If the playoffs started today, the Columbus Blue Jackets would be in.
Too early for that? Absolutely.
Too early to be excited? Absolutely not.
In winning four of their six games and outperforming the expectations of most experts, the Blue Jackets are proving that general manager Jarmo Kekalainen's calling it a retool, as opposed to rebuild, may have been right after all.
It's just 7% of the season, but the Blue Jackets are already at 11% of the points total that Vegas oddsmakers set before the season began. Even with the quick start, Columbus is still being given just a narrow 13% chance of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs according to MoneyPuck, a website that uses a number of metrics to calculate playoff odds on a daily basis. At the beginning of the season, MoneyPuck had the Blue Jackets with a 12% chance at postseason play.
Trending in the right direction, technically. (Side-eye emoji)
Other websites are slightly more generous; Nate Silver's 538 has the odds at 22%, and PowerRankingsGuru.com calculates Columbus at roughly a 1-in-3 chance to make it.
Columbus has had home cooking to start the season, with five of their first six from the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena. They've had the benefit of playing the Arizona Coyotes and Seattle Kraken, who have a combined two wins in 13 games.
But they've also played (and beat) the New York Islanders and Dallas Stars, two teams that came into the season with playoff expectations — and Stanley Cup expectations, in the case the former.
They've really only had one "bad" game, falling 5-1 to the now 5-0-0 Carolina Hurricanes, who would be Columbus' first round opponent if the playoffs were to start in, you know, the first month of the season.
All of this coming from the second-youngest team in hockey. A team that would be (and was) expected to be full of erroneous errors and poor decisions, as most young teams are.
The Blue Jackets — at least so far — have shown no more of that than your typical NHL team. So, as Columbus prepares for their first extended road trip of the season, it's worth keeping a close eye on how they play, not just the wins and losses. Here's the road trip:
Columbus travels to Madison Square Garden for what could be an emotional Friday night matchup with the New York Rangers. Though it seems like decades ago, it was just last calendar year that the late Matiss Kivlenieks picked up his first win in his NHL start, a win that came against that team and in that building. Friday's game will be the Blue Jackets first game at Nationwide Arena since that. The Rangers are off to a 4-2-1 start, but are a -3 on goal differential and two of those wins are against Ottawa and Montreal. Montreal is off to a disastrous 1-6 start, and Ottawa isn't much better.
Two nights later, on Halloween, Columbus makes a trip to New Jersey for a battle with the Devils. The two teams are considered amongst the divisions worst teams, and if Columbus is going to exceed expectations, the Sunday matinee should be a game that the Blue Jackets see as a "should win."
- The true test comes Wednesday, November 3rd, when the Blue Jackets have a one-off trip out west for a battle with Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche. They're off to a slow start, but don't be fooled: this is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and will be a tall task for this young team.
The trip should give us a good baseline for where this team may go in this "retooling" season. Do they sputter on their first multi-game road trip of the season? 0-3? 0-2-1? The expectations and the excitement, at least to some degree, would be (fairly) tempered.
On the other hand, winning two out of three and coming back to Nationwide Arena (for a Friday rematch with the Avalanche) at 6-3-0? Let's go. Six ponts on the road trip? Let's. Go.