COLUMBUS, Ohio – For the Columbus Blue Jackets to reach the playoffs this year, they will need to win at a pace they have never done before.
Currently the 14thplace Blue Jackets are seven points out of the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference as San Jose and Chicago have 58 points compared to Columbus’ 51 points. The Blue Jackets have 32 games to make up the difference. Seven points is only three wins and an overtime loss differential, but Columbus is now at the point where controlling its own destiny is difficult.
A win last night against Chicago could have gone a long ways, but the team came out flat losing 7-4.
At the Sharks’ and Blackhawks’ current pace, the bar for the playoffs will be 94 points. Last year, the Colorado Avalanche got in with 95 points, five better than ninth place St. Louis. To get to 94 points, Columbus will need 43 points in its final 32 games. It sounds simple. Go 21-10-1 and you’re in. History says not likely.
“We have to prepare like it is a playoff game every single game,” Blue Jackets forward Kristian Huselius said.
The franchise’s best run was during Columbus’ 2008-09 playoff season when it had a total of 92 points to take the seventh spot in the west. The Blue Jackets had a 32 game stretch where they went 20-10-2 and got 42 points.
To say the least: every game is important.
“Every team is right there within five or six (points) trying to hold onto their spot,” Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger said. “It is a dog fight from here on out. It has been a dog fight all year, but this is when the intensity level kicks in and cranks up. Teams are trying to improve themselves before the (trade) deadline.”
The Blue Jackets play 11 games before Feb. 28’s NHL trade deadline. It is critical for any team to be in good position at the deadline to continue its path towards the post-season. With the exception of the 2008-09 season, the Blue Jackets have always been deadline sellers.
“I am not as a coach going to go down that road in the sense of anything to do with the trade deadline,” Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel said. “To me it is all about tomorrow night – one at a time. I am not looking at who is a buyer and who is a seller. I am not looking who’s in, I am looking at us.”
Three years ago, the Blue Jackets were five points out of eighth going into the deadline and then first year general manager Scott Howson was a seller at the deadline trading away defenseman Adam Foote and forward Sergei Fedorov for prospects and draft picks. After going 29-26-9 into the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets finished 5-10-3.
The Blue Jackets have five unrestricted free agents at the end of the year. Chris Clark, Ethan Moreau, Andrew Murray, and Jan Hejda all could be on the block come the end of February. Goalie Mathieu Garon is also an unrestricted free agent following the season.