Blue Jackets feeling upbeat to open season


By Brian Hedger - The Columbus Dispatch



The Blue Jackets' Vladislav Gavrikov, left, and Arizona's' Phil Kessel chase the puck during Thursday night's game in Columbus. AP photo

The Blue Jackets' Vladislav Gavrikov, left, and Arizona's' Phil Kessel chase the puck during Thursday night's game in Columbus. AP photo


The Columbus Blue Jackets’ season opener Thursday night ended after deadline. Head to LimaScores.com for a game report.

The Blue Jackets’ training camp was focused on opportunity.

They have new coaches, new strategic systems, new teammates filling a locker room with a new design, and now a new season will begin Thursday night at Nationwide Arena. It’s a fresh start, ripe with opportunities, and the Blue Jackets are eager to get it started.

Others are a bit more skeptical. Actually, a lot more.

Predictions of gloom and doom are raining down on Columbus from virtually every corner of the hockey universe as this season gets rolling, so there’s no shortage of external motivation for the Blue Jackets to pull from — should they choose to embrace it.

“I don’t really read what people write,” said defenseman Zach Werenski, who will now wear an alternate captain’s ‘A’ on his jersey. “Obviously, we know what people have said and things like that, but as players you can’t really read into it too much. We know what we have in that room. We’ve shown it a lot throughout the preseason.”

Fair point, so let’s talk about the preseason.

The Blue Jackets played eight preseason games and finished with a respectable 4-3-1 record. They averaged 3.5 goals per game, a big jump from the 2.4 they averaged last season, but also allowed 3.5 per game, an increase of 3.3 from last season.

Those were just preseason games, including half played with only a handful of NHL players in the lineup. Predicting anything about the Jackets’ fate in regular season off exhibition games would be foolish, but it shouldn’t be discounted entirely. There’s certainly a chance this team will score more goals than it did the past couple years, along with a chance more goals will be allowed.

After trades moved about half of the former lineup to new teams in the past year, not to mention former John Tortorella assistant Brad Larsen taking over as coach, this iteration of the Blue Jackets comes pre-packaged with a ton of uncertainty.

They might surprise by staying competitive within the Metropolitan Division, despite going into the season with 18-year Cole Sillinger centering the third line, or they might bottom out again.

Either way, the Jackets are going into it with positive vibes.

“We should be more excited about our group,” said Werenski, who was one of three new alternate captains named Tuesday along with new captain Boone Jenner. “We’re a fast team. A lot of young guys. It should be an exciting year for us. We have high expectations … at least I do. I know Boone does, our leadership group does. We think we can win and do some big things this year, and we’re just excited to get it going.”

Nearly everybody else disagrees. Strongly.

At fivethirtyeight.com, Columbus is expected to finish of 28th out of 32 teams and second-to-last in the Metropolitan Division. The site sees the Blue Jackets finishing with 83 points, a goal differential of minus-27, a 20% chance of making the playoffs and less than 1% chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

And that’s one of the more optimistic outlets. In fact, that’s downright bullish compared to The Hockey News, NBC.com ‘s Pro Hockey Talk blog, Dailyfaceoff.com, The Athletic and USA Today, which all say the Blue Jackets will finish last in the Metro.

The Los Angeles Times has them second-to-last in their division, 27th in the publication’s NHL power rankings, grouped with teams in a category dubbed, “Wait ‘til Next Decade.”

So, it’s not pretty for the Blue Jackets outside of Columbus and not exactly picturesque outside of their own facilities. But they’re not just going to throw their hands up and succumb to dire predictions either.

“We’re always trying to make the playoffs,” Larsen said. “If I ever stood up here and said we’re OK not making the playoffs, we’re in trouble. And if you ask the players, they want to make the playoffs … so people are going to say what they’re going to say and I can’t control the narrative on that. All I can do is try to prepare our team and that’s all we should be focusing on.”

The Blue Jackets' Vladislav Gavrikov, left, and Arizona's' Phil Kessel chase the puck during Thursday night's game in Columbus. AP photo
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2021/10/web1_jacketsonline.jpgThe Blue Jackets' Vladislav Gavrikov, left, and Arizona's' Phil Kessel chase the puck during Thursday night's game in Columbus. AP photo

By Brian Hedger

The Columbus Dispatch

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