Evaluating the Blue Jackets' Crucial Early-Season Games

By Chris Pennington on August 19, 2019 at 8:05 am
The Columbus Blue Jackets open their season against the Toronto Maple Leafs at home on October 4.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Don't let this year's St. Louis Blues fool you - getting off to a slow start is not a good idea.

The team that had the worst record in the NHL in January wound up winning the Stanley Cup and is clearly known as an extreme outlier as we head into the 2019-2020 season.

The Blue Jackets have had 18 seasons as a franchise, making the playoffs in five of those campaigns. For nearly every major professional sport, how a team has performed record-wise one-fourth of the way through their season is obviously a huge determinant of their postseason contention.

Columbus is not exempt from that trend - here's how they've faired in the postseason chase every season based on their record through the first 20 regular-season games.

Notice that in years in which they had a record at or below .500, they made the playoffs 1/11 times. In years in which they had a record above .500, they made the playoffs 4/7 times.

Season Record Through
20 Games
Season Outcome
2000-2001 7-11-1-1 Missed playoffs
2001-2002 5-11-4-0 Missed playoffs
2002-2003 8-8-2-2 Missed playoffs
2003-2004 7-10-2-1 Missed playoffs
2005-2006 5-15-0 Missed playoffs
2006-2007 5-13-2 Missed playoffs
2007-2008 9-7-4 Missed playoffs
2008-2009 9-8-3 Made playoffs
2009-2010 12-6-2 Missed playoffs
2010-2011 14-6-0 Missed playoffs
2011-2012 5-13-2 Missed playoffs
2012-2013 5-12-3 Missed playoffs
2013-2014 7-10-3 Made playoffs
2014-2015 6-12-2 Missed playoffs
2015-2016 7-13-0 Missed playoffs
2016-2017 11-5-4 Made playoffs
2017-2018 12-7-1 Made playoffs
2018-2019 12-6-2 Made playoffs

 John Schuhmann, an advanced stats writer for NBA.com, came out with this article last week in which he displayed how important the first 20, if not ten, games are for NBA teams when starting a season in order to make the playoffs.

"...if you haven't won at least seven of those first 20 games, you're most certainly not going to make the playoffs," writes Schuhmann, referring to statistics reaching over the past 20 years. "Only four of the 106 teams that have won fewer than seven of their first 20 games over the last 20 (full) seasons have gone on to reach the postseason."

Yes, our friends, the NBA and NHL are in fact not the same leagues and have different factors regarding how teams can adjust over the course of a season. However, the principle remains the same for two leagues that both operate with 82-regular season games per team: the first 20 games are absolutely crucial.

So, how are the Blue Jackets stacking up against their early-season opponents in those ever-important first 20 games? Let's take a look at their schedule:

Game # Opponent Opponent's Previous
Season Record
1 vs TOR 46-28-8
2 @ PIT 44-26-12
3 vs BUF 33-39-10
4 vs ANA 35-37-10
5 @ CAR 46-29-7
6 vs DAL 43-32-7
7 @ CHI 36-34-12
8 vs NYI 48-27-7
9 @ TOR 46-28-8
10 vs CAR 46-29-7
11 @ PHI 37-37-8
12 vs EDM 35-38-9
13 @ STL 45-28-9
14 vs CGY 50-25-7
15 vs VGK 43-32-7
16 @ ARZ 39-35-8
17 @ COL 38-30-14
18 @ MTL 44-30-8
19 vs STL 45-28-9
20 vs MTL 44-30-8

So, based on these opponents' records from last season and what they've done so far this offseason...we have a 0% of guessing the Blue Jackets' exact record. But since that's no fun, we'll say they could start out a solid 11-9-0, or just hover around the .500 area.

This is not an easy start to the season. Seeing the likes of the Calgary Flames, The St. Louis Blues (twice), the Toronto Maple Leafs (twice), the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens (twice) is a bit worrisome. Even if the Blue Jackets drop all of these games, though, they could take 11 wins out of the first 20.

In a season of odd expectations, the Blue Jackets may just surprise everyone out of the gate. Where they end up will do a great amount based on this early start - but who knows, maybe they will be the Blues of a year ago.

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