Since the turn of the century, when the Blue Jackets first came to exist, they'd failed in 15 mostly futile seasons to sniff the top of the NHL food chain.
This 2016-17 campaign has been anentirely different animal.
A characteristicallythorough 4-1 victory over the Devils on Sunday put Columbus over the 100-point plateau for the first time in franchise history, which has included but two playoff berths. Now it includes a third, officially, and the win moved the Blue Jacketsinto a tie with the Capitals for best record in the NHL at the close of business hours.
"It's a great feeling, and it's well-deserved" forward Matt Calvert said, via the Columbus Dispatch. "Guys have worked hard for this, but we're just getting started.
"(Coach John Tortorella) said it at the end of the game: It's just start of things for us, the start of our new road. We have to finish off the regular season hard and get ready for the playoffs."
Calvert, who in his seventh season is Columbus' longest-tenured player,knows all too well how it feels to dwell in the NHL's basement. The franchise's last playoff run was in 2013 — when they lost in the first-round loss to the Penguins — and the only one before that was 2009.
In a year's time, the Blue Jackets transformed from last place, owners of the third overall draft pick, to thetop of the league.
Here are three reasons why:
Sergei Bobrovsky's resurgence
Columbus' turnaround starts and ends withthe 2013 Vezina Trophy recipient, who's again playing like a front-runner for the award this year. Bobrovsky's.933 save percentage and 39wins are tops in the league (among goalies with at least 30 starts), and he's second in goals-against average (2.06). That's a far cry from his slash line of career worsts — 15-19/.908/2.75 — during an injury riddled season in 2015-16.
A "hockey trade"
On Jan. 16, 2016, the Blue Jackets and Predators completed a rareone-for-one swap:Ryan Johansen, a talented but soured pivot, to Nashville in exchange for Seth Jones, once touted as the next great American defenseman. It's been a win-win for all involved, especially Jones, who's fulfilling his potential and anchoringColumbus' top pairing, driving possession with upstart rookie Zach Werenski.
Entering Sunday, the Blue Jackets allowed 163 goals against, second-fewest in the NHL,and boasted a plus-61 goal differential, a franchise high. In fact, only twice in their history have the Jackets finished in the green in that category. Bobrovsky and Jones are the sole proprietors.
Development, a case study
Speaking of Werenski, a second season in college worked wonders for the standoutformer Michigan rear guard. With a robust 46 points and counting, he'sbecome the model for developing a defenseman at the NCAA level.
Columbus has seen its patience pay off with Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg, too, with both enjoying career production.Atkinson, 27, is tied for fourth in the NHL with 33 goals, tied for fifth-most in franchise history. Wennberg, 22, is having a breakout sophomore season with 54 points in 70 games, including 42 assists, centering Columbus' top line.