Last year I put together a series of posts centered around my expectations for the various Blue Jackets players goal totals, with one running before the season, one at midseason reviewing how I did and predicting the remainder of the season, and one after the year was over looking back at the first two pieces. I was pretty happy with how my method worked out, so I figured I’d do this for the entire league. You can find my preliminary post on it here, along with an update after the Capitals signed Grabovski. Here at the Union Blue, you’re going to get everything I’ve put together regarding the Jackets.
Unfortunately, I don’t think most of you will be happy with me. I have the Jackets finishing 15th in the NHL in goal differential. However, I also have the Metropolitan division as the league’s most difficult. If the season proceeds this way, the Jackets will finish 6th in the Metro, behind the Rangers, Devils, Penguins, Islanders, and Capitals. The Grabovski signing actually pushed the Caps above the Jackets for the final playoff spot in the East. Consolation prize: I also have the Red Wings missing the playoffs. So there’s that.
So what are these bold predictions based on? Mostly shots. As in “how many shots every player in the NHL generates per minute they are on the ice”. I then look at how many minutes the top 14 forwards and top 7 defensemen for each team will probably play this year. That is where the subjectivity comes in. I based this off their per game minute totals from the prior year, with some movement for young/old players, guys who changed teams, and minor tweaks to make sure the minute totals add up properly. After every player’s shot totals were calculated, I then used career shooting percentages (for veterans) or career shooting percentages combined with league averages (for youngsters) to determine how many goals they are likely to score on the number of shots they will take. Defensively, I took each players portion (1/5, or 1/4 depending on the situation) of their shots against per minute, using the same minute totals from before, and determined the total shots allowed against by the CBJ. This was done for even strength, 5v4 powerplays, and 4v5 penalty kills. The rest of the goals were taken from historical data regarding 5v3, 3v5, 4v4, empty net goals, etc. For goaltenders, I used a running three year average of their even strength and powerplay save percentages, along with expected minutes played, and determined how many goals they would allow. Add all that up and you get total goals for and against for every team.
With the boring stuff taken care, let’s get back to the CBJ. You already know I have them behind NYR, NJ, Pit, NYI, and Wsh in the Metro, but I also have them trailing Montreal, Ottawa, and Boston in the Eastern Conference, giving them a 9th place finish. For those of you keeping track, 9th in the East and 15th overall means they would be a hands down playoff team in the Western Conference (they would finish 3rd in the Central Division). But hey, at least we’ll get to watch all the games without falling asleep at work the next day.
As for the raw numbers, I have the Jackets finishing 15th in the NHL with 222 goals for, and 17th in the league with 225 goals against, for a -3 goal differential. At even strength, the Jackets actually finish 6th is goals for with 166, and 17th in goals against with 140 (ranking them 12th in goal differential at even strength). The problem, however, is special teams. The power play comes in dead last in the NHL, with only 28 goals scored at 5v4. The penalty kill is much better, but still only 17th with 40 goals allowed.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the goal totals for the forwards and the defense. For the uninformed SOG = shots on goal (total for all situations), ESG = 5v5 goals, PPG = 5v4 goals, OtherG = 4v4, 4v5, 4v3, 5v3, 3v5, 3v4, and empty net goals, and GOALS should be self explanatory.
The Jackets need shooters. Badly. And especially on the powerplay. As it stands right now, only Wiz, Johnson, and Nikitin had a substantial number of powerplay shots on goal, with all three finishing in the top 30 among defensemen. The Jackets best returning forward at generating shots on the power play is RJ Umberger, who only had 18 pp shots on goal last year, ranking well outside the top 50 forwards. Gaborik is the guy I am looking at to step up, as he only fired 13 5v4 shots last year, and scored a whopping 0 goals. Fun fact: Ex-Jacket Jakub Voracek finished second among forwards with 53 shots. The other guy who needs to step up on the powerplay is Nathan Horton. He also managed 0 goals last year, with all of 9 shots. Wondering about Cam Atkinson’s 1 expectect ppg? Well the erstwhile “sniper” took three shots on the powerplay last year. Three. This all really needs to change. I understand running the powerplay through the point, but the reason that works is that forwards pick up leftovers. Right now, the Jackets just seem to be taking point shots with nothing coming from the forwards. That needs to change.
Also jumping out at me is the low shot totals for RJ Umberger, Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky. Among all forwards last year, Umberger finished 104th, Foligno finished 197th, and Dubinsy finished 265th. Those are not shot totals befitting the minutes they play. All three of them were close to – or over – 16 minutes per game at even strength or powerplay. All three were around 2 minutes or more in powerplay time. You only get six forwards who can play those kinds of minutes. You can’t waste three of those spots on guys who can’t produce offense. Hopefully the rumors of RJ’s fitness are true and he can get back to where he was in 2010-11 (in the same minute distribution he averaged 2.7 shots per game, versus 2 last year, finishing 40th in the NHL), although at age 31 I have my doubts. As for Foligno, while I love his dangling he needs to shoot more. He probably passed up 20 solid shots last year by trying to make one more move. Just shoot the puck. And Dubi. Oh Dubi. I love Dubi, but he’s not a scoring forward. Keep his even strength minutes the same, keep his penalty killing minutes the same, but give his 2:24 per game of powerplay time to someone else, like say Marian Gaborik or Nathan Horton.
So now the goalies. And if you didn’t like me before, you aren’t going to like me know. So we all know Bob will regress, that much is obvious. If he was able to keep up last season forever he’d be the greatest goaltender of all time. He’s good, but he’s not that. I have Bob finishing next season with a 2.55 GAA, a .927 essv%, and .858 pksv%, all down from his 2013 numbers of 2.00, .941, and .866. Those are actually good numbers. A .927 essv% would have been tied for 12th in the NHL last year with Pekka Rinne, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ben Bishop, and Ray Emery (of goalies with 20+ gp), and behind Craig Anderson, Tomas Vokoun, Tuuka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, Jimmy Howard, Jonas Hiller, Corey Crawford, Braden Holtby, Cory Schneider, Antti Niemi, and Ryan Miller. If I told you before last season that Bob would finish the next two years with a save percentage sandwiched between Rinne and Miller, you’d have been ecstatic (or maybe called me crazy). A year later, that is a little disappointing.
Bob’s not the major problem though. That designation is reserved for Curtis McElhinney. Based on his last three NHL seasons, he projects out to a 3.05 GAA, .902 essv%, and .874 pksv%. Those are not good numbers. In fact, those are very, very bad numbers. Last season a .902 essv% would have put CMac ahead of only Scott Clemmensen (Panthers shopping for his replacement), Chris Mason (unemployed), Miika Kiprusoff (retired), Justin Peters (now demoted to AHL even though he has a one way contract), Richard Bachman (now in the AHL), Jose Theodore (unemployed), and Johan Hedberg (unemployed) , and ranked 50th out of 57 goalies (of goalies over 10gp).
It’s pretty easy here to see how the Jackets can outperform my expectations. Maybe Bob regresses less than I projected. Maybe CMac learned a few things and can now be a reasonable backup goalie instead of a trainwreck. Maybe Gaborik, Horton, and Atkinson start shooting and scoring on the powerplay. If any of those things happen, the Jackets are probably a playoff team. If they all happen, they will battle for home ice in the playoffs. Maybe Ryan Johansen take a big step forward, or maybe Ryan Murray is more Drew Doughty than Victor Hedman. But this could just as easily go worse. A Bob injury would end the season. Horton is already down to at most 60 games this season, and could very easily re-injure his shoulder or melon. Gaborik is also coming off surgery and has never been very durable. Those guys missing a lot of games means the Jackets have to continue rolling out RJ Umberger, Nick Foligno, and Brandon Dubinsky in scoring roles they are not suited for.
But every single team has these kinds of questions. Everything goes right and it’s a dream season. Everything goes wrong and it’s 2011 again. However, even with everything happening exactly as projected here, the Jackets will be in the hunt. You know I have them just outside the playoffs with a negative point differential, but I have yet told you how close it is. It’s one goal close. I have the Caps finishing with a -2 goal differential. Behind the Jackets are the Red Wings at -5, the Hurricanes at -8, and the Lightning lurking at -11. That is five teams from the same conference with 10 goals of each other. A few breaks either way for any of those teams and they can leapfrog a couple of the others. After years of disappointment, it finally seems like things have been breaking the Blue Jackets way lately. Let’s hope that keeps up and the Jackets bring the playoffs back to Nationwide (and end the Wings playoff streak in the process). I think that’s one outcome we can all agree on.