Op-Ed: Some Not-So-Obvious Stats Confirm That The Columbus Blue Jackets Success Is Not A Mirage

By Ed Francis on November 17, 2021 at 1:45 pm
The Columbus Blue Jackets are trending in the right direction. Crunching the numbers shows just how well the team is clicking, and why it has not only staying potential — it has growing potential.
Gaelen Morse-USA TODAY Sports

For many 5th Liners, the excitement for this Columbus Blue Jackets team seems to grow by the game.

A part of that excitement comes from the intangibles; the potential, the fun factor, the "I got a feeling about this group" mindset. 

Those feelings have to come from somewhere, though. The goals are up, the assists are up, but let's dig a little deeper. Here are three key numbers that put some proof in the pudding that is the excitement of the 2021-22 Blue Jackets.


Confession: I forgot, or maybe never realized, just how good Jakub Voracek is. Seeing him this year, remembering that the franchise dumped him for Jeff Carter, and realizing what Columbus missed out on for a decade.. it's a lousy feeling. But having him back is euphoric, and nowhere is his playmaking ability on display better than in what he's doing with his assist numbers this season:

Voracek has 12 assists; that's tied for 9th in the league amongst forwards. Not bad, but look closer: He's tied for 9th in the league with just 13 games played — and the eight players above him have all played in no less than 15 games. They're all on the ice more, too: Voracek averages 17:16 per game. Of the eight above, no one averages less than 19:09, and six average more than 20 minutes per game. So, as I'll also do later, let's extrapolate this to an even scale: assists per 60 minutes of ice time by forwards, and to eliminate skewed totals, we're also going to require that these skaters have at least 90 minutes of ice time so far. Otherwise, you'd find Max Domi — amongst others — on this list. We just don't have enough of a sample size on him yet, but let's hope that changes soon.)

Anyway, the list:

Player (Team) Rank Assists Assists/60
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM) 1st 18 3.44
Connor McDavid (EDM) 2nd 19 3.37
Jakub Voracek (CBJ)  3rd 12 3.21

That's Voracek, averaging an assist every 19 minutes or so of ice time, better than anyone in the league who isn't on the Edmonton Oilers. He's also had an apple on six of the seven power play goals this season. When sniper and linemate Patrik Laine returns from an oblique injury and rookies Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov continue to get comfortable with the NHL Game (as they are doing beyond anyone's expectations), there's no reason to think this won't hold up all season.


My cat didn't walk across the keyboard. I don't even have a cat. That is the expected goals per 60 minutes of power play, and Columbus checks in at 5.83. That ranks 16th in the league, but wait. 

Last season, the Blue Jackets were a league worst 3.80 — nearly a half goal less than the second-to-last New Jersey Devils, who were at 4.27. 

In 2019-20? 4.52. Also the worst in the league, but only by 0.24 to the second-to-last Detroit Red Wings. 2018-19? 4.61, which was good enough to not be last, but only because the New Jersey Devils finished less than one tenth of a goal worse than Columbus. 2017-18? Back in last, at 4.65. 

Expected PP Goals Per 60
2017-18 4.65 31st (of 31)
2018-19 4.61 30th (of 31)
2019-20 4.52 31st (of 31)
2020-21 3.80  31st (of 31)
2021-22 5.83 16th (of 32)

One has to go all the way back to the 2016-17 team — that one that won 16 straight — to find the last respectable finish in the category. The Blue Jackets finished 10th that year, at 6.85. 

Middle of the road isn't anything to write home about for most teams, but for the Blue Jackets, it's a major accomplishment. 


One of the many worries about the Blue Jackets entering this season is that there may not be a true top defensive pairing. The trade of Seth Jones to the Chicago Blackhawks left a void opposite of Zach Werenski on the number one pairing, and there was valid concern that the best defensive line that Columbus could throw out wouldn't be good enough. Jake Bean, Adam Boqvist, Andrew Peeke, and Vladislav Gavrikov were just some of the options to play on the top line.

So far, the numbers would indicate that concern has been overblown. Bean, who has shared the ice with Werenski for nearly 200 minutes this season, has done a more than admirable job filling Jones' role. The three goals are nice, sure, but the defensive analytics tell an intriguing story.

The duo is averaging 2.12 goals allowed per 60 minutes. The Werenski and Jones pairing last season averaged 2.30. Prior to an impressive 1.65 goals allowed per 60 during the 2018-19 season, the 17-18 tandem averaged giving up 3.16 goals per game. Across the league, only 15 defensive duos have the combination of at least three hours together on the ice and a better goals against than the 2.12 of Werenski and Bean. 

At just 23 (and with a June birthday, staying that way until the season is over) and not given a fair shake with the Carolina Hurricanes, this is Bean's first real chance to showcase his skills. Entering the season, he had just 44 games of NHL experience. Defense can take a while to figure out at the top level, so the early results are extremely promising. 


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