With a five game winning streak, the Columbus Blue Jackets have suddenly breathed life into a fanbase that expected “hard work” but not necessarily wins. Of course, this has also generated a great deal of optimism and murmurs of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But before we start jumping on a non-existent bandwagon and lauding a team that’s only four points out of last place in the NHL, let’s consider some criteria for making the playoffs and some components of how this team made its run.
Playoff Requirements: James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail estimates that teams in the West will need 56 points to get at least 8th place this season. Columbus only has 22 games remaining on their schedule to gain the required 32 remaining points (the current Jacket point total is 24). That means they’ll need a point percentage of 72.7% for the rest of the way to sneak in last. Envision that as somewhere around 14-4-4 (possibly ranging from 10-0-12 to 16-6-0, with combos between there).
That’s a fairly sizable mountain to climb. Sure, it’s tough for almost any team in the league, but Columbus is tied for the most games played in the West. That’s another another barrier to entry.
Another concern is the foundation of the streak itself. Fox Sports Ohio described the Blue Jackets as “dominant” over the past five games, meaning they haven’t actually watched the games. Let’s break down the actual rate of scoring and the overall shot differential performances.
Scoring Offense: The scoring for the past 5 games has only been 2.4 goals per game (not counting shootout point as a goal). Extrapolated over a season and assuming the 2013 scoring rates hold, that’s good for only 25th in the NHL. On the full season last year, that would have been 27th. Clearly this isn’t why the team is winning.
Fenwick on the Streak: Even if the goals aren’t coming, the Jackets need to have impressive shot differentials if they’re looking to sustain this kind of winning pace. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened in 3 of the 5 games. The two teams they actually outplayed were, unsurprisingly, Colorado and Edmonton. Those are both fairly bad clubs with questionable defensive prowess (and at least for Edmonton, horrific coaching). Meanwhile, the game versus Vancouver saw the Canucks significantly out-Fenwick the Jackets after they evened up the game, a particularly poor outing for Columbus. And for all the success against Detroit, both games were closely contested, ultimately resulting in the Wings coming out ahead in shot differential.
In short, unless the Jackets are playing similarly bad teams, their play over the past five games is not sustainable to long-term winning. So what’s netting them all the Ws then?
Unbeatable, Unsustainable Bobrovsky: Herein lies the answer to why Columbus is winning. Over the streak, Bob has a .969 SV% in all situations, including four games over .940. This is absolutely unsustainable long-term. Nobody in the NHL has ever done that. In fact, only 15 goalies have a save percentage over .930 with 25 games played or more. Yes, Bob was good in 2010-11 with Philly, but that was only a .915. Even if he’s experiencing a sudden improvement, he’s not going to keep this .969 thing up. He is going to regress.
Without the shot attempt differentials to back the team up in more than half the wins, the streak is on Bob. He’s been exceptional and his season-long play is encouraging for the future, but he simply can’t keep going like this current outburst suggests.
Long-Term Prospects: Which leads to another question: do we want the streak to continue? Do we want to see Columbus make a run at the playoffs? The answer, for long-term success, is probably no. Recall that this team continues to be 2nd-to-last in close Fenwick % with a shockingly low 43.74%. Sudden wins have happened without shooting to back it up. Essentially, the team is still bad.
Factor in the need to get a 72.7% point percentage the rest of the way, and a Columbus playoff appearance seems very unrealistic (Sports Club Stats currently has their chances at 5.6 %). Add in the quality of the top three draft picks, and having a first rounder nearer the top suddenly seems like the better idea. Making a run and falling short would lessen the value of the Columbus pick.
Long-term, I’d suggest it makes more sense to hope for another losing season this year. The team is simply not in place to make a run, the quality of players isn’t high enough.
I know this comes across as negative, a put-down of the fun ride that the Jackets are on, but I want the wins to happen to progress the club. Columbus is not a playoff team (it’s not really all that close) and the infusion of new talent next year is more important to long-term franchise success than a playoff series made of hot air and luck. I trust the new management to see this conundrum and make the right decision instead of the momentarily popular one.
I do promise, however, that I’ll be the first one yelling when the Jackets have a sustainable team and are feeling the ill effects of luck going against them. Right now, they’re experiencing the opposite and the streak is unlikely to continue for much longer.