Welcome to the tail end of possibly the most confusing Columbus Blue Jackets season that we have ever seen.
We know the headlines - in fact, we wrote some of them. The Artemi Panarin / Sergei Bobrovsky drama, the wild trade deadline, the inconsistent play; the list goes on.
But at the end of the day, we all come to a realization:
This is the most talented roster the Blue Jackets have ever possessed, and currently, they are not holding a playoff spot, with less than ten games remaining on the season.
First off - we of course, along with all Blue Jackets fans, want this team to make the playoffs. But the question that we should address is very fair: do they really deserve a postseason birth?
In short, well, if they grab a spot, then yes, they deserve it. If they don't, then no. Duh.
But what I'm trying to get at is a little more about the moral of the discussion, a little more in the weeds.
With what the team has done this season with the kind of roster that they have, have they even gotten close to being their best? Have they executed their talent in a way that is representative of what the organization has put together?
In short, no.
Let's go back just two seasons ago, when the Blue Jackets were serious contenders for the best record in the NHL (if you forgot). Their 108 point total for that season is a franchise record that may not be touched for a while.
Here's some believe-it-or-not's: That Blue Jacket team's highest point-getter was Cam Atkinson, with only 62 total. Sam Gagner was fourth on the team in goals. Jack Johnson was a second-pairing defensemen.
Today, Columbus has nearly ten players who have scored more than 15 goals on the season, the same two-time Vezina winning goaltender, and certainly a better overall top-six defensive unit.
Clearly, the modern Blue Jackets are miles ahead talent-wise than they were two seasons ago. But while the current club has 84 points heading into their 75th game of the season, the 2016-2017 team had 103 points at that time.
So, you could ask, how the hell were those old Blue Jackets that successful? The better question may be, though, how the hell are these current Blue Jackets so unsuccessful?
"I just feel like we have a piano on our back as a group, and the hardest thing is we’re not scoring so we don’t have that confidence that we can outscore teams and come back in games...we’ve got to find it and it’s gotta come ASAP. We don’t have any time to mess around.”– Blue Jackets' Forward Matt Duchene
It's been the question that summarizes the head-scratcher of a season. Some games, they look like they can skate with the best of the best - but then there's other times (like losing a season series to the Edmonton Oilers and getting outscored 8-1 total) where they look like a borderline lottery team.
It may not be as simple as "playing to their opponents' level", but their game results certainly point to that claim being true.
"I just don't think we understand the level we need to play at right now."– Blue Jackets' Head Coach John Tortorella
On the year, the Blue Jackets are 22-8-3 against current non-playoff teams. This is not as awful of a statistic as one may think. The best of the best can definitely struggle against lower-tier talent.
But the way the Blue Jackets have played against current playoff teams might tell the story of their season a little better. They are 18-22-1, and have been outscored 118-104 in those games. If you'd like to correlate that to how they'd do in a playoff series, it's not hopeful.
So, does a team with numbers like these really deserve a postseason birth? Again, especially considering how great of a team we all think this could be?
“...we’re in a position to do something, make the playoffs and make some noise, and something has to change here.”– Blue Jackets' Defenseman Seth Jones
Yes, yes, if they get in, they deserve it. If they don't get in, they don't deserve it. The bottom line, though - if the Columbus Blue Jackets miss the playoffs this season, with the best roster they've ever bolstered, they can only blame themselves.
Every team in the NHL goes through adversity throughout a season. Injuries happen, contract drama happens, attitude problems happen. But it just seems like through all the adversity the Blue Jackets have faced, they haven't found peace and have never seemed "settled".
Why does it seem that when the Blue Jackets play in a game with a sellout crowd, or against an elite club, and the expectations are higher and the lights are a little brighter, they collapse under the pressure?
Is it a motivation problem, a locker room problem, a coaching problem? We may find out in these final eight games.
Excuses cannot hold any more weight - if they still do at all. This club still has time to right the ship and rip off a near-perfect ending to the season, but there's some holes that will definitely need plugged if so.
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