Three Questions: The Age Old Question, Can Blue Jackets Power Play Improve Under Mike Babcock?

By Will Chase on August 29, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets introduce Mike Babcock as their new head coach during a press conference at Nationwide Arena.
The Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETWORK

The Columbus Blue Jackets power play is last in the league since day one of the franchise's inception.

All the way at 32nd with a 16.0% conversion rate since 2000-01, sitting just below the Arizona Coyotes (16.6%). Although the Chicago Blackhawks, for all their success in the 2010s decade, are next at 30th (16.8%).

Can Mike Babcock Resurrect Dormant Power Play?

That's the big question, isn't it?

Teams don't have to be great on special teams, particularly on the power play in order to win but it certainly helps. After all, it's the best situation in hockey for scoring goals outside of empty net goals.

Year Last 10 Stanley Cup Champions Regular Season PP% Playoff PP%
2022-23 Vegas Golden Knights 20.3% (18th) 21.9% (8th)
2021-22 Colorado Avalanche 24.0% (7th) 32.8% (1st)
2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning 22.2% (9th) 32.4% (3rd)
2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning 23.1% (5th) 22.7% (5th)
2018-19 St. Louis Blues 21.1% (10th) 16.3% (12th)
2017-18 Washington Capitals 22.5% (7th) 29.3% (2nd)
2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins 23.1% (4th) 20.5% (5th)
2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins 18.4% (16th) 23.4% (6th)
2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks 17.6% (20th) 17.9% (10th)
2013-14 Los Angeles Kings 15.1% (27th) 23.5% (6th)

During Babcock's initial coaching stint with the Anaheim Ducks—Mighty Ducks of Anaheim back then—from 2002-04, Babcock's Ducks were 14th in the league on the man advantage (17.0%), and 13th (11.4%) in the playoffs during their Stanley Cup run. For comparison's sake, the Jackets were 15th over that two-year span (15.9%).

Over the Detroit Red Wings days from 2005-15, they were second on the man-advantage (20.5%). Columbus was 30th (15.7%) and remember, there were still only 30 teams in the league.

Mike Babcock's Power Play Through The Years Team Percentage
2002-03 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 16.1% (16th)
2003-04 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 18.1% (7th)
2005-06 Detroit Red Wings 22.1% (1st)
2006-07 Detroit Red Wings 17.1% (21st)
2007-08 Detroit Red Wings 20.7% (3rd)
2008-09 Detroit Red Wings 25.5% (1st)
2009-10 Detroit Red Wings 19.2% (9th)
2010-11 Detroit Red Wings 22.3% (5th)
2011-12 Detroit Red Wings 16.1% (22nd)
2012-13 Detroit Red Wings 18.4% (15th)
2013-14 Detroit Red Wings 17.7% (18th)
2014-15 Detroit Red Wings 23.8% (2nd)
2015-16 Toronto Maple Leafs 15.4% (29th)
2016-17 Toronto Maple Leafs 23.8% (2nd)
2017-18 Toronto Maple Leafs 25.0% (2nd)
2018-19 Toronto Maple Leafs 21.8% (8th)
2019-20 Toronto Maple Leafs 23.1% (6th)

The Blue Jackets have talent on the ice and now it comes down to improving the success rate when awarded with the man-advantage.

Babcock will lean on his assistants, who are all returning to the club from last season.

Can Second-Half Success Carry Over?

The Blue Jackets power play converted at an 18.3% success rate last season, which was 26th in the league.

However, from Jan. 1 through the rest of the season, they converted at a 20.2% clip, good for 17th in the league and just behind the Carolina Hurricanes (20.3%).

From Feb. 1 through the rest of the season, they were 13th in the league (21.1%). Mar. 1 through the rest of the season, they were 13th (22.2%).

This success came minus stars like Zach Werenski and then Patrik Laine who missed the rest of the season with a triceps injury after Mar. 21.

Whether the second-half success can carry over to 2023-24 remains to be seen. But the improvement was there.

Last season, Coby Maeir interviewed associate coach Pascal Vincent about the power play and whether handedness matters.

It does matter.

As easy as it appears on TV, and just because yelling "shoot" at the TV and from your seat in the arena is easy enough, doesn't mean it is that simple.

Laine is a right-hand shot and (Adam) Boqvist is a right-hand shot, Vincent said. So when Boqvist gets the puck, there are two things we need to consider being a right-hand shot [passing] to a right-hand shot. There are different ways to feed that shooter that is [Laine], but a bit more technical is we look at the velocity and spin of the puck. So [having] a right-hand shot to a right-hand shot, it's easier for [Laine] to unload a shot. But when we have [Werenski], a lefty to a righty, it's also a different angle for [Laine] to receive it and shoot the puck. But it's a different spin, so it's a different kind of shot. [It's the] same motion and everything but it's a different adjustment.

They also alluded to Johnny Gaudreau's chemistry with teammates with the Calgary Flames for eight seasons and having to adjust to a new everything in Columbus.

New teammates, new system.

He's played with the same people for years in Calgary, Vincent said. So he had that kind of chemistry with those people. But the other thing is [that] he was on [the left] side as a lefty. He could go downhill. He could attack the middle. He could just curl and attack. So you had the weak side close to the boards. He could attack inside the dot lane. But, he was used to [being on the left side]. With [Laine], that's his position, so he needed to adjust there.

Right now, there are plenty of scoring options for the team. But there have been plenty of issues in the past with plays before the offense can even set up.

How many times has the power play wasted the first minute of the man advantage with zone entries and even sustaining any kind of offensive pressure?

If Columbus can improve their transition game and spend more time in the offensive zone setting up their formation, maybe they'll finally convert more on the chances they do have instead of spending a whole power play even trying to get set up.

Last season, the Blue Jackets drew 270 penalties, which was 29th in the NHL. They were 28th in the league with 224 power play opportunities, both tied with the New Jersey Devils, as the Jackets scored 41 times with the man advantage. By contrast, the Devils, with the same amount of opportunities, scored 49 times on the advantage, and their power play was good for 13th (21.9%).

It doesn't have to take much to see significantly better power play numbers even if the team isn't taking more penalties. And yet, it provides hope for what can happen when the simple elements of the game are executed well.

Blue Jackets Franchise Ranks: Zach Werenski's Power Play Success

  • 80 Points: Fifth all-time
  • 18 Goals: 13th all-time
  • 62 Assists: Fourth all-time

We've seen the Blue Jackets have good power plays without scoring, even if it just means taking several shots at the netminder.

The power play probably would have been a little better with a full season from Werenski, and Marcus Bjork made the most of his first season in the NHL.

Bjork scored 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 33 games for the Blue Jackets, with six points coming on the power play including a goal. Bjork would not have been predicted to man the top unit before the season.

For the Blue Jackets to take their next step, it's time to see them realize their potential and see those results.

There is plenty of talent on the ice and on the power play. Can this finally be the season the power play puts it all together?

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