The Columbus Blue Jackets open their season Thursday as a part of the Discover Central Division.
Against their divisional rivals, the Nashville Predators.
Just like we all predicted, right?
I mean, okay, I didn't predict that. But I did predict that the Blue Jackets would be better than the pundits thought and that they'd sneak into the postseason. Plus, as a guy who has twice went 11-0 in NFL postseason picks and once finished in the 99.9999th percentile of ESPN's March Madness Bracket (seriously!), I consider myself a true Nostradamus when it comes to forecasting what's to come in the wide world of sports.*
So here we go, but be aware: these aren't just predictions. They're spoilers; read at your own risk!
(*If you remove the literal thousands of incorrect predictions I've made, both in sports and in everyday life.)
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, THEN BACK TO THE MIDDLE:
The two teams who met in the Stanley Cup Finals last season are in the same division this season, and that happens to be in the same division as Columbus. Neither of these two teams got 'worse', Tampa is still going to be Tampa, even without Nikita Kucherov (hip surgery). And while Dallas does often struggle to score goals, they actually faired pretty well against their temporary divisional rivals last season: They scored at a clip of 3.5+ goals per game against just nine teams, but four of those nine were Tampa Bay, Detroit, Florida, and Carolina. An incredibly small sample size of just seven games between those four teams, but it's what we had to work with in the shortened season against intraconference opponents.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Detroit is going to finish last in the division. That's the one thing here that may truly be a spoiler, and not a prediction. They were bad last year, and they're going to be bad this year. Chicago, who will be without rookie Kirby Dach this season and without star forward Jonathan Toews indefinitely (and potentially the entire season), will be just a bit better.
That leaves Columbus, Carolina, Florida, and Nashville in the middle, where the best two will get into the postseason.
Florida can score, but Sergei Bobrovsky learned last season what it's like have a below-average defense in front of him, and it showed in the form of a career worst 3.23 goals against. If Chicago was even remotely healthy, they'd finish ahead of Florida. Mark me down for a distant 6th place finish for the Southern Jackets.
|Sergei Bobrovsky||SV%||GAA||SO||Quality Start %|
Nashville is the polar opposite: a good defense, but where on the planet is their scoring going to come from? They had three forwards who scored 18 or more goals last year, and two of them aren't on the team anymore. Former Jackets Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen will be primary catalysts on offense for the Predators this season. Meh.
(Side Note: If these two teams could merge, they'd be dangerous.)
Which brings us to Columbus and Carolina. One finishes 4th and gets the right to challenge Tampa Bay in the first round, the other...doesn't.
Neither team has an obvious weakness like Nashville (offense), Florida (defense), or Detroit (both). Columbus may struggle to score at times, but two or three goals a night will be enough to win plenty of games if the two-headed monster of Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo stay healthy and live up to their expectations - and that's going to be the difference. James Reimer and Petr Mrazek will split duties for the Category 1's and that's not a horrible tandem, but it won't be enough to get them into the playoffs. Columbus 4th, Carolina 5th.
Hello, fifth consecutive post season! Hello, Central Division standings:
FINAL CENTRAL DIVISION STANDINGS (MAYBE?)