Is next season going to be the year in which the Columbus Blue Jackets' power play finally shows drastic improvement?
Last season, the Blue Jackets finished 24th in the league on the man-advantage (18.6%), or better than just eight teams in the league.
Their power play unit was more than three percent better than the season prior—2020-21 was a shortened 56-game season—and they finished ahead of one playoff team in the Los Angeles Kings (16.1%). They finished 0.2 percent behind the Washington Capitals.
But it still needs to be better.
The good news is the Blue Jackets are coming off their best scoring year in franchise history, even with a power play that was in the bottom echelon of the league.
So surely, scoring weapons that put together a historic offensive campaign will help make a historically dormant power play come to life?
The crazy thing is Cole Sillinger has 14 goals and I think there's so much more offense in him to come. Just wait until he really settles in and has a chance to get that shot going. #CBJ— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) April 18, 2022
If you go back through the years of the Columbus franchise on NHL.com, all the way back to their inaugural season of 2000-01, the team is 31st in the league on the power play. Shoutout to last year's expansion darlings, the Seattle Kraken, for propping them up a spot from last place.
Basically, a less-than-stellar power play has been part of the team's DNA, outside of spurts here or there.
Let's revisit last season.
Oliver Bjorkstrand was the team leader with nine power play goals in 2021-22. Boone Jenner was second with eight, and of Patrik Laine's 26 goals, five came on the man-advantage. Gus Nyquist had as many power play goals as shorthanded goals with four.
Looking at one of the best power plays in the league, the newly minted Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche came in seventh (24.0%) during the regular season and first (32.8%) throughout their playoff march to the Cup.
Best Power Play percentage in the postseason since 1977-78 (min. 16 games)— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) June 27, 2022
1981 Islanders 37.8%
2022 Avalanche 32.8%
2021 Lightning 32.4%
2019 Bruins 32.4%#GoAvsGo
Norris and Conn Smythe winner, Cale Makar, is an all-world player who might just be the second coming of Bobby Orr. Not only would the 23-year-old Makar (a defenseman, mind you) lead the Blue Jackets with 86 points and 58 assists—and he tied Bjorkstrand with 28 goals—Makar would co-lead Bjorkstrand with nine power play goals and would lead with 25 power play assists.
Mikko Rantanen led the Colorado Avalanche with 16 goals with a man-advantage. Chris Kreider had a career year with the New York Rangers, scoring 52 goals and 77 points while leading the league with 26 power play goals.
Nathan MacKinnon scored Colorado's 20th power play goal of the playoffs. They are the 5th team since 2010 to record at least 20 power play goals in a single postseason.@Avalanche | #GoAvsGo pic.twitter.com/iQ1rm0SkWn— Hockey Reference (@hockey_ref) June 23, 2022
Special teams are important and it shows.
In that magical year, the Blue Jackets had the league's best power play by the All-Star Break (24.7%) and then the second to the worst power play after the break (10.1%) finishing just above the Avalanche. For the season they finished 12th (19.9%).
The Rangers accelerated from a rebuilding year in 2020-21 to just missing the Stanley Cup Final by two wins this past season. Obviously, they had the league's best goaltender in Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin, the aforementioned career year by Kreider, and they ooze with talent headed by first-year coach, and former Jack Adams winner, Gerard Gallant.
They were also not a great team at even strength, scoring 159 goals at 5v5 (T-18, Detroit Red Wings) while the Blue Jackets were 14th in the league with 177 goals at 5v5. With a 5v4 advantage, the Rangers finished top 10 with 50 goals—the overall unit was fourth (25.2%)—while the Jackets were 24th with 37 5v4 goals.
While they didn't cash in on their 1 power play chance of Game 6, the @Avalanche power play was a huge contributing factor in a powerful offence that led the team all the way to a #StanleyCup in 2022. As this shows, only 1 has been better in a playoff year with 13+ games played pic.twitter.com/Y3mKHGtyJG— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) June 27, 2022
If the Blue Jackets can convert a little more regularly with their opportunities, that can be enough to win some of those games they weren't able to pull out, even with an NHL sixth-most, and franchise most, 23 comeback wins. Although, the Blue Jackets were 26th in penalties drawn/60 (3.33) and they need to crack down on having goals called back due to offsides.
Furthermore, when you peel back the curtain from last season’s team, what can we point to that is sustainable, or reasonable to expect the same for next season? What might be an anomaly? What we can truly expect from the Blue Jackets as they enter year two of their retool?
The Blue Jackets should continue to find the back of the net. Yet, according to Natural Stat Trick, the Blue Jackets at 5v5 were tied for 23rd (2.35) in xGF/60—26th according to the Evolving Hockey model. Per NTS, the Blue Jackets scored the sixth-most goals (65) in the league when 5v5 and trailing in games. They were middle of the pack when tied or leading.
Columbus needs to learn how to play with a lead and take advantage of the man-advantage. It’s nice to know they could overcome adversity when they got down early but playing from behind isn’t the recipe for long-term success.
In the middle of last season, we pointed out the moderate success of the first power play unit consisting of Bjorkstrand, Jenner, Laine, Jake Voracek, and Zach Werenski. When they were all healthy and on the ice together.
As a whole, the Blue Jackets had a top 10 power play into early November before losing Laine, and injuries kept that group from playing more together, so you wonder what could have been.
Even with losing Jenner in the final months of the season, the team's power play was 13th (22.3%) in the league from Feb. 1 through the end of the season. Indications are regardless of the combination on the ice, there looks to be some promise for this part of the special teams going forward.
With players continuing to find their way in and up the Blue Jackets lineup, and as roles further develop, there is lots of room for potential.