Road Map: What the Columbus Blue Jackets Must Do to Return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs

By Dan Dukart on August 16, 2017 at 7:16 am
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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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Over the course of an 82-game season, it's sometimes difficult to put individual games into perspective. While it's easy to get worked up about a Saturday night game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, that Tuesday night game in Newark doesn't have the same allure -- but, as cliché as it gets, it's worth the same two points in the standings.

In recent years, much has been made of seemingly random dates and a team's position in the standings on said date. Most notably, Thanksgiving (U.S. Thanksgiving, ya turkeys) has been dubbed as a date in which teams use to, in essence, measure their proximity to the playoffs. That's to say management looks at their team's position relative to other teams and decide whether to "go for it," based on a non-game-day about 20 games into the season. Seem harsh? Perhaps, but it has some credence. 

Of the eight Eastern Conference teams that had 23 or more points on Nov. 24, 2016, six of those teams held on for the remaining 75 percent of the season to make the playoffs. Tampa Bay and New Jersey fell off, and Boston and Toronto snuck in. 

In the West, nine teams had 21 points or more, and seven of those teams got into the playoffs. Calgary overtook Los Angeles, but other than that, Thanksgiving does appear to have some very real statistical significance to eventual playoff berths. 

This doesn't appear to be an anomaly. An NBC Sports article from Thanksgiving Day of 2015 supported the idea

To further illustrate that point, the Associated Press (courtesy STATS) ran a report last year showing that — since the 2005-06 season — teams in a playoff spot entering the holiday have gone on to make the Stanley Cup postseason 77.3 per cent of the time.

So, Blue Jackets fans, here is your official primer on where, according to arbitrary dates, the Blue Jackets should be in the standings to make it to the Stanley Cup playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history. Assuming that last season is a fair indicator for points required to make the playoffs, let's assume the Blue Jackets will need 95 points to secure a spot in the big dance.

(Stating the obvious: This is just an exercise to get in the playoffs. I also understand that the win/loss/OT loss record that I indicate could be any combinations to get to that point total.)

11/23/2017 - Thanksgiving Day: Game 22 will be in the rear-view mirror. It would be advisable to have 25 points (11-8-3).

12/31/17 - New Year's Eve: By the time the ball drops, the Blue Jackets will have played 40 games, or just under a half season. Target to hit 95 points: 47 points (20-13-7).

1/27/18 - All-Star Break: Only one game away from 50. Just nine contests in the first 29 days of the month against relatively weak competition means the Blue Jackets should be in for a relatively pleasant January. 59 points (25-15-9)

3/1/18 - Literally just Mar. 1: Game 63 is behind us, and so is more than 75% of the regular season. The 14 games between the All-Star break and this theoretical trade deadline could make or break the season for this club. Are they in a position to add rentals? Or are they saying so long to pending UFAs like Jack Johnson and Matt Calvert? Target points: 73 (31-21-11).

4/7/18 - Regular season finale: Bad news, folks. The Blue Jackets close out the season with match-ups against the Penguins (home) and Predators (away), just like they drew it up! With 19 games between Mar. 1 and Apr. 7, the Blue Jackets could really have their work cut out for them to get back into the playoffs. To get to 95 points, they will need 22 points in their final 19 games, which is easily attainable but certainly not a given. A 10-7-2 record to close out the season gives them a final tally of 41-28-13, a far cry from the 50-win season of this year, but still good enough to get into the playoffs. 

Some fans will read this and disagree, but hear me out: I'm not being pessimistic, I'm merely illustrating that, in order to get back to the playoffs for the first time in the team's history, a 16-game winning streak isn't necessary. Is it likely that this mock-season will mirror the Jackets'? Nobody can say for certain, but that's not the point. Instead, breaking the long and grueling season into 'mini-seasons' allows the team (and fans alike) to see big picture. Hopefully, they exceed each of these checkpoints.

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