Columbus Blue Jackets, 2009-10
Goals For: 216 25th
Goals Against: 259 26th
GVT: -43 28th
Points: 79 26th
VUKOTA Projection for 2010-11
Goals For: 223 25th
Goals Against: 239 23rd
GVT: -16 27th
Points: 85 27th
Columbus started out on fire, far outstripping everyones projections, including VUKOTAs. Since then, the Blue Jackets have cooled off a bit but are still playing relatively playing well at 15-11-1. And theyll need to be playing well, as everyone knows that it will take a full 82 game effort to outlast the competition in the always deep Western Conference.
The roster didnt see much turnover, with exiled Oilers captain Ethan Moreau the only free agent addition of note. Once again, the rough and tumble Blue Jackets have more heavy hitters than rapid fire shooters in their balanced and deep lineup. Faceoffs are a particular strength, as in Antoine Vermette, Sammy Pahlsson and R.J. Umberger, Columbus had a trio of forwards posting 52.8% or more over 500-plus faceoffs in 2009-10.
Blue Jackets top forwards, by 2009-10 stats
Shots/60: Rick Nash 9.6, Andrew Murray 9.2, Ethan Moreau 7.8*
Hits/60: Mike Blunden 15.4, Jared Boll 15.1, Derek Dorsett 11.0
Blocked shots/60: Derek Dorsett 2.6, Ethan Moreau 2.3*, R.J. Umberger 2.3
Takeaways/giveaway: Jared Boll 5.0, Derek Dorsett 2.5, Samuel Pahlsson 2.0
Net penalties/60: Jared Boll +1.0, Rick Nash +0.7, Andrew Murray +0.3
Faceoffs: Antoine Vermette 54.2%, Samuel Pahlsson 52.9%
Blue Jackets top defensemen, by 2009-10 stats
Shots/60: Kris Russell 5.0, Anton Stralman 4.9, Fedor Tyutin 4.8
Hits/60: Marc Methot 7.7, Mike Commodore 7.1, Jan Hejda 5.2
Blocked shots/60: Jan Hejda 6.2, Mike Commodore 4.8, Kris Russell 4.0
Takeaways/giveaway: Marc Methot 1.1, Kris Russell 0.8, Fedor Tyutin 0.8
Net penalties/60: Kris Russell +0.1, Anton Stralman -0.2, Fedor Tyutin -0.3
Minimum 40 games played
Blue Jackets goaltenders, 2009-10 stats
No one expected 20-year-old Steve Mason to reach the heights he did in his rookie year: 33-20-7, .916 save percentage and 10 shutouts, en route to the Calder Trophy. Though no one expected him to sink as low as he did in his sophomore season either: 20-26-9 with a .901 save percentage. So where does Mason stand this season? Not shockingly, somewhere in between: 8-8-1 with a .906 save percentage. This seasons shock, though, is Mathieu Garons play, 7-2-0, a .928 save percentage and 3 shutoutsas the backup sports a modest career .905 save percentage. Regression, here we come!
Save percentage .901
Even strength save percentage: .911
Power play save percentage: .861
Shorthanded save percentage: .905
Save percentage: .903
Even strength save percentage: .908
Power play save percentage: .891
Shorthanded save percentage: .852
Out of the Blue Jackets shooters with much of any track record, you have the good (Nash), the not so bad (Huselius) and the ugly (Vermette). So ideallyto go with Nashcoach Arniel would trot out the likes of Brassard, Filatov and Voracek in hopes of seeing if Columbus could improve upon their known options. In goal, while Steve Mason has been a smidge below average in the shootout, backup Mathieu Garons career numbers have been outstanding. Net-net, the Jackets are an average-at-best group for the skills competition.
Best options, shooters with 10 or more career attempts
Rick Nash: 38.3% (18 for 47)
Kristian Huselius: 34.4% (11 for 32)
Antoine Vermette: 19.2% (5 for 26)
Best options, shooters with a limited track record
Fedor Tyutin: 42.9% (3 for 7)
Jakub Voracek: 33.3% (3 for 9)
Nikita Filatov: 33.3% (1 for 3)
Derick Brassard: 33.3% (1 for 3)
Steve Mason: .656 career (42 for 64), .571 in 2009-10
Mathieu Garon: .756 career (58 for 90), .556 in 2009-10
THE BIG QUESTIONS FACING THE BLUE JACKETS
Big Question #1: Whats gotten into the Blue Jackets? Are they for real?
Rick Nash: Weve had all 20 guys going. A full team effort is the reason were winning
Good teams have four lines that score all of time. Thats what we had, and thats another big reason for our success.
VUKOTA says: The Blue Jackets were expected to be below average at both goal scoring (25th) and goal prevention (23rd) in 2010-11.
Timo says: Thus far, Columbus has been a dead-average even strength team who has struggled on special teams: 10.3% power play (29th in NHL) and 80.0% penalty kill (23rd in NHL).
Answer: The Blue Jackets are a bit fortunate to have a 15-11-1 record, but are a legit playoff contender. Then again, isnt just about everyone in the West?
Big Question #2: Will Nikita Filatov ever become an impact player?
Nikita Filatov (on his solid play, as of Nov. 24): Its pretty hard to say. Theres two sides to that because I also havent scored yet. But a good thing in comparing with other years is that Im playing and that Im playing a lot. Also a good thing is even though Im not scoringnot doing my main jobI was still playing 13 or 14 minutes most of the games on the second line. So it probably means that the coach is happy with the way Im playing. Also a good thing is that I think that Ive improved my defensive game. The last games, Im making some good plays and getting some points. So Im really glad about that. But it can be way better.
Hockey Prospectus 2010-11 says: Filatov was our #1 NHL Prospect, outranking the likes of Taylor Hall, Alex Pietrangelo, Tyler Seguin and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson.
Timo says: The kid was playing well and was putting up points in a solid stretch before more off-ice issues got him into Arniels doghouse on November 24th (coincidentally, the start of a 2-5-1 stretch for Columbus that has not seen them get a regulation win). Filatov strikes me as a bright, articulate, likeable, free spirit whose creative nature would best prosper from more added responsibility than hard-nosed discipline. Try to pigeon-hole him in a neat little box and youre bound to ruin him.
Answer: Hes got the tools, but in the wrong situation, it could be a short NHL career.
Big Question #3: Will the real Steve Mason please stand up?
Head coach Scott Arniel (on the success of both goalies): You know what? Its an easy choice to pick either one to throw in the net. Both have been outstanding for us and certainly a big reason why were where we are right now. Were not a team that just sits back and relies on our goaltending
Both of those guys give our team confidence. Our team loves to play in front of those guys. Those two are great friends, they really respect each other and really pull for each other. They give us a chance to win every night.
VUKOTA says: Steve Mason 46 GP, .907 save percentage, 3.0 GVT. Mathieu Garon 23 GP, .904 save percentage, 0.1 GVT.
Timo says: Maybe the explanation is as simple as Mason playing over his head in his rookie campaign. Or maybe it was the extreme workload of 61 games and 1658 shotswhen he wasnt sidelined with mononucleosisthat burnt him out in his age-20 season. Lets hope he pulls a Carey Price season in 2011-12 or 2012-13 and the story has a happy ending.
Answer: Right now, youd have to say that the 2010-11 Steve Mason of the .906 save percentage is the real Steve Mason. Not necessarily the foundation you build your franchise on.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.