The Blue Jackets Are Struggling From Lack of Playmakers, Lack of Quality Chances

By Chris Pennington on November 6, 2019 at 1:45 pm
Emil Bemstrom, a highly-touted scorer in the SHL, has failed to record his first NHL goal through 15 games this season.
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It's worse than most of us anticipated.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are putting the puck in the net at a franchise-historically low rate this season, just months after their best postseason run to date.

It's not really because they're not shooting the puck - they've outshot their opponent in 11 of 15 games this season. It's not necessarily from a lack of goal scorers - they have retained four 23-plus scorers from a season ago.

So...what gives?

There are a few theories we can go off of here. One is to scale the quality of chances the team is actually getting with their abundance of shots. So, yes, the team is piling up shots, but are they in high-danger areas? Are they wrist shots from the blue line with no traffic in front of the opposing goalie?

Another is to judge the true talent of the club offensively, after losing three scoring-minded forwards in free agency. Yes, the team still has scorers as mentioned above, but how many playmakers are on the team? Who is setting up these players for goals now that the likes of Artemi Panarin are gone?

Let's tackle the first conjecture. Columbus is averaging over 33 shots per game, which is in the top-eight amongst other clubs in the league. Their shooting percentage to follow is a nightmare, sitting at a solid 7%, tied with the Detroit Red Wings for the worst in the NHL (per 

So, they're shooting a lot, and not scoring a lot. How come? The team is ranked 16th in the league in high-danger chances (which honestly, isn't awful), and is 20th in the league in regards to expected goals for.

So, their chances aren't terribly mediocre, but it seems like they should be potting a few more than 35 in 15 games (third-to-last in the league). Their expected goals for per 60 minutes is 2.1300, again, at the bottom of the food chain (per Sean Tierney at Charting Hockey). 

Charting Hockey

Long story short - they are getting fine - not great - chances, and are underperforming on those chances. Onto the playmaker theory.

The Blue Jackets lost Panarin this summer, someone who broke the franchise record for assists in a single season - twice (55,59). Before he came around, Alexander Wennberg was the best playmaker and leading Columbus in assists (46). Before that, it was two and a half seasons of Ryan Johansen (30, 45, 20 (in 38 games)). Before that, it didn't matter, because the team was irrelevant. 

Now, who is that guy for the Blue Jackets, on offense? Their best playmakers may truly by Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, and Jones is currently leading the team in assists with six in 15 games.

Who on offense can fill that Johansen, Wennberg (of old) and Panarin role? Pierre-Luc Dubois, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson - seem to be goal scorers at heart. Gustav Nyquist is a quality thought, but is near the end of his prime and is still a player that has historically been a split scorer/assist maker (125 goals, 170 assists for his career).

Dubois' splits are 53-66. Atkinson's are 189-160. Bjorkstrand's are 47-54. And Anderson's are 65-48. For reference, Panarin's are 122-210, Wennberg's is 37-148, and Johansen's is 132-285.

Those are playmakers. The guys above them are (mostly) bonafide scorers.

This team is lacking the playmaker. 

And it shows. The Blue Jackets have one player over five goals this season (Dubois with sixth) Boone Jenner has four, which is tied for 90th amongst all other plays in the NHL. 

Yes, you read that right. Columbus has one player in the league in the top-90 in goals.

To answer the original question, what gives? It's a little bit of everything. The club lacks playmakers - not necessarily scorers, which reduces their quality of chances, equaling a lot of shots and little outcome. Good thing the trade deadline isn't until February, yeah?

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