How the Blue Jackets went from bottom feeders to Cup contenders

By nearly all accounts, the Blue Jackets are a team that should not be winning hockey games right now.

BY ZACHARY CORMIER

There are a number of things in the sports world that I have always held as absolute truths: Gary Bettman will always be the living embodiment of a Saturday morning cartoon villain, the City of Toronto can never have nice things when it comes to sports and the Columbus Blue Jackets will always, always be a bad hockey team.

As far back as I can remember, the Blue Jackets, along with the Florida Panthers, the Arizona Coyotes and (at one point) the Atlanta Thrashers have reliably been bottom of the pack teams.

While they aren’t always in the hunt for the first overall draft pick, Columbus has, for me, been one of those teams that is just kind of there.

Since joining the league as an expansion team in 2000, they have qualified for the playoffs twice and have never made it past the first round.

Just last year, the Jackets were second last in the Eastern Conference and if it weren’t for the fact that every Canadian team was just awful last year, they may have finished in last place in the NHL.

On top of that, the team is coached by John Tortorella, perhaps one of the most controversial figures in the game.

By nearly all accounts, the Blue Jackets are a team that should not be winning hockey games right now.

Which is why it’s so surprising that they are currently on the verge of breaking an NHL record which has stood for more than 20 years, and somehow it’s not the record for most losses in a single season.

At the time of writing, the Jackets have won 16 games in a row.

It is the second longest win streak in NHL history and they are only one win shy of tying the record of 17, which was set by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins.

To really put that into perspective, the Penguins team that set the record was coming off of back-to-back Stanley Cup wins and their roster included four future Hall of Famers including Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis and Rick Tocchet. Not to mention a young Jaromir Jagr, who was somehow even better then than he is now.

The 2016-17 Blue Jackets, by contrast, are coming off a season where they held the third overall draft pick and their highest scoring player is Cam Atkinson followed by Nick Foligno, Sam Gagner and Brandon Saad.

While they’re all good players, they aren’t the kinds of names that you’d hear thrown around in Hart Trophy conversations, at least not yet.

Yet here we are. The win streak has sent Columbus skyrocketing up the standings to first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 27-5-4 record.

Which begs the question: how?

They aren’t getting a whole lot of offense, relatively speaking.

Atkinson is the only Columbus player that ranks in the top 10 in league in scoring with 18 goals and 20 assists, so it can’t be that.

My first thought: aliens. Somehow they abducted Torts and planted some revolutionary foolproof coaching method into his brain.

My second thought: I’ve got to stop watching the History Channel so much.

My third thought: Bob.

Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovski has been sensational this season. The 28-year-old Russian has posted an incredible .934 save percentage and a minuscule 1.92 goals against average so far this season. The only goalie in the NHL with better numbers is former Oilers goalie Devin Dubnyk, who’s breakout as a bonafide superstar has been one of the best stories of the past few years.

Since the beginning of the streak, Bobrovski has posted a .941 save percentage and allowed just 23 goals on a whopping 392 shots against, according to hockey-reference.com.

The man has been a 6’2” monster over the past few months and has carried the team more than Carey Price carries the Montreal Canadiens (couldn’t resist).

Now the question is can he keep this up and can he stay healthy? Bobrovsky has missed significant time in the past due to injury and I don’t really like Columbus’ playoff chances if Curtis McElhinney is their starter. That would be like replacing in-his-prime Patrick Roy with a beer league goalie. You’re just not going to get the same result.

That is unless the aliens got to McElhinney, as well.

zcormier@lacombeexpress.com.

 

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