Currently, the Columbus Blue Jackets are an astounding 22-5-4. They started the season 0-2, and 2-3-1. This means that in their past twenty-five games, they are 20-2-3. Rather remarkable for a non-playoff team from last season. A team that started the 2015-16 season with eight consecutive losses (7 under Todd Richards, who was then replaced by John Tortorella,) en route to a 34-40-8 season, good for last place in the Metropolitan Division, and 8 points away from New Jersey, the 7th place finisher in the Metro.
On January 6, 2016 Jarmo Kekalainen and David Poile swung the big deal of the NHL season, swapping a “#1 center” that the Predators claimed to never having had in 18 seasons, for a 21 year old defenseman in his 3rd NHL season, trapped on the 3rd pairing with Nashville, due to incredible defensive depth on the Preds roster.
At the time of the trade, Columbus had a record of 15-23-3 (33 points) and with Jones on the blueline, the team finished 19-17-5 (43 points.) Add the 2016-17 record into their post-Johansen totals, and the team has played 72 games, and has a record of 41-22-9 (91 points) In 82 games last season, the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins made the playoffs with 93 points. It’s safe to say that in the next 10 games, the Jackets, currently on an ELEVEN game winning streak, should win a game or two, and would have qualified for the post season last year based on these numbers. Of course, this year they appear to be a post-season lock, as they are currently number ONE in the 30 team NHL at this point in time. Both Columbus and Chicago have 48 points, but Columbus has FOUR games in hand. With those games in hand, Columbus still has the fourth most goals scored in the league, and have given up the second least goals, trailing Minnesota by just 2 with a game in hand.
One might say that if only addition by subtraction, Kekalainen made a great trade for the Jackets. The fact that Jones is part of their number one pairing on the blue line, is nothing but bonus for Columbus right now. Jones is projecting to score at a pace of 16 goals, 22 assists for 38 points. His three season totals have been 6-19-25 in his rookie year, 8-19-27 in his sophomore season and a combined 3-28-31 last year. Needless to say he’s at 5-7-12 in 24 games (he missed 7 games due to injury earlier in the season) and is paired with rookie sensation Zach Werenski, who has been the cream of the freshman class on the blue line this season. Werenski is currently projected to score at a 16-41-57point pace, averaging over 21 and a half minutes per game (Jones is close to 24 minutes per game, as he contributes on the penalty kill, as well as the power play.)
So, Columbus disposes of their top pivot before he becomes a 6 million dollar man, with a contract negotiation due at the end of this season, and finds it doesn’t miss him in the least. After back-to-back seasons of 33-30-63 and 26-45-71, Johansen slumped to 14-46-60 last year (repeat: goal totals decline from 33 to 26 to 14 as his contract goes from three million to six million in 2016-17) in his split season between Columbus and Nashville. Johansen is currently on pace for a season that looks like a small bounceback in goals (18) but a slight drop in assists (41) for 59 points, which would be pretty close to equaling his disappointing 2015-16 season. Number One center numbers? Marginal at best. Given the ice time and wingers he has in Nashville, special teams alone should give him a boost, but the Predators power play, which was #1 in the league in October, coincidentally when Johansen was not producing at all, has been dismal of late, dropping from first to twelfth in the league, and hitting just three times in the last thirty-seven power play attempts since late-November (13 games.) Remarkably, Ryan has maintained his LAST PLACE standing of NHL centers in the face-off dot during the Preds man advantage, winning a paltry 33% (9 of 27) of his draws on the power play. In fact, Coach Laviolette must read these stats, as he hasn’t allowed Johansen to take a draw on the man advantage for the better part of the last month. Yielding to both Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro. Of course, with Nashville’s power play in the toilet, I guess Johansen’s abilities in the faceoff circle are the least of the team’s worries (For the record, Fisher has actually won 61 of 91 power play draws. Ribeiro has won 21 of 56.)
We’ve looked closely at the remarkable rise of the Columbus Blue Jackets as a team both this season, and since the Jones/Johansen trade, so let’s check Nashville’s numbers. This season finds the team currently out of the playoff picture, with a record of 15-13-5 (35 points.) Last season the Predators did make the playoffs (as fans hardly noticed the loss of Jones on the blueline since they had Josi/Weber, and Ellis/Ekholm eating the majority of the minutes — which allowed Poile to swing this deal without incurring the wrath of the fan base, who amusingly never really bought into Jones, which was bizarre and unfathomable, because despite his occasional gaffes, he was 18, 19, 20 years old, and was caught in a learning curve, especially during periods when Shea Weber missed time due to injury. People who watched and could properly assess talent were raving around the upside Jones showed. He’ll be a top flight rearguard for the next decade plus.
The Preds have played 33 games this season (15-13-5) and last season at the same juncture were 16-11-6, so just 3 points ahead of their current pace. In the following seven games prior to the trade, the team went 3-3-1, so their record stood at 19-14-7 (45 points) and the swap was made. The team went on a four game road trip, and came back with just a single point (getting an overtime loss in Winnipeg to close out the trip.) Just two and a half minutes into his first game with Nashville, Johansen scored a power play goal, and later in the game added an even strength assist. In fact, in his first seven games as a Predator, Johansen netted 3 goals, added 6 assists in five of those contests. He followed that with one assist in four games, then added a goal and 4 assists in the next three. But from February 12th through March 3rd, Johansen added just two assists in eleven contests, and I began to notice his lack of visibility in these games. Amazingly from February 22nd in Montreal, through March 8th the Preds played eight games, going 7-0-1, accruing 15 of 16 points, and your number one center, Johansen, a single goal and two assists. He finished the regular season with 3 goals and 12 assists over the last 13 games, and the team did make the post season, so the fans were oblivious to the little invisible man streak that snuck its way into the schedule in February/March.
After acquiring Johansen, the team went 22-13-7 (51 points in 42 games) and add in this season’s 15-13-5, and in 75 games, the Predators are 37-26-12 (86 points) Nashville needed 96 points to grab a playoff spot last year. With 86 points in 75 games, the Johansen Preds would need to win 5 of their final 7 games to achieve that number. While not impossible, based on the team’s “win two, lose two, win one, lose two, win two, lose three” type of season, this is beyond calling the team a “bubble team.”
We can debate the Weber/Subban deal, and talk about how the team has gone 2-1-1 without P.K. in the lineup (and his absence was quite noticeable last night against Los Angeles), but it’s closing in on 3AM and I’d like to get some sleep now.