On Dec 31st, 2019, the Columbus Blue Jackets were on top of the world.
Zach Werenski recorded his first career hat trick and Elvis Merzlikins won his first game (he was 0-4-3 to that point), besting Sergei Bobrovsky. Home ice, New Year's Eve... things were looking up.
Then 2020 happened.
these unprecedented times this bizarre year, the Blue Jackets have plenty to be grateful for now and heading into the future. Here are five things the Blue Jackets can be grateful for on Thanksgiving:
1. Salary Cap Structure
The Blue Jackets have one of the healthiest salary cap structures in the NHL. They have zero contracts over $6M AAV (though that will hopefully change soon when RFA Pierre-Luc Dubois signs a new contract). The Athletic's Dom Luszczyszyn model ranks the Blue Jackets with the fourth most efficient salary cap structure in the NHL, behind the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, and Pittsburgh Penguins.
With no bad contracts on the books, the club can look toward the future with optimism - not doom.
2. Two High-End Goalies
The Blue Jackets are blessed to have two young, quality goaltenders. And not to belabor point #1, but they're both signed to team-friendly deals. As a result, the club will have plenty of flexibility over the next two seasons (the duration of their existing contracts) to make a trade, should an appealing option emerge, and the organization will be able to weather the impending storm that is the Seattle Expansion Draft without fear of losing a key cog.
In a compressed schedule, the club will have the luxury of playing a fresh, high-end goalie on a nightly-basis. And while we're not here to take shots at former Blue Jackets, the franchise should be grateful they don't have Bobrovsky signed to a $10M AAV contract for the next six seasons.
3. The Seth Jones/Zach Werenski Pairing
The Jones/Werenski pairing went mainstream this past August, somehow exceeding already-lofty expectations, with the Blue Jackets vanquishing the Toronto Maple Leafs before ultimately succumbing to the Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning. National media, who tend to avoid the Blue Jackets like the plague (sorry for the untimely pun), were heaping praise on the duo.
Jones, in particular, opened eyes, though his effectiveness is still a hotly-debated topic on #hockeytwitter.
In 2020 Norris Trophy voting, Werenski finished T-8th, and Jones T-11. No matter how you slice it, the pairing is one of (if not the) top duos in the NHL, and the Blue Jackets are fortunate to have them in tow.
4. A Young Core To Build Around
Recently, EliteProspects ranked the Blue Jackets prospect pool 31st out of 31 teams. And while I take issue with that (and frankly the order of the prospects, but that's for another day), the fact of the matter is the Blue Jackets have graduated just about every young player who was formerly a prospect to their big club.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Zach Werenski, Alexandre Texier, Emil Bemstrom, and Liam Foudy are all 23 or younger. Oliver Bjorkstrand and Vladislav Gavrikov are 25. Jones, Korpisalo, and Merzlikins are 26. This is a team that is built for the present and the future.
And while this group lacks high-end scoring (!), help should be on the way, with Russian prospects like Kirill Marchenko (20) and Yegor Chinakhov (19), who both possess an elite shot.
5. Stability/A Great Fanbase
The Blue Jackets have been around for 20 years and have won just one playoff series (though let's be honest, the Maple Leafs play-in series sure felt like a playoff series).
Through thick and thin - and there's been plenty of thin in these 20 years - this fanbase has remained loyal to the organization. Long gone are the rumors of the franchise relocating, and the Blue Jackets ownership stability and fanbase have a lot to do with that.
I've been thankful to be able to watch the Blue Jackets play hockey, especially during a pandemic. What has you feeling grateful for as it relates to the Blue Jackets? Drop a line below in the comments.