Three Statistical Areas The Blue Jackets Must Improve Upon For 2024-25

By Will Chase on July 10, 2024 at 10:15 am
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Daniil Tarasov (40) makes a save in net against New York Islanders center Casey Cizikas (53) in the first period at Nationwide Arena.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Don Waddell is in the big chair and soon, a new head coach will be behind the bench for the 2024-25 Columbus Blue Jackets.

It's not going to be easy but will this upcoming season be the year we see positive growth translate into more wins for the Blue Jackets?

Columbus has always been more successful with a veteran head coach, and as Waddell said himself, that's the direction they desire to look as they zero in on their next bench boss.

Candidates linked to the job include Todd McLellan, Dean Evason, and Jay Woodcroft.

Regardless of who the new coach will be to guide this team, they're going to have the same task of trying to elevate the team's rebuild to the next level. Whether that's a wild card spot this season, being in the conversation of a playoff race, or even just winning enough games to draft outside of the next draft lottery.

Ultimate goals are loftier, but to get there, we have to see fruitful progression begin to take place.

Here are three statistical plateaus that must be reached for the Blue Jackets to elevate their play this season.

Cut Down On Goals Against

I look at the goals against. Goals against was one of the worst in the East. You tighten that up, and you get a few saves here or there, and you can knock 40 goals off your goals against pretty easy - Don Waddell.

As I wrote about last month, it didn't take Waddell long on the job to understand one of the critical elements for future success in Columbus is cutting down on the goals allowed. After all, his old team, the Carolina Hurricanes was in the upper echelon of the NHL last season in goals allowed, and Columbus was in the lower echelon.

Now, how are the Blue Jackets going to go about accomplishing that task?

Last season, Columbus allowed 2.92 GA/60 (29th) at 5v5, according to Evolving-Hockey. In 2022-23, Columbus was 32nd (3.44). In 2021-22, Columbus was 30th (3.2), coming away with a surprising 81 points.

When it comes to the blue line, we'll see more of David Jiricek and possibly Denton Mateychuk. We saw arguably Zach Werenski's best season — last season was his best in terms of points scored with 57 — and he played his most games (70) since 2018-19. Adam Boqvist and Jake Bean are out. In comes Jack Johnson.

Boqvist might be more talented, but he's never come close to playing a full season, completing a high-water mark of 52 games in 2021-22.

Johnson, signed to a one-year deal for the league minimum last week, might be considered the replacement for now. On top of his Stanley Cup-winning experience and veteran leadership, he played 80 games last season and has played at least 74 games each of the last three seasons.

Damon Severson is entering year two with Columbus and like anyone on the roster, is looking for on-ice redemption, away from injuries and personal struggle.

And then there's the last line of defense: Goaltending.

Waddell knows how tough it'll be to rid the burden of Elvis Merzlikins' contract. Jet Greaves has passed every test in a limited capacity for Columbus, and Daniil Tarasov, once healthy from a knee injury to start the year, was one of the best goalies in the second half.

Before another injury to end his season.

Columbus has to have stability in the net, and if Merzlikins is going to be on the roster, he’s going to have his chance to prove himself to new leadership, but it might be his last chance.

According to Evolving-Hockey, Columbus was 18th in 5v5 save percentage (91.17%), tied with the Dallas Stars. In all situations, Columbus was 22nd (89.45%).

Improved Special Teams

The Blue Jackets have had one of the league's worst power plays since 2016-17, when they finished 12th in the league (19.9%) that year.

That season, Columbus led the league with a 27.5% power play through Jan. 1, 2017. From Jan. 2 through the end of the season, they were 29th (12.8%) in the league.

Last season, Columbus was 31st with the man-advantage (15.1%). Hall of Famer Mark Recchi wasn't able to light a spark. His status as an assistant coach, along with the rest of the staff, is up in the air while a new head coach awaits.

When Columbus is playing well, their penalty kill is typically a strength. Last season, they finished 26th in the league on the kill (76.3%). For the first few months of last season, Columbus was third on the PK (88.6%), but the success rate began to slide in December.

The Return Of Johnny Hockey

You can look up and down the roster and point out any number of guys who would likely be the first to tell you where they could improve.

Look no further than Johnny Gaudreau.

Last year was Gaudreau's worst goal-scoring output in his 11 seasons with 12 goals on the year. He suffered through his worst goal-scoring slump to start a season, with his first tally coming via an empty-netter in the 10th game of the season.

All goals count the same, and anyone will take a freebie. Despite posting his lowest goal output in a full season, Gaudreau still eclipsed the 60-point mark to lead the team. He finished with 74 points in his first year with the club.

Maybe playing with a familiar face will get him going.

Columbus' primary acquisition so far was signing center Sean Monahan to a five-year contract at the start of free agency.

Monahan addresses the leadership component Waddell was seeking as well as the ability to play top-line center minutes. It doesn't hurt that Monahan and Gaudreau just so happen to be close friends and have on-ice chemistry from when they were Calgary Flames teammates.

It's hard to look at last year's version of Gaudreau and fault him specifically for all the struggles considering the Jackets' roster plight and ever-changing assortment of linemates.

Just as he wasn't likely to replicate his career year in 2021-22 when he set career highs in just about every major offensive category, including 115 points, 40 goals, and 75 assists.

The Blue Jackets have never had a player score 90 points in a season as Artemi Panarin's 87 is the high from 2018-19.

Can Gaudreau trend closer to that mark?

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