SvoNotes: Just How Good Will the Blue Jackets Be? Don't Trust Your Eyes, Or The Experts

By Jeff Svoboda on October 12, 2017 at 9:40 am
The Blue Jackets could be good, you know?

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

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One of the weirdest things I’ve noticed in covering sports – well, maybe not weird, but certainly an odd indicator of human behavior – is how immediacy bias can impact the evaluation of a team.

It’s only natural to think that you’d favor, in your mind, a team that you’re close to and watch often. After all, that’s the team you see the most and in theory would appreciate the most.

But in fact, what I’ve noticed is that fans and observers alike tend to underrate the teams they watch on a regular basis. And if you think about it, it makes sense.

When you watch a team on a regular basis, its warts become more and more clear. Oh, they struggle with this aspect of the game, you might notice. Oh, this guy is a liability when this tends to happen, you see. But when you look at other teams outside of your routine, sometimes it’s easy to just think they’re better than they are. Oh, they have this star, this stud and this young guy. Man, they’re hard to beat.

I noticed this all the time when covering Ohio State football. Fans and media would often notice the things it didn’t feel like the Buckeyes were good at, especially when compared against the team’s outstanding legacy of success. They sure are giving up more big pass plays than before; this pass defense isn’t up to snuff. Wow, they really struggle to get push up front; not sure they can win the big game with this offensive line. Then some look at Alabama and go, Wow, what a team. Do they have any flaws.

It turns out, of course they have flaws. Every team does. You just notice them more when they're in front of your eyes all the time.

I guess it’s the human nature of observation and fandom. But it, to me, kind of goes against what you’d expect.

With that in mind, here’s something I noticed in regards to the Columbus Blue Jackets going into the season: National experts seemed to have a much higher opinion of the team than my colleagues and I did.

Look at ESPN's preseason predictions. Of the seven Worldwide Leader experts to pick, four had the Blue Jackets winning the Metropolitan Division, while fine Ohio native John Buccigross picked the team to go all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Meanwhile, if you notice, carry the 1... exactly zero 1st Ohio Battery experts picked the Blue Jackets to win the division. In fact, none of us had the team in second place.

Clearly, we are haters.

Haha, or we just saw a team with some warts. The picks were made before the signing of Josh Anderson, giving the team some much-needed depth. I had written extensively about my concerns with replacing the lost scoring depth. Rob Mixer wrote a piece just before the season about not expecting everything to be as rosy as it was a season ago because, simply put, that rarely happens.

Meanwhile, I can see why the ESPN guys were so excited. A rock in net in Sergei Bobrovsky. A defensive corps that could very well be the best in the league headlined by superstars-in-waiting Zach Werenski and Seth Jones. A forward group that added a gamebreaker in Artemi Panarin to a solid group filled with high-upside youngsters.

Truth be told, I considered moving Columbus up a spot or two from fourth, where I had them behind Pittsburgh, Washington and Carolina. I see major flaws in both the Capitals and Hurricanes, but I saw Carolina perhaps having a CBJ-esque rise and the Caps still have the talent to finish above the Jackets, even if I expect it to be close.

As usual, as I've discovered in life, the truth is usually somewhere in between the best projection and the worst. But between us 1OB guys and those over at ESPN, it'll be fun to find out which of us is right.

Praising Foligno

I was considering doing a whole piece on this, but I think this is a good spot for it.

After the team's opening win vs. New York, head coach John Tortorella addressed the media and was asked a bevy of questions about the performance. Tortorella, for all of his reputation of gruffness (certainly earned at times in his career), is one of the most interesting and honest quotes in sports if you pay attention to what he has to say.

One example of that came when asked after the game about Nick Foligno moving to center to begin the season. Foligno has mostly played wing in his NHL career, and he began the year in the middle of a line featuring youngsters Sonny Milano and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Foligno isn't old enough to be their fathers, but he kind of is in NHL years.

Having put Foligno in that unique and demanding spot, Tortorella clearly was pleased with how he responded to begin the season.

"Nick is a hockey player. That's how you describe him. He'll play anywhere, any time, any position. He was really good on faceoffs tonight. I think he's our best center as far as faceoffs. Did some really good things down low.

"I just like the way he was dealing with the two kids on his wings. That's how he's grown. Remember two years ago, I told Nick I didn't think he could be a leader. I was very honest about that. I didn't think he could do that and keep his game going. He has shown me that he keeps growing in that aspect of it.

"He has a great opportunity this year with some of the youth that we've added to keep on bringing that, so I'm encouraged by that."

There's a lot in that quote, but two things really shine through. First is the honesty, though that shouldn't be a huge surprise to those who have followed Tortorella over the years.

The second is the respect. Foligno's stature clearly has improved in Tortorella's eyes over the years, so much so that the head coach was willing to put No. 71 in a tough spot this year, essentially changing positions to center a line with two youngsters who were likely gonna need a strong veteran presence in the middle.

Foligno has been through a lot on and off the ice in his time in Columbus, becoming one of those guys who is easy to root for. Blue Jackets fans have to be glad he's wearing the "C" on their side. 

Lines, Lines, Everywhere A Line

I was fooling around over on Corsica Hockey for a bit today and decided to look at the Blue Jackets' top forward line pairings at 5-on-5. What I saw was a bit interesting to me when it comes to the three trios the team has used the most.

For the top line of Panarin, Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson, the unit had played the most time together, more than 30 minutes through three games. While it had been outscored 2-1 in that time, it had an expected goals for percentage of 54.5. Not bad.

For the next most used trio – Foligno, Milano and Bjorkstrand – that xGF% mark was at 65.1 percent with the trio holding a 2-1 edge in actual goals scored. 

Then for the Matt Calvert-Brandon Dubinsky-Pierre-Luc Dubois line, they had outscored foes at 5-on-5 by a 1-0 mark with a xGF% of 90.1. That's silly, of course, but I guess you'll have that when you possess the puck the way that trio has.

What does it mean? Well, not much, obviously. It's just three games, and Tortorella already mixed things up to get Josh Anderson back in the mix. But the one thing I do take from it is that 11-17-18 trio really is pretty darn good together, as I wrote Monday, and I'd like to see it more often.

Of course, putting Anderson in Dubois' spot leaves a pretty good line, too, so I'm not gonna storm the castle anytime soon. I just think it was a heck of a fun line to watch, and if it ends up back together, it could be the kind of grinding trio that fans really have come to appreciate as Blue Jackets hockey.

 

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