Pierre-Luc Dubois

What is the Columbus Blue Jackets’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Pending Free Agents
Josh Anderson (RFA)
Gabriel Carlsson (RFA)
Pierre-Luc Dubois (RFA)
Vladislav Gavrikov
Jakob Lilja (RFA)
Joonas Korpisalo (RFA)
Ryan MacInnis (RFA)
Elvis Merzlikins (RFA)
Devin Shore (RFA)
Kevin Stenlund (RFA)

The Core

The Columbus Blue Jackets do not have the elite goal-scorer or dangerous playmaker that top-tier NHL teams have, but they do possess a few critical components of their foundation to build a long-term successful roster.

Zach Werenski and Seth Jones anchor the Blue Jackets’ blue line and make up one of the top defensive pairings throughout the NHL. Their steady play helped goaltender Joonas Korpisalo become an All-Star this season and Elvis Merzlikins look like a seasoned veteran in his rookie season between the pipes.

Pierre-Luc Dubois continued his development as a top-line center and was in position to match his 61-point total from a season ago. However, Cam Atkinson and Josh Anderson’s production dropped off dramatically. Atkinson only netted 12 goals in 44 games this season, while Anderson scored one time in 26 games. Both players missed time with injuries this season (along with most of the Blue Jackets’ roster) but couldn’t produce offensively the way they have in the past.

Despite Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin leaving the organization last summer, the Blue Jackets remained in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race up until the NHL Pause a few weeks ago.

The experience gained in the spring of 2019 when the Blue Jackets secured a playoff spot and won a series for the first time in franchise history paid dividends for the team this season.

Long-Term Needs

The Blue Jackets averaged 2.57 goals per game in the 70 games they played this season and desperately need to add more playmakers. The lack of production from Atkinson and Anderson hurt dramatically and injuries contributed to them becoming one of the bottom-five teams in goals per game this season.

One area of concern is depth at the center position. Dubois is on track to become a building block every successful team needs in the middle, but the roster lacks playmakers behind the promising young player.

Alexandre Texier showed promise this year before a back injury derailed his season and John Tortorella believes he could fill a gaping hole in the lineup.

“The thing I like about Tex is I think he understands how to play low in that (center) position,” Torts told the team website. “A lot more comes into play as a centerman when you don’t have the puck in your end zone, a lot more reads like a defenseman, and I think he has the intelligence to do that.”

Columbus does not have the sexiest roster in the NHL, but they do have the right pieces of the puzzle to be a playoff team for the next several seasons.

Long-Term Strengths

While Tortorella’s antics during press conferences have been entertaining, he had one of his strongest seasons behind the bench and proved to be one of the NHL’s best bench bosses. The Blue Jackets did not have a 50-point scorer and proved to be greater than the sum of their parts with a strong season following a tumultuous summer.

The Blue Jackets sustained a league-leading 15 overtime/shootout losses (including a mistake which produced an epic postgame press conference) and could have pulled away from a crowded playoff wild-card race if a few of those outcomes went their way.

Jones and Werenski are two world-class defenders and Dubois is growing into a dynamic center but Columbus needs to fill out its roster. The Blue Jackets’ front office must find the right corresponding pieces to skate alongside their foundational players in order to take the next step as a franchise.

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Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Columbus Blue Jackets: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Elvis enters the building as goaltending surprises for Blue Jackets

If any position in sports challenged the saying “You get what you pay for,” it would be NHL goaltending.

The Blue Jackets haven’t just watched Sergei Bobrovsky fall short of his $10M asking price with Florida already. They’ve also seen their $2M tandem of 25-year-olds (Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins) provide some of the best goaltending since John Tortorella took over as Blue Jackets head coach.

If forced to guess, people might postulate that Korpisalo would drive that bus. While his development’s been bumpy since Columbus took measures to keep him during the expansion draft, Korpisalo at least had NHL experience. As much as people loved the idea of putting on blue suede shoes and making bad Elvis jokes, could the Blue Jackets expect Merzlikins to convert nice Swiss league numbers to acceptable backup work?

Nope. Instead, Korpisalo has been solid but unspectacular, when he hasn’t been hurt. Meanwhile, Merzlikins has been a smash hit.

Speaking of surprises and prices, there could be more up ahead. Both Merzlikins and Korpisalo are pending RFAs. What’s even a fair contract for Merzlikins, especially if the NHL doesn’t resume action until 2020-21?

Torts walks the walk

For some time, the feeling was: whether John Tortorella is actually a good coach or not, he at least provides entertaining press conferences. When the Torts rage boils over, snarky folks are the biggest winners.

Tortorella’s backers must feel vindicated, as the Blue Jackets sit in the playoff bubble even after the team lost Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin — along with facing wave after wave of injuries.

Much like Barry Trotz nurturing strong numbers for Islanders goalies, there’s a chicken-and-the-egg situation in Columbus. Merzlikins deserves credit for his strong .925 save percentage this season, but surely Torts helped make life easier for Elvis.

Take a look at Hockey Viz’s coaching impacts and you’ll see that Tortorella seems to be getting more and more effective during his time as Blue Jackets head coach:

Pretty impressive stuff from Tortorella.

Numerous health-related disappointments for Blue Jackets

Chalk up the Blue Jackets’ crushing run of injuries to bad luck … I think.

There is one thought: maybe certain style choices increase the risks of injuries. Tortorella’s teams are notorious for being gritty, and most obviously blocking shots. Could that make his players more susceptible to injuries? Maybe such issues wouldn’t just crop up because of single seasons, but rather multiple years of playing that way?

Overall, I’d still say it’s mostly bad luck.

The Blue Jackets should definitely be careful though, particularly if the NHL opts to squeeze in some portion of the rest of 2019-20 while holding a full 82-game campaign in 2020-21.

Offensive disappointments for Blue Jackets

Look, any reasonable person expected Columbus to have a tougher time scoring goals without Artemi Panarin (and, to a lesser extent, Matt Duchene). Even so, when Pierre-Luc Dubois is your leading scorer at 49 points through 70 games, it’s dishonest not to put offense on the list of disappointments.

This is likely the more reasonable knock on Tortorella’s ultimately-worth-it focus on defense than injury concerns. Certain Blue Jackets would likely put up bigger numbers in a more open system; it just likely wouldn’t be the wisest strategy overall.

There are disappointments within those disappointments for the Blue Jackets:

  • To some extent, it’s a bummer that Sonny Milano never quite found his place. Not surprising, but a bummer, as there’s talent there.
  • Alexander Wennberg didn’t rebound to his most promising form. Instead, he sits at a middling 22 points in 57 games, including just five goals.
  • Josh Anderson suffered through a disastrous 2019-20 season. Along with injuries, Anderson enjoyed almost zero puck luck, scoring a single goal on just a 1.6 shooting percentage (four points in 26 games overall). That hurts after Anderson scored a career-high 27 goals and 47 points in 2018-19, and fell just short of 20 goals in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

My guess is that Anderson can still contribute as a power forward once he gets healthy. Those numbers almost certainly were affected by injury issues to some extent, too. Even so … ouch.

***

Overall, the surprises are more pleasant than the disappointments ended up being painful for the Blue Jackets. It’s truly remarkable that they’re in almost the same spot in 2019-20 as they were in 2018-19.

What should we expect if there’s more for 2019-20, and then in 2020-21, though?

MORE ON THE BLUE JACKETS:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Looking at the 2019-20 Columbus Blue Jackets

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets.

2019-20 Columbus Blue Jackets

Record: 33-22-15 (81 points in 70 games played); fifth in the Metro, second East wild card
Leading Scorer: Pierre-Luc Dubois, 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists)

In-season Roster Moves:

  • Traded Sonny Milano to the Anaheim Ducks for Devin Shore.
  • Sent Markus Hannikainen to the Arizona Coyotes for a conditional seventh-rounder.

Season Overview: 

In 2018-19, the Blue Jackets finished the season in the second wild-card spot, right behind the Hurricanes. In 2019-20 … the Blue Jackets went into the COVID-19 halt in the second wild-card spot, right behind the Hurricanes.

Now, sure, it’s not the exact same situation. In this year’s case, the Islanders would take that spot if you went by points percentage, as they’re only a point behind the Blue Jackets (80 to Columbus’ 81) while the Islanders hold two games in hand (68 to Columbus’ 70 GP).

Yet,  how many people would have expected the Blue Jackets to manage this feat? Columbus didn’t just lose Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky to free agency. The Blue Jackets also lost a ton of players to injuries, often significant ones, from Seth Jones to Cam Atkinson to Joonas Korpisalo.

Like him or not, this season’s been a testament to John Tortorella’s coaching abilities. While the Blue Jackets aren’t winning every possession battle (especially regarding high-danger chances), they’re not cratering in the same way Winnipeg has after painful personnel purges.

All things considered, it’s impressive that the Blue Jackets fall in the middle of the pack by various metrics, including this “Reality vs. Expectation” chart from Charting Hockey (which uses Evolving Hockey’s data).

2019-20 Blue Jackets Charting Hockey Evolving Hockey

For Torts’ structure to bend-but-not-break, Columbus did need strong goaltending, though. Elvis Merzlikins delivered (13-9-8, .925 save percentage) even more than Korpisalo did (19-12-5, .911 save percentage) to help hold everything together.

We’ll see if the Blue Jackets get the chance to prove that they could hold onto their current spot. Either way, Tortorella and the Blue Jackets already proved a lot in 2019-20.

Highlight of the 2019-20 Season for Blue Jackets: 

The Blue Jackets didn’t only win six in a row during some of Elvis’ hottest days in the building. They also pulled off a 10-game point streak from Jan. 11 to Feb. 7 (9-0-1). Stretching back further, they went 11-1-1 in 13 games (Jan. 6 to Feb. 7) and 13-2-1 in 16 (Dec. 31 to Feb. 7).

Yes, they plummeted into the pause (3-6-6 from Feb. 8 to March. 8), but that previous tear was really something.

If you need something more of the highlight reel variety, recall Sonny Milano’s between-the-legs goal, a nice memory Milano created before he was traded:

And, hey, if you need some righteous Tortorella rage at refs, there was some of that this season, too.

MORE ON THE BLUE JACKETS

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Face-Off: DeBrincat’s scoring struggles; Will Krug re-sign?

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Every Monday, the PHT Face-Off breaks down some of the big stories and trends in and around the NHL over the next week.

Torey Krug still needs a new deal

Krug is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and he’s put together an impressive contract year. He’s coming off a two-goal, four-point performance against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. He’s now up to 37 points in 45 games.

What is he going to cost the Bruins going forward? Why haven’t the two sides agreed to a contract extension yet? Those are legitimate questions, but the reality is that there’s clearly a disconnect when it comes to the player’s value.

Krug is an undersized, puck-moving defenseman. If he hits the market, there will be no shortage of teams interested in his services. He’s put together three straight 50-point seasons and he’s currently on pace to surpass the 60-point mark for the first time in his career.

David Krejci is currently the highest paid player on the Bruins roster at $7.25 million per year. He has just one year remaining on his deal, so you’d have to think that his next number will come down significantly (if he’s back at all). Once Krejci’s gone, Patrice Bergeron would become the highest paid player on the roster at $6.875 million per year.

Are the Bruins trying to make sure that Bergeron remains the highest paid player on the team? That’s very possible. Can Krug command more than $7 million on the open market? Absolutely.

That’s probably where the disconnect comes from.

Alex DeBrincat‘s down year

DeBrincat shocked the NHL last year when he scored 41 goals in 82 games. Putting together back-to-back 40-goal seasons was never going to be easy, but his 12 goals in 52 games are way below expectations.

The 22-year-old’s shooting percentage has taken a dive and his five-on-five production has, too.

Of the 12 goals he’s scored this year, only four have come at even strength. Last year, 13 of his 41 goals were scored on the man-advantage. As you’d imagine, his shooting percentage has gone from 18 percent last year to eight percent this year.

The ‘Hawks could use an increase in production from the sniper. They’re right in the middle of a playoff race and a few more goals to make a huge difference. As of right now, the ‘Hawks are three points back of the Arizona Coyotes for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Oh, and, Chicago has two games in hand.

It’s fair to wonder whether or not DeBrincat will ever score 40 goals again, but it’s clear that he’s better than his current five-on-five production would indicate.

Pierre-Luc Dubois is the man

The Blue Jackets lost Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, so we knew that they were going to transition to some new on-ice leaders this year. Cam Atkinson‘s production has dipped, Nick Foligno, Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner haven’t produced a ton of offense either.

So, there’s been a greater importance placed on Dubois’ offense.

The 21-year-old produced 27 goals and 61 points last year and he’s currently on pace to come close to matching those numbers this year (he’s on pace for 26 goals and 65 points). But the impressive thing about those similar numbers is that he’s been able to do it without Panarin eating up the toughest matchups.

There’s many reasons why the Jackets have found a way to get themselves into the playoff picture, and Dubois is definitely one of them.

On Sunday, he scored a pair of goals in his home province, as Columbus took down Montreal in a pre-Super Bowl matinee game.

For the Jackets to finish strong, they’ll need their top point scorer to keep delivering big moments like the one above. He’s quickly turning into one of the elite young forwards in the NHL.

Alex Ovechkin isn’t aging poorly

Ovechkin continues to climb the all-time goal list. He’s now eighth all-time in goals, as he passed Mark Messier last week. He needs 13 more goals to tie Mike Gartner for seventh all-time and 22 goals to tie Phil Esposito for sixth. It’s a great story. The big question is whether or not Ovechkin will pass Wayne Gretzky’s 894 career goals. Even if he doesn’t get to 895, he might still be considered the best scorer of all time.

The 34-year-old didn’t score in Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he lit it up during his previous five contests.

Between Jan. 13-31, the Russian sniper found the back of the net an incredible 11 times. He’s now scored 37 goals in 52 games, which puts him on pace for 58 goals.

“He’s a great shooter,” said Gartner, per NHL.com. “He’s got an extremely hard shot, an extremely accurate shot and an extremely quick shot. A lot of times a shooter may have one, maybe two of those things going for you. He has all three of them, and that’s a very unique package of skills that he brings to the table.

“Wayne Gretzky, just by the sheer numbers, is the greatest goal-scorer ever. He scored 894 goals, so you still have to say that he is the greatest goal-scorer. But if anybody could do it, Alex could do it.”

What’s coming up this week:
• MacKinnon vs. Eichel, Tue. Feb. 4, 7 p.m. ET
• Parise’s 1,000th game, Fri. Feb. 7, 8:30 p.m. ET
Justin Faulk vs. Carolina, Tue. Feb. 4, 8 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN
• Flyers vs. Red Wings, Mon. Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET
• Blackhawks vs. Wild, Tue. Feb. 4, 8 p.m. ET
• Red Wings vs. Sabres, Thu. Feb. 6, 7 p.m. ET
• Sharks vs. Oilers, Thu. Feb. 6, 9:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Bruins vs. Blackhawks, Wed. Feb. 5, 8 p.m. ET

NHL on NBC
• Bruins vs. Red Wings, Sun. Feb. 9, 12:30 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Dubois shines as Blue Jackets keep rolling with another win

NHL Scores
Getty

Three Stars

1. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets. Their incredible season continued on Sunday with a 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens, and it was a huge performance from Dubois that was the difference. In 17 minutes of ice-time he scored two goals, recorded an assist, won six out of eight faceoffs, and was a plus-two in the win. His 17 goals and 42 total points for the season lead the team while he continues to be their best two-way forward. The Blue Jackets are now 17-2-5 in their past 24 games (the only two losses in regulation were against the San Jose Sharks) and are in third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, moving ahead of the New York Islanders. The Islanders do, however, still have three games in hand.

2. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins. Do not let the three goals against on the stat sheet fool you. Murray was the difference for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday in their 4-3 win against the Washington Capitals thanks to his incredible third period performance. He has now won six starts in a row and seven of his past eight games. Read more about his recent play and the Penguins’ win on Sunday right here.

3. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes. He is quickly turning into a superstar for the Hurricanes, and he scored an absolute beauty of a goal on Sunday to give them a third period lead.

His line was dominant for the Hurricanes in a 4-3 shootout win on Sunday and his goal gives him his second straight 20-goal season to start his career. Keep in mind he is still only 19 years old. He is just the 16th player in NHL history to have two 20-goal seasons before their age 20 season. Read more about the Hurricanes’ win and their Super Bowl Sunday football-themed Storm Surge right here.

Highlights of the Day

It did not result in two points in the standings, but Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson scored two great goals on Sunday to continue his magnificent sophomore season. He scored his second goal from an absolutely ridiculous angle to tie the game in the third period to help get it to overtime and give them at least one point in the standings.

This shot by Penguins forward Sam Lafferty was a thing of beauty to tie the game in the first period not long after Lars Eller scored the first goal of the game.

Dubois earned his second goal of the game with his effort on this shift.

Factoids

  • Elvis Merzlikins won his sixth game in a row for the Blue Jackets, extending the franchise record for longest winning streak by a rookie goalie. [NHL PR]
  • Elias Pettersson’s two goals on Sunday give him 50 for his career, making him one of the fastest players in franchise history to reach that mark. [NHL PR]
  • The Carolina Hurricanes won their 30th game of the season and are back in a playoff spot. [NHL PR]

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Washington Capitals 3
Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Montreal Canadiens 3
Carolina Hurricanes 4, Vancouver Canucks 3 (SO)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.