Bob Hunter commentary: No matter how you add it up, Jackets all but eliminated

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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When the NHL season reaches the stretch run, there are two kinds of “eliminated” that teams on the wrong side of the playoff line face: mathematically eliminated and realistically eliminated.

Even after last night’s devastating 3-0 loss to Minnesota, the Blue Jackets obviously aren’t mathematically eliminated. With 39 points, they are only four points behind eighth-place Detroit in the Western Conference standings.

But with nine games left in the season, numbers have started taunting the Blue Jackets like an obnoxious teenager, and that other unspeakable kind of “eliminated” is now in play.

Sportsclubstats.com, which compiles math on the playoff chances of all professional teams, listed the Jackets’ chances of making the playoffs at only 3.3 percent after last night’s loss, a drop of 5.4 percent based on that loss to the Wild. Given the web site’s percentage breakdown of the team’s playoff chances given every conceivable record the Jackets could compile in those last nine games, it strikes me that this isn’t based on a bad experience one of the web designers had at Columbus pizza shop.

Phoenix, Dallas and Edmonton are between the Jackets and eighth place. The Stars and the Oilers have the same number of points as Columbus, but they have the edge in tiebreakers. And just about everybody has a schedule advantage: Of the nine games the Jackets have remaining, six are on the road.

So it didn’t take a math major to figure out that the Blue Jackets were climbing a steep mountain even before the loss to the Wild. But no one in the team’s locker room denied that this one was a crusher.

“It’s a blow,” coach Todd Richards said, “not taking advantage of playing at home. Ten (now nine) games to go and we know what’s ahead of us. The players have talked, we’ve talked about the importance of these home games.”

But talk is cheap when the math is so brutal. Our friends at sportsclubstats.com say that if the Jackets go 8-1, they still have an 87.1 percent chance of making the playoffs. But get this: Even if they go 7-2 — that means winning all three remaining home games and going 4-2 on the road — their chances of making the playoffs are only 36.4 percent.

Even if those guys fudged their numbers a little over some deep-seated hatred of the Blue Jackets — and seriously, who can work up a good hate for a team that has made the playoffs only once in its 12-season existence? — it probably isn’t going to make anybody around here feel better to know that a 7-2 record really gives Columbus a 40- or 45-percent chance of making it.

Marian Gaborik came to the Jackets from the Rangers three games ago and he tried hard to put a spin on this. But frankly, he is better at scoring goals.

“We have to stay positive,” Gaborik said. “It really was a game that we should have had, but we just have to regroup and move forward.”

No one would deny that, but defenseman Jack Johnson admitted the team “felt like tonight was a must-win game,” which takes us back to that other unspeakable kind of “eliminated.” He wasn’t giving up, obviously, but he left little doubt that the situation is pretty grim.

“We’ve only got three home games left for the rest of the year, and we know we have to win those three and we have to be exceptional on the road,” he said. “It’s a tough spot to be in. We’re trying to climb over teams and it’s tough at the end of the year because you get a lot of three-point games going.”

He was even more direct when he was asked about the situation that the Jackets face in a different way.

“We have to win the rest of our games,” he said.

He might be right. If the Jackets go 9-0, sportsclubstats.com says that they have a 99.7 percent chance of making the playoffs.

But any Jackets fan up to his eyeballs in past misery would immediately recognize that for what it is: less than 100 percent.

Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.

bhunter@dispatch.com

@dailyhunter

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