Columbus Blue Jackets 2012-13 Preview: From the Basement to Mediocrity?

Chase W.
October 02 2012 08:48PM

 

 

From June 23, 2011 until the present, there has been no team in the NHL willing to shake up their roster like the Columbus Blue Jackets. It all started last summer with the acquisition of Jeff Carter from Philadelphia, a marriage that will go down infamously in hockey circles both for how it began and ended so abruptly. With Carter’s eventual departure being the starting point of a fire…sale beginning just before last season’s trade deadline, Columbus will have a slew of new faces come opening night. For the Jackets, the question left to answer is whether these players can improve upon last year’s league-worst 65 points in the standings.

As we try to answer such a query, the good news for Jackets fans lies within the proverbial statement that there’s nowhere to go but up. In order to evaluate the likelihood of improvement, let us first note the key subtractions and additions from Columbus’ 2011-2012 squad.

Subtractions

Player GP (for CBJ) G-A-Pts FenClose %** Corsi/60 CorsiRelQoC O-Zone %
C/RW Jeff Carter 39 15-10-25 0.481 -1.56 1.349* 50.0*
C Antione Vermette 60 8-19-27 0.523 4.07 0.398* 29.7*
C Sammy Pahlsson 61 2-9-11 0.472 -6.69 1.050* 47.9*
LW Rick Nash 82 30-29-59 0.462 -4.8 1.132 52.9
D Mark Methot 46 1-6-7 0.421 -10.48 0.92 46.1

*Numbers combined across two teams from behindthenet.ca
**Numbers from timeonice.com

With three of Columbus’ key subtractions leaving before the conclusion of the 2011-2012 season, it is unsurprising that the team’s Fenwick Close score plummeted from .481 before the Carter trade to an abysmal .445 in the 22 games following. In addition, Rick Nash’s lack of play-driving ability is highlighted above. Though Nash faced top-tier competition with favorable zone starts, he was unable to keep the play in the offensive end a majority of the time at even strength. Many were calling for the head of GM Scott Howson immediately following the trade that sent Nash to the Rangers, but let us reserve judgment before we analyze the players that Howson acquired to replace the likes of Nash and his former teammates Vermette and Carter.

Additions

Player GP G-A-Pts FenClose % Corsi/60 CorsiRelQoC O-Zone %
D Jack Johnson 82* 12-26-38* .442** -5.2 0.78 47
LW Brandon Dubinsky 77 10-24-34 0.522 0.79 0.852 41.8
C Artem Anisimov 79 16-20-36 0.516 -3.37 0.508 52.7
C Nick Foligno 71 15-32-47 0.528 8.73 -0.14 53.7
D Adrian Aucoin 64 2-7-9 0.497 2.1 0.483 48.8

*LAK + CBJ combined.
**With CBJ only.

Touching again on Columbus’ late-season Fenwick plummet, Jack Johnson’s numbers against second-tier competition speak directly to the cause, especially considering his replacement of Carter in the lineup. However, Dubinsky and Anisimov, Howson’s main haul in the Nash trade, have shown in that they can push the play forward at even strength, a welcomed addition to any roster. Foligno’s results indicate that he can beat soft competition, and Aucoin held his own against the middle of the pack. All in all, Columbus fans should be happy with their trades and acquisitions this summer – a group of underpriced and undervalued pieces like these could end up going a long way.

Shifting to the prospect department, Howson was able to add defensemen Ryan Murray at the 2012 Entry Draft and Tim Erixon in the Rick Nash trade. Such is the case with rookie analyses, it would be very difficult to evaluate what either player could bring to the table if called upon. For now, the fact that Howson was able to add important chips for the future stands as another positive for the Jackets.

Now that we’ve looked at the turnover of skaters on the Jackets’ roster, where will these players fit in, and should we expect the same kind of late-season Fenwick from Columbus? Thanks to Eric T., there are bubble charts aplenty to visualize last year’s Jackets player usage. Here, zone starts are indicated on the x-axis while a player’s CorsiRelQoC is measured on the y-axis. The size of each bubble is the player’s raw Corsi score.

In order to avoid confusion, Jeff Carter is indicated by #77 since he and Johnson both wore #7 last season.

CBJ Forward usage

The chart drives home many of the factors set out above; Absent Carter, Vermette, and Pahlsson, Columbus will call upon players like Dubinsky and Anisimov to eat the tough-minute gap left in their void. Though Columbus’ top-end scoring may suffer, unlike Nash, Dubinsky and Anisimov will push the play forward at even strength.

CBJ Defense Usage

This is probably going to be the largest hole for Columbus; Only Tyutin and Nikitin came out with positive Corsi last season, amidst tough zone and competition assignments no less. The addition of Aucoin should help bridge the gap somewhat, but Wisniewski and Johnson can’t be trusted to carry the play at even strength. On a side note, we’re lucky red pixels don’t cost extra.

CBJ Team Usage

This final chart merely combines the first two into one. In sum, replacing a few of the red bubbles in the two quadrants above the x-axis with players capable of emerging in the blue was an offseason victory for Columbus. However, the facts that one was replaced by Jack Johnson and a slew of negative shot-differential players remain will again make it tough for Columbus to break-even in shots this season.

In Net

Moving away from Columbus’ skaters, the largest point of emphasis to be made will lie between the pipes. The Blue Jackets acquired Sergei Bobrovsky from Philadelphia at the draft, giving them a solid option that, most importantly, isn’t Steve Mason. The following charts illustrate:

CBJ 2011-2012 SV%

Team Shots Against Goals Against Save %
CBJ Total 2537 257 0.899

Goaltender 2012 ES SA 2012 ES SV% Career ES SA Career ES SV% Career Tot SA Career Tot SV%
Steve Mason 1,141 0.911 4,936 0.914 6,207 0.904
Sergei Bobrovsky 607 0.916 1,845 0.921 2,296 0.909

At first glance, replacing a career .904 goaltender with one sitting at .909 may not rest easy, but Bobrovsky’s career rate would have saved the Jackets 26 goals per 82 games last season, or roughly 15 (about three wins) should he see approximately 45 games of action. What is more, Bobrovsky’s career ESS% is just about league-average, indicating that he has been unlucky in special teams situations and may be better than his overall SV% indicates. So long as Mason is relegated to the pine, giving Bobrovsky the lion’s share of the work should help improve a goal differential with nowhere to go but up.

Conclusion

Despite some of the solid building blocks Howson was able to acquire this offseason, a lackluster defense and a forward group lacking top-end scoring will struggle to meaningfully improve upon last season’s results. Though we shouldn’t see Columbus in the neighborhood of 45% Fenwick close, it doesn’t appear as if they’ll be a team that breaks 50% without a few elite players. Barring a Wild-like run of percentages, a 12th-15th place finish out West is a safe prediction for the upcoming season.

Then again, with what looks to be a shortened schedule on the horizon, anything is possible.

Previously in this Series

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Chase is a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers and also contributes to Driving Play, the blog with three first lines. You can find many of his hockey-related tweets by following @DrivingPlay. FACT: Simon Gagne is the greatest hockey player of all time.
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#1 Kent Wilson
October 02 2012, 08:19PM
Trash it!
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I think this is the year Derrick Brassard finally breaks out........

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#2 Shaun
October 03 2012, 04:15PM
Trash it!
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I think Dubinsky is often underrated. As a top-liner, he should prove to be quite a force. He won't make up for the absence of Nash, but his physicality and proven nose for the net should offset the loss somewhat. Anisimov is the real x-factor here. He's got a lot of potential.

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#4 Viqsi
October 05 2012, 02:34PM
Trash it!
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trashes
+1
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props

I'd be interested in seeing more detailed analysis of how Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski did in games when they were paired together towards the end of the year (basically every game except seven games when Wisniewski was injured). I did a cursory analysis (grabbing everything from the media notes), and they were a combined +13 scoring 15 points in 14 games, playing oodles of minutes 'cause Tyutin was injured (JMFJ: 4-5-9, +6, 43 shots, 27:43 ATOI; Wiz: 2-4-6, +7, 35 shots, 25:58 ATOI). Not much of a sample size to go by... but WOW.

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