Blue Jackets odds preview: Columbus still a long shot in NHL Eastern Conference

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Columbus Blue Jackets' Johnny Gaudreau, right, looks for an open pass against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Home Field Sports StaffAfter a busy and successful offseason, the Columbus Blue Jackets are no longer going to be an afterthought in the Metropolitan Division. The Blue Jackets missed the playoffs for the second straight year in the 2021-22 season, finishing sixth in the division with a 37-38-7 record.

The 81 points and .500 record was a clear improvement over the previous season but was still 19 points behind the Washington Capitals for a playoff spot.

Columbus wanted to make a splash during free agency and managed to create a tidal wave when it signed forward Johnny Gaudreau to a seven-year, $68.25 million contract in July. Gaudreau, 29, scored a career-high 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists) last season with the Calgary Flames. The point total is the fourth-highest by an American-born player in NHL history.

The Blue Jackets also signed forward Patrik Laine to a four-year, $34.8 million extension. Laine missed two months of the 2021-22 with an oblique injury, but he averaged a point a game when he was healthy, finishing with 26 goals and 30 assists in 56 games. With Gaudreau and Laine on the wings and either Boone Jenner or Jack Roslovic at center, Columbus has a top line that can compete with anyone in the NHL.

Columbus also had to address its defense in the offseason and signed well-traveled veteran Erik Gudbranson to a four-year deal worth $16 million. Gudbranson gives the Blue Jackets size and another right-handed shot defenseman besides Adam Boqvist.

The Blue Jackets also signed undrafted defenseman Nick Blankenburg, also right-handed, from the University of Michigan to add depth.

While the moves should make Columbus more competitive, the oddsmakers don’t give the Blue Jackets much of a shot to win the Metropolitan Division with the second-longest opening odds at +4000 at Caesars Sportsbook. The top three teams in the Division remain the Carolina Hurricanes (+195 to win the division), New York Rangers (+325) and Pittsburgh Penguins (+325).

In fact, the Blue Jackets are expected to only marginally improve on last season’s point total, with an over/under of 82.5 points this season.

The Blue Jackets actually have better opening odds (+3500) to win the Eastern Conference than they do to win the division. The Toronto Maple Leafs (+425), Florida Panthers (+450), Hurricanes (+500), Tampa Bay Lightning (+600) and New York Rangers (+900) are the favorites in the conference.

Columbus’ odds place it with several teams expected to compete for one of the two wild card spots in the playoffs like the Detroit Red Wings (+2500), Ottawa Senators (+2500) and New Jersey Devils (+3500). The Blue Jackets have +475 odds to make the playoffs at Caesars, with minuscule -700 odds to miss the postseason.

Among individual awards, Gaudreau has put himself in the Hart Trophy race after his 115-point season last year. The fact that Gaudreau wasn’t among the three finalists despite having the second-most points in the NHL and the number one plus/minus (+64) was a little surprising.

Gaudreau has opening odds of +3000 to win the Hart Trophy in 2022-23, which puts him at the ninth-best odds along with Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby, Florida Panthers forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Sasha Barkov and Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid is the betting favorite to win his third Hart Trophy at +250. Last year’s winner, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews is second at +400. Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (+1000), Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (+1000), Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov (+1200), Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (+1300), Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov (+2000) and New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin (+2000) round the rest of the favorites.

Columbus does have a strong crop of promising young talent, so it’s no surprise that forward Kent Johnson, the Blue Jackets’ first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft (fifth overall) is among the favorites to take home the Calder Trophy for top rookie.

Johnson, who turned pro after his second year at Michigan and played nine games with the Blue Jackets last season, has the fourth-best opening odds at +1200. Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers (+400) is the favorite. Anaheim Ducks center Mason McTavish (+500) and Buffalo defenseman Owen Power (+550) are the only other players with better odds than Johnson.

As for other individual awards, Zach Werenski is a +7500 long shot to win the Norris Trophy for best defenseman, and Elvis Merzlikins is a +10000 long shot to win the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender.

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