The Final Stretch, 3.0: With Thirteen Games To Go In The Season, There's A Tight Race At The Bottom Of The League

By Ed Francis on March 20, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Will all of the losing this season gift the Blue Jackets a generational prospect?
© Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Embrace the suck.

It's really hard not to, at this point, right? There is simply no good reason, for the future of this franchise, to root for points over the last couple weeks. They'll come, yes, and it's fine to be happy about whatever wins are left this season. But to root for them, at this point, is just asking for two decades of mediocrity to continue. The stakes are too high.

There is a generational talent out there, who, in six months, will enter his first training camp as an NHL player. Connor Bedard. Perhaps you've heard of him. The 17-year-old has 70 goals and 71 assists in 55 game, averaging more than 2.5 points per game. He's the best prospect since another Connor — McDavid — nearly a decade ago. He will be the top overall pick in this summer's draft, and oh, by the way, he plays the center position, where the Blue Jackets have been weak literally forever.

Finishing with the second-worst record in the league cuts a teams chances in half of acquiring him. 

So on what planet does a win over the Washington Capitals in D.C. on Tuesday do any good for more than a few smiles on the 50 minute charter flight back to Columbus in the dark of night? Or two points against in Canada this Saturday against a Montreal Canadiens team whose future is looking slightly brighter because they won the draft lottery last summer?

So, with a baker's dozen left in the season, here's where things stand:

And here are the key takeaways:

  • Columbus will finish their five-game road trip with somewhere between two and four points. They're 1-3-0 so far, with the lone win coming over the San Jose Sharks — the Blue Jackets' biggest competition for the top spot. Because of course it would. It was in overtime though, so the Sharks did at least get point. 

  • The Blue Jackets experimented with Patrik Laine at center in Sunday's 7-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. It was a win-win, really. Laine got two points and looked pretty comfortable, but the Blue Jackets walked away with a better chance to grab Bedard.

  • The two teams closest to the Blue Jackets are both in action on Monday night, but both with tough opponents. The Sharks are in Edmonton to take on the aforementioned McDavid and the Oilers, while the Chicago Blackhawks are in Colorado to face the Avalanche. 

  • And here's a closer look at the other three teams in Columbus' burst bubble and how their last month will help (or hurt) the Blue Jackets:

SJS San Jose is on pace to finish three points ahead of the Blue Jackets, which has increased from the two-point projected difference this time last week. Not bad, considering the Blue Jackets defeated the Sharks last week. The last six games for the Sharks are brutal: home for Colorado twice and Edmonton, and then three on the road to conclude the season against teams with a winning record. The Sharks need to get their points now, because they'll be hard to come after April 1st. They're in Vancouver on Thursday, and that's a must-win for San Jose in the eyes of Blue Jacket fans. The Sharks also have one fewer game than Columbus on the schedule from here out.

CHI Both Chicago and Columbus are at 69 games played. It's nice, yes, but it's also important: the Blackhawks are five points ahead of the Blue Jackets, meaning that Columbus is six points behind Chicago's 64-point pace. This has doubled over the last seven days, when Seth Jones' club was only on pace for 62 and Columbus was at 58. Things look okay here for now, and a four-game homestand next week with the Canucks and St. Louis Blues as two of those games should result in at least one win.

ANA It could be becoming a three-team race for the best chance to grab Bedard. The Anaheim Ducks are seven points ahead of Columbus with both teams playing the same number of games. Nine of Anaheim's 13 remaining games are at home, and two of the four road opponents (Arizona and Calgary) on the outside of the playoff race. The potential scary part here is that four of those 13 games are against Colorado and Edmonton. If Anaheim wins just three more games this season, it would take a winning record for Columbus over their last 13 to pass them.