The acquisitions of Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic gave the Columbus Blue Jackets some much-needed firepower to their forward corp.
If only they were living up to their expectations on the defensive side of the puck, this team would be a dark horse for a deep postseason run.
Until they can figure out how to stop letting goals in, though, even making the playoffs could prove to be a tough task.
Here's a look at what to watch for as the Blue Jackets try to make it five straight trips to the Stanley Cup Playoffs:
Columbus has played 17 games, as many as any other team in the Central Division. That doesn't seem like a lot, but by the end of this week they will be more than a third of the way through the regular season. They've won just seven of those games, but thanks to a handful of loser points (overtime losses), they're still averaging more than a point a game. Their 18 points in 17 games puts them on pace for 59 points. (As a frame of reference, this would be the equivalent of 87 points in a typical 82-game season.)
That would not qualify for the playoffs in any recent year, and would be Columbus' worst season since head coach John Tortorella's mid-season arrival to the club in the 2015-16 season. They finished 34-40-8 (76 points) that year after an 0-8-0 start that saw the dismissal of former coach Todd Richards.
If we look at point projections based on games so far this season, the amount of work the Blue Jackets have cut out for them becomes clear:
We can assume a couple of things based on looking at these standings and projections: Nashville and Detroit are the heavy favorites to finish 7th and 8th, and Tampa Bay, Florida, and Carolina are (so far) in a class of their own this season.
That leaves one playoff spot for Chicago, Dallas, and Columbus. It would not be a stretch to assume that the Blackhawks eventually peter out, but ask yourself this: Do you really want a playoff battle with the Stars? They were two games from winning the Stanley Cup last season, have almost the entire roster back, have a wicked power play, and perhaps the biggest factor here: they had no rhythm to begin the season due to multiple postponements as a result of COVID-19.
As it currently stands, the hockey analytic site MoneyPuck gives the Blue Jackets a 26.4% chance at the postseason, and finishing 6th in the division - ahead of Nashville and Detroit. Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic agrees with that placement in the division, but gives Columbus just a 15% chance at making it beyond the regular season. In his model, the Blue Jackets finish the season at 57 points - 10 full points behind Dallas and Florida, who he has tied for the final two playoff spots.
Are we still early in the season? Sort of. But we're not that early, and Columbus needs to start picking up points fast in order to give themselves a credible chance at the postseason.