Before the season began, 20 hockey analysts were asked by NHL.com to predict which teams would make the playoffs, win each conference and lift the Stanley Cup.
Just one, NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp, picked the Columbus Blue Jackets to make the playoffs – and it was as a wild card. And you could even argue Rupp was being charitable at the time considering he’s a former Blue Jackets player and Cleveland native.
Of course, Rupp has also been proved the most correct, with the Blue Jackets closing in on clinching a playoff berth for just the third time in franchise history while cruising to team records for wins and points.
On the surface, those analysts didn't have much reason to put their trust in Columbus. The Blue Jackets were coming off a season that could be described as a train wreck, a campaign that started with a disastrous eight-game losing streak and ended with Columbus bearing the fourth-worst record in the league.
Just about every analyst, predictor and prognosticator going into the season from just about every publication expected more losing.
And just about every analyst, predictor and prognosticator was wrong. Like, "Scrubs" level wrong.
Thanks, Dr. Cox.
While those analysts had plenty of reasons to doubt the Blue Jackets, there were also reasons to like Columbus coming into the season. Plenty of scoring depth returned, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski anchored a remade backline, Sergei Bobrovsky's talents were well-known, and the team had a proven winner behind the bench.
With that in mind, it’s educational to look back at what the perception of the team was in October – and how it has changed now.
We’ll look at a handful of predictions, see what they got wrong, and assign a score of 1 to 5 Dr. Coxes, with 5 being the wrongest of wrong. And at the end, we'll see which predictions had any merit along with how the Jackets have surprised. It'll be both fun and educational!
The Hockey News: 6th in Metro, 32.3 percent chance to make the playoffs
What Was Wrong: “It’s nearly impossible to predict a player (like Sergei Bobrovsky) getting hurt, it’s for the best that Columbus has Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo coming up the pipe. … Nothing wrong with the Ryan Johansen-Seth Jones trade from the Jackets’ perspective, other than the fact no one replaced Johansen on the depth chart.”
What Was Right: “How does the defense look? Pretty fun, actually. Jones brought much-needed minute-munching with his skill, and a full year of David Savard will help. Ryan Murray played all 82 games last season, and Zach Werenski is a rookie to watch closely. That’s a top-four you can really make hay with.”
Wrong Rating: 3 Dr. Coxes. Shout-out for being one publication to realize early on how good the defensive corps could be, but this was far from the only publication to overrate just how much the Jackets would miss Ryan Johansen.
Bleacher Report: 8th in Metro
What Was Wrong: “Trading away Johansen, however, leaves the Jackets without a proven top-line center. They also lack an established top-two defenseman to lead the blue-line corps. In recent years, Bobrovsky's been plagued by groin injuries. If he's sidelined again for a lengthy period, the Jackets' postseason hopes will vanish.”
What Was Right: “The Jackets are stocked with some promising young players. Forwards Brandon Saad, Boone Jenner and Cam Atkinson continue to improve. Jones and Ryan Murray have considerable potential as top-pairing defensemen. When healthy, former Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is among the best in the league. They also have some experienced leadership in Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky and Scott Hartnell.”
Wrong Rating: 4 Dr. Coxes. It would be three, given the kind words, but picking the team eighth was rough.
Sports Illustrated: 15th of 16 teams in East
What Was Wrong: “Wait Till 2020. … High hopes cratered quickly for the Blue Jackets last year. … No notable additions joined them over the off-season.”
What Was Right: “Defensemen Seth Jones and Ryan Murray and forward Brandon Saad all appeared for the North American under-23 team at the World Cup of Hockey.”
Wrong Rating: 4 Dr. Coxes. Wait until 2020? Yeesh.
What Was Wrong: “Can We Trust Them On Special Teams? Still no. … Can We Trust Their Goaltending? Not yet. … (Pierre-Luc Dubois) will definitely get his nine games of NHL action once the regular season begins.”
What Was Right: He, uh, made a Boomer joke.
Wrong Rating: 5 Dr. Coxes. We do miss Boomer, though.
ESPN (Scott Burnside): 8th in Metro
What Was Wrong: “Given Columbus' relatively quiet offseason, at least in terms of adding veteran players, Dubois is likely to be the biggest new face in the lineup.”
What Was Right: “Watch, now that everyone has gone cold on the Columbus Blue Jackets after several years of overvaluing them, they'll prove all the detractors wrong and make the playoffs. … Seriously, it wouldn't shock us all that much if the Blue Jackets become one of those Cinderella, worst-to-first kind of teams vying for a playoff spot next spring.”
Wrong Rating: 3 Dr. Coxes. Burnside seemed to want the pull the trigger on the Jackets as a contender...then picked the team eighth in the division. You could have been a hero, Scott!
Down Goes Brown: The Bottom-Feeder Division
What Was Wrong: “Outlook: Not great, Bob. The Jackets went into last year as a trendy pick to shoot up the standings, then lost eight straight and were dead in the water before November. They should improve, sure, but there's little reason to think they'll be significantly better. … For a team with a history of terrible starts, that early schedule is brutal. Let's pencil them in for 2-4-1 in October.”
What Was Right: Not much.
Wrong Rating: 4 Dr. Coxes. Down Goes Brown is great, but his short preview didn’t see the Jackets coming.
Did we learn anything from this?
- I was slightly surprised analysts weren't as negative as I had expected, looking back, about the Blue Jackets coming into the season. Many said some downright nice things about the team, seeing proven forward talent and a new-look defense.
- Of course, none actually wanted to pull the trigger and predict a breakout campaign. Many of these same writers were probably burned the year before, and can you imagine the guffaws in hockey circles for the analyst who two years in a row was wrong about the Jackets?
- Bobrovsky was a concern of many writers, a fair point given his injury-plagued 2015-16 campaign. There were signs this year would be different, including a new conditioning routine and a solid performance at the World Cup of Hockey, but seeing turned out to be believing.
- A number of writers pointed out the lack of moves made by the Blue Jackets in the offseason and listed that as a reason not to expect much. But really, who didn't see Sam Gagner, Zach Werenski, Markus Nutivaara and Lukas Sedlak coming?
- A few prognosticators were worried about the team's lack of a No. 1 center. But really, who didn't see Alexander Wennberg's growth coming? (OK, so the Jackets have hit on a few lottery tickets this year.)
- Multiple outlets expected first-round pick Pierre-Luc Dubois to be part of the squad; he hasn't played a game, of course. This, of course, is a credit to the Jackets, who haven't had to force the youngster into NHL action.