Two points. That’s all that separated the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference playoff race. And then the Blue Jackets swept the Tampa Bay Lightning to advance to the second round, something that nobody expected.
The Lightning, and their 62 regular season wins, weren’t any ordinary top seed. But the Blue Jackets weren’t any ordinary eighth seed, either. After all, even Montreal’s 96 points tied the record for most successful non-playoff season in NHL history.
Going for it can be a sound strategy
Every team plays the long game, especially when they are on the playoff bubble. Nobody wants to be the team that goes all-in only to fail miserably. Columbus took an unbelievable risk by not only trading all their chips for Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, but failing to add replacement draft picks by holding on to the expiring contracts of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.
In the end, Columbus was vindicated, and what they proved is that believing in your roster is the correct move in certain circumstances. Now, I’m not saying that Montreal should have gone for it this season. But after this draft, with 20 players entering the organization over the last two years and a core that is taking shape at the NHL level, the time is coming to start to make moves. Especially after two years with a huge amount of cap space.
Getting in and seeing what happens isn’t just a cliché
When the Canadiens were close to winning division championships, Marc Bergevin was fond of saying that the first goal is to make the playoffs, with little emphasis placed on positioning. Columbus showed why that can be all that matters. Sure, you’d love to have a favourable matchup and home-ice advantage, but Columbus (and Colorado) showed why that isn’t mandatory.
If you trust your team, you don’t need a high seed. Sometimes all you need is to get in the playoffs.
It’s a young player’s game
Just a few months ago, Alexandre Texier was playing with Joni Ikonen in Finland for KalPa. Now, he’s a significant part of the Blue Jackets’ playoff run. The 19-year-old played seven AHL games and two regular-season NHL games before playing all four playoff contests for Columbus.
Texier, Cale Makar, Dante Fabbro, and to a lesser extent, Ryan Poehling’s NHL debut showed that young players are more and more able to jump right into the NHL and contribute. It’s why Montreal is emphasizing young players and the draft to stockpile players. And why Columbus felt like they had the leeway to give up draft picks; they have a pipeline already in place.
Montreal had a disappointing end to a surprising season, and now they are left to pick up the pieces and build on it for next year. The team ahead of them in the standings took their four playoff games and gave them a blueprint of what it will take to get to the next level: calculated aggression, a ticket to the dance, and an influx of youth.