How the Blue Jackets Can Win the Metro Division in 2018-19

By Paul Berthelot on August 31, 2018 at 1:22 pm
Blue Jackets celebrate winning against Washington
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Since the NHL realigned to four divisions in each conference in 2013-14, the Metro Division has been dominated by the Washington Capitals. They have won the division in each of the last three seasons, picking up two President Trophies in the process. The Jackets have never won the division, the closest they came was in 2016-17 when they put up 108 points and finished third. The Jackets, however, can very much win the division this season if these four things are to happen.

Artemi Panarin needs to stay

This is obvious, but if the Blue Jackets are to win the division, they are going to need Artemi Panarin on the team. Any trade of Panarin makes the present team worse. There are just so few players who can do what Artemi does, and those that can are not being traded. Even if the Jackets are to trade Panarin for young NHL players, they won’t have the same impact on the team that he would.

Since Panarin joined the NHL three seasons ago, only six players have outscored his 233 points; Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Blake Wheeler and Jamie Benn. This is a superstar in the prime of his career; he needs to stay.

Trading Panarin and the Jackets lose any chance they have at competing with Washington and Pittsburgh.

As too does Sergei Bobrovsky

Not only does Bobrovsky need to stay, but he also needs to play like the best goaltender in the league. The two time Vezina Trophy winner needs to put together a season that puts him in contention for a third. As we’ve seen in Bobrovsky’s time in Columbus as he goes so too does the team. Bobrovsky has played six seasons in Columbus in four of them he has posted a save percentage of .920 or better, in three of those seasons the Jackets made the playoffs. The other was his first Vezina season where he dragged a pretty subpar Blue Jackets team to the brink of the playoffs. In the other two seasons, Bob has battled injuries and ineffectiveness, and the Blue Jackets not only missed the playoffs but were bottom feeding teams.

The Jackets need Bobrovsky playing at his best all season if they are to have a chance to unseat the Capitals.

The power play needs to improve

Chris wrote a great article on the power play this week, which I would highly recommend checking out if you haven’t already. Chris broke down changes that need to happen to see an improvement, as improvements are seriously needed. The Jacket finished with the 25th ranked power play clicking at 17.18%. Their 39 power play goals were fourth fewest. The power play was more or less a wasted two minutes for the Jackets. It’s been Washington’s bread and butter for years; a strong power play can take a team a long way.

Shooting percentage rebounding

The Jackets battled this all of last season. They could get shots, but they couldn’t score. We saw what happened down the stretch after the trade deadline when the Jackets finally caught some breaks and their shots found the back of the net. The Jackets went 14-4-2 after the trade deadline, if they can play like that all season, the division is theirs.

Seth Jones and Zach Werenski need to continue to get better

Having two of the best young players in the game is great, but they cannot be content with what they have done. Seth Jones is fresh off a 57 point season in which he finished fourth in the Norris Trophy race. A spectacular season no doubt, but if the Jackets want to take the next step, they are going to need Jones playing at a level that wins him a Norris.

Same goes for Werenski. Since 1990 there have been only 17 defencemen to clear 80 points in their first two seasons. Werenski’s 27 goals in his first two years ranks third. He’s had a heck of a start to his career, and he needs to continue to build upon that. A 50 point season with 15+ goals is just what the team needs to contend for that divisional crown.

At least one player needs to have a surprise season

In 2016-17 this player was Sam Gagner and his unexpected 50 point season. In 2017-18 it was Pierre-Luc Dubois and his breakout 48 point season. The Jackets are going to need a season like that from someone who they didn’t expect to get it from. Looking at the roster, a number of players could have that season. Anthony Duclair is the prime candidate to have a big season. He’s still young and has a ton of talent. Other candidates include prospects Jonathan Davidsson and Vitali Abramov. The number 5 and number 1 prospect in the system respectively both have an outside shot at making the team and if put in the right situation could be very successful.