By this time next week, we'll know if the Blue Jackets' playoff hopes are dead or alive.
Through the team's first 16 games, the Blue Jackets are 4-8-4 and sit in last place in the Eastern Conference and 28th in the league.
Since the beginning of the salary cap era through 2021, 77% of the teams in playoff position on U.S. Thanksgiving end up making the playoffs in that season. The Blue Jackets have four games before Thanksgiving and are currently four points out of a playoff spot.
|Thu. Nov. 16||vs. Arizona||7 p.m. ET|
|Sat. Nov. 18||@ Washington||7:30 p.m. ET|
|Sun. Nov. 19||@ Philadelphia||5:30 p.m. ET|
|Wed. Nov. 22||vs. Chicago||7 p.m. ET|
With those four contests being winnable games, the Blue Jackets could wake up on Thanksgiving at 8-8-4 with a very real chance to make the playoffs, or at least compete for a playoff spot. They could also be 4-12-4, looking up at the rest of the league while staring down another lost season.
The third and most likely option here is that they end up somewhere in between. Maybe they go 2-2-0 over this stretch and end up 6-10-4, four games under .500, which is no better than what they are right now.
Teams don't want to be playing must-win hockey games in mid-November, but the Blue Jackets have put themselves in that position by mostly their own doing. After watching the first 16 games of the season, there's no doubt that this team is significantly better than the 2022-23 Blue Jackets. There are stretches of play where they completely dominate the opposition and there are many games where they deserve to win. However, they continue to cost themselves by making unforced errors.
For example, in the loss to Dallas on Thursday, Zach Werenski made a bad pinch that led to a two-on-one goal, and later in the game, Jake Bean committed an unforced turnover that directly led to a goal.
A poorly-timed pinch from #CBJ's Werenski (8) leads to a two-on-one rush for #TexasHockey and Severson (78) gives Faksa (12) a free shot on net and is out of position when the rebound kicks out to Smiht (12) who scores. DAL 2-2 CBJ https://t.co/GC7IerDKVk— Coby Maeir (@CobyMaeir) November 10, 2023
Against Detroit, Sean Kuraly had an easy exit pass to Alexandre Texier, but fired it off his skate, leading to a Red Wings go-ahead goal.
If the Blue Jackets had played clean games up to now, they would have anywhere between six and eight wins, and there would be a much different conversation about this team. However, they didn't and now face a stretch of games that will define their season.
While mistakes happen, good teams have talented players that are able to overcome those. That hasn't been the case for the Blue Jackets. Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine, the team's two highest-paid and most-pedigreed forwards, have posted 3-6--9 in 23 combined games so far. That's not even close to good enough.
If this lack of production continues, the season will be over before December for the second straight year.
But, if they start to produce like they've shown they can and the team cleans up its unforced errors, they can enter the final 75% of the season with something to play for.
Will the Blue Jackets fight back in the standings or will the 2023-24 season be over just six weeks after it started?