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Could the team that swept the historically good 2019 Tampa Bay Lightning for their first ever playoff series win continue to improve?
During the offseason between winning that series and starting the 2019-2020 NHL season, it didn’t look like CBJ would. They lost Bobrovsky, Panarin, Duchene, Dzingel and more. They had gone all in at the deadline, and won a series, then everyone left.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen went all in, but didn’t completely close the door on the future like the Arizona Coyotes have. The team still has draft picks. And it turns out the team didn’t do half bad after those guys left. They ended up with a 33-32-15 record for 81 points and 9th place in the Eastern Conference. They had the exact same winning percentage as the Toronto Maple Leafs with 0.579. The team did struggle when they became injury plagued, and it was especially noticeable when Seth Jones was out of the lineup. In fact, the Columbus Blue Jackets along with the Winnipeg Jets, had the most man-games lost in the NHL due to injury. All things considered, its impressive that the Bluejackets were even close to a playoff spot. They had lost their starting goaltender, two of the top scorers, and faced the most injury trouble in the league. It looked especially dire when Joonas Korpisalo went out with injury.
Enter Elvis Merzlikins, one of the best names in all of sports. He made a slow entrance. After being hyped up before his arrival in North America as the best non NHL goalie, he started against the Penguins and let in 7, and ended up losing his first 10 starts with the club. He was cemented in his backup role behind Joonas Korpisalo, but when Korpi got hurt, he got another shot. His first win, came on New Years’ Eve against none other than the Florida Panthers and Sergei Bobrovsky. Storybook. From there he really heated up and won 8 of the next 10. At one point the guy had 5 shutouts within 8 games. Another stretch he had 8 straight wins. After his first shutout I picked him up for my fantasy team and I think it was the best move I made all season.
In the regular season the stats for the Columbus goaltenders were as follows:
|Category||Elvis Merzlikins||Joonas Korpisalo|
|Goals Saved above Average||12.10||1.14|
I’m not an expert in advanced stats, and I know its overall a small sample size for Elvis, but he seems pretty outstanding to me. And the team agreed. In April during the Covid break, they re-signed him to a two year extenstion worth $4 million per year. Korpisalo earned himself an extension in April too, with a two year $2.8 million per year deal.
Heading into the playoffs, the Blue Jackets ended up beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in the five game qualifying round in a game 5. Two wins in that series were Korpisalo shutouts, including game 5 where Korpisalo shut the door on 33 shots. He had an unreal series, showing he too has a bright future in the league. Elvis came in for relief in game 4 and did not have a great showing, and actually suffered a groin injury. He wouldn’t ultimately wouldn’t return for any other time in the playoffs.
The first round saw a rematch of the year before, with the Blue Jackets set to play against Tampa Bay once again. Game 1 went to 5OT before the Lightning won. Korpisalo made 85 saves, setting a record for most saves in a playoff game. Seth Jones played 65:06 in that game, setting another record for most ice time in a single game. Those two battled hard and inspired their teammates, but the Lightning ended up taking the series 4-1. I think that first game was really challenging to come back from mentally and physically. Considering the depth of CBJ compared to Tampa, it makes sense.
Although they didn’t go all the way as intended, I think the Blue Jackets got some much needed attention due to their matchup against the Leafs. I know here in Canada the media propped up the series as a win for the top heavy Maple Leafs before it began. My fandom of the Blue Jackets grew as I loved the way they played the game with tenacity and a never give up mentality. Their trust in their goaltenders and top players really shined through and gives them an endearing quality. I think them beating the Leafs was a break through for the organization and put them on the map in Canada more than when they memed their way into sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The team has yet to sign Pierre-Luc Dubois, but they have done a good job of clearing space to sign him. They dumped some space by getting rid of Ryan Murray who had one year left at $4.6 million, buying out Alexander Wennberg and sending Markus Nutivaara to Florida. They also traded out Josh Anderson to Montreal in exchange for Max Domi. Let’s take a look at how these impact the roster below.
- Max Domi
- Mikko Koivu
- Mikhail Grigorenko
- Cliff Pu
- Markus Nutivaara
- Josh Anderson
- Alexander Wennberg
- Ryan Murray
Columbus Blue Jackets Roster Overview
The yet to be signed Pierre-Luc Dubois is the number one centre of this team. He has shown the size, skill and strength required to be an effective player out there. I’m positive the team will retain him and pay the man. In the playoffs, Dubois played a lot with Oliver Bjorkstrand and youngster Alexandre Texier. They looked good together and the line had a 55.96% corsi rating. Texier, although young, looked very comfortable playing against premier players in the league and played a two way game. I recall him being a pest with takeaways from Nikita Kucherov in that series. The other member of that line Oliver Bjorkstrand had a bit of a breakout last season. He was on pace to crush career highs, but injury and the short season quelled that. In 49 games, he ended up getting 21 goals, and 15 assists for 36 points. At times he looked like the only guy who would shoot the puck for the team. And he actually surpassed his shot total of 161 in 77 games the previous season by one shot. He had 23 goals in 2018-2019, but he was looking like he could have gotten 35 or 40 this year if he played a full season. I think that Columbus will start with this line as their number one.
Torts likes his line jumbling, as evident in the line combo total ice time I’ve found for the last season, but with Max Domi coming in I think the team should have a bit more stability on the second line this season. Domi seems like a very Torterella player and he should be a fan favourite with his play style. I think he’ll play with Cam Atkinson and a mixture of Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno on line 2.
After this there’s a bit of a question mark in terms of who will play where. The team has notable young players, Liam Foudy and Emil Bemstrom looking to grab some full time spots. And there certainly is a bit of room right now, with the situation of Brandon Dubinsky and Gustav Nyquist.
Brandon Dubinsky’s career is likely coming to a close at this point. Dubinsky has long suffered with wrist issues and missed the entirety of last season. Mikko Koivu is a solid replacement for him in one way, as Koivu is the only captain in Minnesota Wild club history and should be a solid veteran presence for the team. Although if long time alternate captain Dubinsky (and his $5.85 million AAV) ends up on LTIR, I’m not sure Koivu would fill the exact same role in the lineup. He should definitely kill penalties and provide some solid bottom 6 minutes. Dubinsky is something that Sean and I overlooked in our offseason rankings for the teams, and now this move makes so much more sense to me.
Gustav Nyquist also will be on the LTIR as he had shoulder surgery after the post season. His heal time could be up to six months. His $5.5 million in cap space may also be put on the LTIR. Between the two of them thats $11.35 million in extra space. Nyquist was a solid piece of the offense and it will suck that he’s out. He ended up potting 42 points in 70 games for the club, and was a versatile piece in the lineup for the line-jumbling of Torterella. The team may opt into using their young players to fill these roles, but I’m thinking the team will definitely try to replace his talents with someone like Mike Hoffman, who is still unsigned.
Guys like Mikhail Grigorenko, Riley Nash, Eric Robinson, Kevin Stenlund and Nathan Gerbe will all round out the bottom 6 this season.
The team sent out Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara to clear cap space. Overall this hurt the depth of the blue line. However, it also opens up opportunity for defensemen in the system to play more games.
The Bluejackets are primed to have another season with one of the best defense pairings in the entire league, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Seriously these guys are nasty. When Jones is out of the lineup, the team is a lot worse. He provides so much stability and plays so many minutes he’s always noticeable. Werenski had 20 goals and 21 assists in 63 games played. This was the most goals for a defenseman in the league.
Vladislav Gavrikov played his first year in the NHL last season and impressed. He earned a 3 year extension with the team. He and David Savard played a lot of minutes together on the second pair, and will surely stay a pairing next season. Look for Gav and Sav to remain that solid steady pairing with more defensive zone starts than the stars of Jones and Werenski.
The third pairing will be comprised of Dean Kukan and either Scott Harrington or Andrew Peeke. Gabriel Carlsson will be in the ranks as well waiting for a shot. If the team wants to get a bit stronger they could bolster this defensive pairing.
With a compressed schedule extremely possible this season, the Blue Jackets are in a very good spot goaltending wise. Elvis and Joonas are both incredible goaltenders and it is abundantly clear that the team is comfortable playing in front of either. I’d say this is a top tandem in the league with a compressed schedule.
Columbus Blue Jackets 2020-21 Prediction
5th-6th Central Division
With some extra cap space available and lots of players on the market, I think the Bluejackets will still bring in some players. The goaltending tandem of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins are the key to success and with these two goalies the team will be able to steal games. In a competitive Central I think that the goaltending strength this team has will have them in the race for a playoff spot. The team faired pretty well with horrible injury trouble last year, and if everyone stays healthy (even with Nyquist already out) they should have a good shot at it.
That concludes our Columbus Blue Jackets 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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