Probably not first, and probably not last.
Those are the only things that can be said with confidence when it comes to answering the question of where the Columbus Blue Jackets are destined to finish in the 2022-23 season.
In are Johnny Gaudreau, Erik Gudbranson, Kirill Marchenko, and a full season of Kent Johnson.
Out are Oliver Bjorkstrand, Alexandre Texier (for this season, at least), and depth defensemen Gabriel Carlsson and Dean Kukan.
In is a renewed sense of hope, and out is the idea that the playoffs are unattainable.
But where are the Blue Jackets most likely to finish the season? Here are the eight possibilities and how they could come to be.
HOW IT HAPPENS: Not only would it take an entire season of Elvis Merzlikins doing the proverbial head-standing, but it would take career years from several key forwards and, even less likely, it would take stellar defensive play. The Carolina Hurricanes are in this division, and so too are the New York Rangers. Amongst other teams, the Blue Jackets would have to finish better than both of those teams. There's not a path to that scenario, unless injuries rattle the entire division and spare Columbus. First place is not a reality — not this season, at least.
HOW IT HAPPENS: This would be a similar situation to finishing in first, but having to best only one of the Hurricanes and Rangers (and every other team in the metro). Let's say Gaudreau explodes for another 115-point season, Laine scores 50 goals, and the power play becomes an unstoppable force. Then we might be in business. It could happen, but it doesn't seem within reach in the 2022-23 campaign.
HOW IT HAPPENS: Now we're starting to cook with a little gas. While not the most likely finish, there is very much a world in which the Blue Jackets take third place in the division. The aforementioned play of Merzlikins, Gaudreau, Laine would be needed and so too would solid play on the blue line. If the growth of this team is ahead of schedule, finishing with around 100 points will be in the realm of possibility. Last year, the Penguins finished in third with 103 points. Are the Blue Jackets 22 points better this season?
HOW IT HAPPENS: Right in the middle of the pack is the most likely destination for the Blue Jackets. Columbus was just three points out of 5th place last year — a matter of a few puck bounces. Had those bounces went their way, the question would become: can the Blue Jackets improve just one spot in the standings? The answer to that question would seem to be yes. One big factor in this could be the fifth-place finisher from last year, the New York Islanders. They underperformed last season, but by how much?
HOW IT HAPPENS: If not 4th, this seems to a prime landing spot for the Blue Jackets. This would put them right on the line of making the postseason. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals are another year older and that has to catch up with them at some point. Is this that point? If it's still a season away, it would take a little extra oomph for Columbus to climb higher than five.
HOW IT HAPPENS: This is where the Blue Jackets finished last year, but a spot they should be able to surpass this season. Assuming that Columbus finishes with a better record than Philadelphia and New Jersey, the only way they end up in 6th is if everyone else in the division finishes ahead of them. If the Blue Jackets' growth is stunted and/or injuries take its toll, it would happen — but a healthy and improving team has to finish better than 6th, right?
HOW IT HAPPENS: An unlikely spot for the Blue Jackets, the seventh-place finish is one that happens if expectations are wildly missed and the team loses at least two top players for extended periods of time with injuries. Think of it this way: Columbus only gets this low if the Flyers or Devils are better than them.
HOW IT HAPPENS: A lot of things would need to happen and none of it would be good for the Blue Jackets to finish last in the division. Imagine a world where Columbus signs the best available free agent in the offseason and gets 20 points worse than the previous season. Big yikes.
Your turn — where do the Blue Jackets finish in the Metro? Leave a comment below!