughout this season and has 52 points (22/30) in 55 games. The biggest problem has been staying healthy.
Gaudreau as advertised
Being the highest paid player in franchise history carries massive expectations, and it's fair to say that Gaudreau has lived up to it so far. Every player has missed time this season, but he has been more available than most. He is fourth on the team in goals and way in the lead in assists and points. He is tied with 2002-03 Ray Whitney for most assists in a season in CBJ history (52) and tied with 2014-15 Ryan Johansen for sixth in points (71).
He's not matching the 115 points he had in Calgary last season, and his team is far worse, but throughout he has kept a positive attitude and continued to sing the praises of Columbus as his new home.
If we run out of things to feel good about with the Jackets, can we enjoy the struggles of others? Misery loves company, right? For years we've been looking up at Washington and Pittsburgh at the top of the Metro. Well, they're still ahead of us but the downward trend we've been anticipating for years has finally arrived. The Capitals will miss the playoffs this season for the first time since 2013-14. The Penguins are still in the playoff hunt, but are limping towards the finish line. As of this writing, they are a point behind the Panthers and Islanders for the wild cards. In addition, it's not clear if they have cap room or assets to add short term help to keep their window of contention open beyond this year.
Fifth Line shows up
Despite any hope of a contender being dashed well before Thanksgiving, the Blue Jackets faithful have been packing Nationwide Arena in 2023. There were four shutouts in the first three months: opening night (vs. Tampa), New Year's Eve (vs. Chicago), Pittsburgh, and Detroit. This year, however, there have been 8 games with an attendance over 18,000, in just 17 home games.
I can't explain WHY this is happening. Is there really nothing better to do in Columbus in winter? (Don't answer that) I think it shows that this market is still passionate about hockey, and aren't just front-runners for this team anymore.
What have you enjoyed most about this season?