Columbus Blue Jackets
(image from James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

Columbus Blue Jackets 2021 – 2022 Season Preview: New Coach, New Culture

Were the ’20-’21 Columbus Blue Jackets the most irrelevant team in the NHL last season? I would say so. After making the Stanley Cup playoffs four straight seasons, Columbus went 18-26-12 – a record that would make them the fourth-worst team in the entire league. They were insanely bland on the ice and ultimately stopped listening to head coach John Tortorella and his aggressive tactics. After the poor year, the Blue Jackets and Tortorella mutually parted ways.

In steps in Brad Larsen. He has zero head coaching experience in the NHL but has been behind the bench for Columbus as an assistant for the past seven seasons. Blue Jackets fans and players are hoping he strays away from Tortorella’s style so he can develop his own. This team was in serious need of a culture change. The players are not bad, they are just young. Even then, they still have playoff experience and should be competitive on most nights.

Offseason Moves

The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a strange state. They weren’t so bad that they need to blow everything up, but they weren’t good enough to make a playoff push. This team is in a retooling phase, not a rebuild.

The largest trade of the offseason came via Columbus and Chicago when the Blue Jackets sent star defenseman Seth Jones, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2022 sixth-round pick to the Blackhawks in exchange for defenseman Adam Boqvist, 2021 first- and second-round picks, and a 2022 first-round pick. Jones wanted out of Columbus and informed the team he was not going to re-sign with them following the ’21-’22 season. He was entering the final year of his $5.4 million AAV contract. Chicago immediately extended Jones to a monster eight-year deal worth $76 million ($9.5 million AAV). Boqvist is a 21-year-old who has some hype as an up-and-coming offensive defenseman. He will contribute on the powerplay, but it will most likely be the second unit because Zach Werenski is still here. The Blue Jackets used the money they saved by trading Jones away to extend Werenski to a six-year, $57.5 million deal.

Columbus also brought back a familiar face. Jakub Voracek was drafted by the Blue Jackets in 2007 before being traded away to Philadelphia where he spent 10 seasons. He’s back, but forward Cam Atkinson is gone due to a one-for-one trade. Both are 32 but can be valuable top-6 scoring options. Through free agency, the Columbus Blue Jackets brought in former Bruin, Sean Kuraly (four years, $2.5 million AAV) and Jake Bean (three years, $7 million total).

Lineup Projection

Here are my projected lines for the ’21-’22 Columbus Blue Jackets:

Patrik LaineAlexandre TexierJakub Voracek (A)
Gustav NyquistJack RoslovicOliver Bjorkstrand
Boone Jenner (A)Cole Sillinger (R)Max Domi
Eric RobinsonSean KuralyYegor Chinakhov
Forwards

The time is now for Patrik Laine to return to his dominant ways. It’s hard to believe that this dude had 138 goals and 109 assists in his first 305 career games. Last season he was extremely disappointing, but I would credit that to the systems he played in. He’s the closest thing to Alexander Ovechkin that we have seen, and his shot is lethal. I hope Larsen just lets him stand at the top of the circle and fire one-timers for the entire season.

Cole Sillinger will make the opening night roster. Columbus used the pick acquired in the Seth Jones trade to take him. He’s just 18, but he looks ready to center a line in the NHL. Max Domi is recovering from shoulder surgery and will miss a little bit of time in the beginning of the season. I would expect 22-year-old Emil Bemstrom to fill in for the time being.

Zach Werenski (A)Adam Boqvist
Vladislav GavrikovJake Bean
Dean KukanAndrew Peeke
Defensemen

Weresnki is a magician on the power play. He’ll contend as the league’s top goal scoring defenseman again, but how much will the other guys contribute? It looks like Columbus is going with an offensive heavy approach, with the exception of Gavrikov and Peeke, who both stand at 6’3”. I don’t think this unit is going to be very good in their own zone, but they will be able to add a little extra offense on the rush or in an offensive zone set.

Elvis MerzlikinsJoonas Korpisalo
Goaltenders

Tragedy struck the Columbus Blue Jackets organization with the news of Matiss Kivlenieks’ death. He was killed in a fireworks accident on July 4 in front of Merzlikins. The two were extremely close, and although Kivlenieks, 24, was considered the third string goalie, he was a very good one, and there will be questions on who will fill his role and how much will that affect Merzlikins and his play.

Korpisalo played in more games last year. Merzlikns had more quality starts. This a classic 1a/1b situation.

Where Will They Finish?

I think this team finishes last in the Metropolitan division. On paper, that’s just what they are – the worst team in their division. There is some talent here, though, and I think they will be very annoying to the teams they play each night. No one knows if Larsen will copy Tortorella or implement a new system. When things get tough for this team, I expect them to be able to bounce back and compete, but the defensive core is too worrisome. This will be a year to see if Laine is truly going to be a superstar in the league and if their young guns can get a head start on their NHL careers.

The Columbus Blue Jackets open the ’21-’22 NHL season at +10000 odds to win the Stanley Cup.

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