Blue Jackets 2023-2024: Rebuilding Amidst Adversity
The Columbus Blue Jackets had a 2022-2023 season to forget, finishing with a dismal 59 points and a staggering -116 goal differential. While they were in the race to tank for last place in the standings, their hopes were dashed when the Chicago Blackhawks won the draft lottery and the rights to generational talent Connor Bedard. Now, with a new coach and some roster changes, let's take an analytical look at what the 2023-2024 season might hold for this struggling franchise.
Last Season: A Nightmare in Numbers
The Blue Jackets' performance last season left much to be desired. According to ESBC Power AI metrics, they were one of the worst teams in the league, particularly in the expected goals against metric, which stood at an awful 3.9. Injuries and poor puck luck contributed to their struggles, but it was clear that systemic issues plagued the team.
In the final weeks of the season their metrics took a nose-dive but there was most likely some giving up -mentality as well as tanking for Connor Bedard. But still, even if you clear that final part of the season "off the books", the underlying metrics of Blue Jackets were just plain awful.
Coaching Changes: From Larsen to Babcock to Vincent
After such a poor season, it was inevitable that changes would occur. Brad Larsen was relieved of his coaching duties, and the experienced but controversial Mike Babcock was hired as the new head coach. The controversies around Babcock continued and he was forced to resign after a privacy-violating scandal with his new players.
In comes 52-year old Pascal Vincent who has last couple of years served as an assistant coach for the Blue Jackets.
Couple of weeks before the season Mark Recchi was added to Vincent's coaching team.
Defensive Reinforcements: Severson and Provorov
One area that needed urgent attention was defense, and the Blue Jackets took steps in that direction by signing free agents Damon Severson and Ivan Provorov. These additions should improve the defensive capabilities of the team, but whether it will be enough to mend such a significantly negative goal differential remains to be seen.
Goaltending: Merzlikins and Tarasov Back in Net
The goaltending tandem of Elvis Merzlikins and Daniil Tarasov will likely continue for another season. While they were not the only issue last season, both goalies will need to show significant improvement for the Blue Jackets to become competitive.
In the past Merzlikins has shown skills to be a no. 1 goalie for the NHL but he has had struggles in the last couple of years.
Road to Recovery: A Tall Order
The path back to playoff contention for Columbus looks steep. For the team to become a playoff contender, several things must fall into place:
- Coaching: Pascal Vincent and his team must adapt quickly and find a way to maximize the potential of this roster.
- Player Development: The franchise’s young talent must take developmental leaps this year. This young core has potential to improve and Adam Fantilli could be an x-factor.
- Goaltending: Merzlikins and Tarasov have to perform at a much higher level than they did last season.
- handling the media pressure: after the Babcock incident the management team is under a lot of heat but team's focus must stay on the ice
The Columbus Blue Jackets are at a critical juncture. The 2023-2024 season could be a turning point, but it will require a near-perfect alignment of improved coaching, player development, and goaltending. While their ESBC Power AI metrics suggest they have a mountain to climb, the offseason moves indicate a franchise that is keen on turning things around. However, even if they do make positive strides, a return to the playoffs this season is a longshot at best.
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