SvoNotes is a weekly column by team reporter Jeff Svoboda.
I could sit here and come up with a fancy explanation why I decided to write 33 thoughts about the recently concluded Blue Jackets season.
An homage to some of the great 33s in team history, from Petteri Nummelin to Markus Hannikainen? (Seems like the Finns like to go this direction.) Perhaps a low-key reference to the rule of three, something every good writer follows every now and again?

OK, not really. Elliotte Friedman's 32 Thoughts is one of the most iconic pieces of writing in hockey journalism, and with the season coming to an end, I had a lot of thoughts. One more than 32, apparently, plus I didn't to totally want to steal his bit.
Be that as it may, with the Blue Jackets entering one of the most intriguing offseasons in team history -- and coming off one of the most frustrating in-seasons -- it seemed like a good time to empty out the brain and take stock of where things are and where they might be going.
There will be a lot to talk about in the coming weeks and months, but in my mind, here's what I'll remember and what I believe about the 2022-23 season.
1. Here we are, picking up the pieces of the second-worst season in Blue Jackets history by points percentage. Where do I begin? I'll start here: I had a bad feeling before the season began. The main reason? It seemed like so many things went right during the Blue Jackets' 2021-22 season, as the club played beyond expectations in the first year of its "reset" and showed a fighting spirit as it posted the most comeback wins in team history.
2. So why have such negative vibes, especially after the addition of Johnny Gaudreau to the mix? My time in sports has led me to learn that while teams and players should logically progress in straight lines, that rarely happens. It's what led to
this story after last season
, in which I asked Brad Larsen about some of the potholes that were sure to come. "It's generally a bumpy road. It is, and you can't fast-track it," he said at the time. Larsen, in essence, knew some headwinds were coming. This year would be about how the Blue Jackets dealt with them.
3. Now here, we are, as the Blue Jackets seemingly took a step back (though I will say sometimes you have to do that before taking two steps forward), though iI's hard to judge a team that blew past the franchise record for injuries, with 563 man-games lost on the campaign. Throughout the season, a young roster was thrust into situations it simply wasn't ready for, especially when playing against veteran teams like Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Boston, whose cores have been together for going on a decade. Once such names as Jake Voracek and Zach Werenski were lost for the year, the Blue Jackets were bringing a knife to a gunfight on a lot of nights.
4. Consider these stats about the number of injuries the Blue Jackets suffered. Not only did the team have 55 more man-games lost to injury than any previous CBJ squad, Columbus didn't have a skater play all the games in an 82-game season for the first time since 2005-06. (Consider: Dallas had eight players skate in all 82.) The 47 skaters and six goaltenders used were both franchise records. Eleven players made NHL debuts and 19 made their CBJ debuts. The leading scorer from last year was limited to 11 games, the leading defenseman to 13, and the leading goalie to 30. There were multiple times during the season the Blue Jackets were dressing double digits in players who had skated in less than 100 NHL games. It was real.
5. These are all reasons the Blue Jackets could have kept Larsen at the helm for another season, but the organization and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen made a decisive action Saturday with the announcement to relieve the head coach of his duties, less than 12 hours after the conclusion of the season.
Kekalainen's stated reason?
"We came to the conclusion that this was absolutely a necessary change that we needed to make. That's why we are here today."
6. When the Blue Jackets were asked about their former head coach during Saturday's exit day interviews, to a man, the players stressed what a great person Larsen is. I believe that was a universally held belief in the room, and Larsen helped numerous Blue Jackets players through difficult off-ice scenarios, starting just a few short weeks into his tenure when he was there for Manny Legace and Elvis Merzlikins after the tragic passing of Matiss Kivlenieks. Let us not forget what Larsen gave to the organization over a 13-year tenure.
7. So, who's next? I suspect Kekalainen and crew have some ideas about what they are looking for, but the answer won't be known until interviews are through. My suspicion is the Blue Jackets will prioritize experience this time around. They knew all they could about Larsen and believed he could grow into the job, but it's hard to know all that goes into being an NHL head coach until you've done it. My guess -- right now is not the time for the Blue Jackets to find out if someone has the chops for the role on the job; it's time for someone with experience to come in.
8. When you look back at Saturday's interviews, among the players, there were a few phrases that kept popping up -- "culture," "little things," and "look in the mirror." All things you'll hear when a team is coming off a tough season, to be sure, but also an acknowledgment nearly to a man the Blue Jackets need to be better.
9. In particular, you heard Werenski and Sean Kuraly speak quite passionately about what the Blue Jackets need to do to get this thing back on the right track. They were both offered the excuses about man-games lost, but neither wanted to go down that road, speaking instead about what the players could have done to keep things moving the right direction. I do expect a lot of offseason soul searching from team leaders about how to keep this type of season from happening again.
10. So how do the Blue Jackets dig out of this? One thing I've said a few times since the trade deadline -- the Blue Jackets need to identify their true window for contention. Kekalainen spoke clearly Saturday about how quickly he wants to turn this thing around, but he also mentioned how some of the team's best defensive prospects are still years away from reaching their potential. As good as such forwards as Kirill Marchenko, Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger project to be - more on them later - they'll all be better three to four years from now than one year from now.
11. All of this is to say a window for true Stanley Cup contention is reasonably still a few years down the road, but in the meantime, the Blue Jackets still have plenty of reasons to feel like they can be competitive for the postseason quite quickly.
As I wrote Monday
, there is a pretty strong veteran core, and the youngsters are getting better by the day. Best case scenario is you make some changes next season -- and I do believe a fair amount are coming based on evaluations made the past two seasons -- and start moving up the ranks as quickly as possible.
12. Look at Colorado as a potential guide to follow. The Avs bottomed out in 2016-17 despite a preponderance of young talent, winning just 22 games and placing last in the NHL. The squad was a playoff team a year later, won a round a year after that and hoisted the Cup in 2022. OK, that's an unusually fast turnaround, but it goes to show you what a young, talented team can do.
13. Reality is probably a little more like the paths followed by fellow Eastern Conference teams like New Jersey, Buffalo and Ottawa. As those teams have amassed talented young rosters, they've also probably taken a year or two longer to make the leap than they had hoped. But all took major steps forward this year, and it's not hard to imagine each of them being contenders for years going forward. Not all rebuilds work, but generally, if you amass good young players and let them grow, you're on the right track. I think the Blue Jackets are on the right track.
14. The biggest factor in all of this from a timing perspective, to be honest, might be how the ping-pong balls fall May 8. It's up to the hockey gods now, but all indications are earning the No. 1 overall pick would land Connor Bedard, who seems cut from the same kind of cloth as the players to step in and make an immediate impact (think Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews) in recent years. That's how you speed up a timeline.
15. Should the Blue Jackets not finish first in the lottery -- and there's only a 13.5-percent chance of that -- there are still some very good pieces in the top four, but history shows it takes a truly generational player to make an immediate impact. Not trying to take anything away from the Adam Fantillis and Leo Carlssons of the world, fellow top-rated draft picks who could be NHL players very soon after the June draft, but the common consensus in hockey circles is Bedard is the most NHL-ready of the group.
16. For those who are unfamiliar, we'll have more on the lottery going forward, but that May 8 event will be watched with a lot of anticipation by CBJ fans. Columbus is guaranteed a top-four selection, with a 13.5-percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick, a 14.1-percent chance of staying at No. 2, a 30.7-percent chance at falling to third, and a 41.7-percent chance of dropping to four. Bedard is thought by many to be one of the most talented players in years to enter, as he's coming off a 71-goal, 143-point season with Regina of the WHL plus a dominating performance with Team Canada at the World Juniors. The likely top five after that includes Fantilli, who dominated at the University of Michigan; Carlsson, a Swedish forward who shined in his home country this year; talented Russian winger Matvei Michkov; and U.S. national team center Will Smith.
17. By the way, I've seen plenty of consternation about the Blue Jackets' victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday night -- which moved the Jackets out of the best odds for the upcoming draft lottery -- but what can you do? Two players making their NHL debuts -- Stanislav Svozil and Mikael Pyyhtia -- set up a power-play goal to tie the game in the dying minutes. Are you supposed to tell those guys to lay off the gas pedal? "Players will never tank," Kekalainen said. "Players have professional pride. They go on the ice to win the game, to do their best. Their careers are on the line, their jobs are on the line."
18. I wanted to make sure I talked about some notable performances this year, and let's start with Gaudreau. He said Saturday he wants to be better next year, and I think he will be. He was getting used to new teammates and a new system this year, he rarely had consistent linemates because of the injuries, and he also had a ton of changes off the ice as well with the birth of his daughter, Noa. Despite all that, he posted 74 points to place fifth in team history. Seeing him up close, you realize just the kind of special player Gaudreau is.
19. Am I crazy or could Johnson be a very similar player as Gaudreau down the road? Both have the ability to make those around them better, and both can manipulate the speed of the game. Gaudreau right now is probably better on the rush, while Johnson might be a little more outrageously creative, but they're both the kinds of players that in my mind will settle in right around point-per-game skaters with the occasional season with gaudy numbers based on who they're playing with and how things go.
20. Johnson finished with a 16-24-40 line, good for fifth among NHL rookies and third all-time among CBJ rookies in points, and he said after the season he expected his numbers to be even better. That will come out as his career goes in, likely starting next season. It was plainly obvious how much better at the end of the season he was than at the beginning, and it seemed like he got quite used to the speed of the game as time went on. It's pretty exciting to think about where this goes for him.
21. The same could be said of Marchenko, whose 21 goals set a new CBJ rookie record and placed third among NHL first-year players this season. What I like about his game is just how direct it is; he doesn't overthink things. It's get the puck to the net and see what happens, and honestly, a fair number of young players could learn something from that. I just don't see how he's not a consistent 30-goal scorer in this league because of his instincts, his ability to win puck battles and his shot.
22. And then there's all the off-the-ice things Marchenko brings to the table. We've written about it a few times during the season, but no one stays on the ice longer than Marchenko after practice, and it seems like no one takes more optional skates than him. He puts a lot of effort into getting better, much of it on the ice with Johnson. Add in his effervescent personality and this guy could be a fan favorite in this town for a long, long while.
23. What's more likely: 30 goals for Marchenko next year or 40 assists for Johnson? Both have to be on the table.
24. Larsen mentioned a lot during the season that some players put themselves on the map by stepping up during the season of adversity, and at the top of the list to me were defensemen Tim Berni and Marcus Bjork. Who had the two playing 59 and 33 games, respectively, this season? In a season where so much went wrong, it's good to recognize a few players who took advantage of their opportunities and showed their skills at the NHL level.
25. It took a while, but you can put Liam Foudy in that boat as well. He went 62 games into his NHL career without a goal, finally got one in mid-February, then added six more down the stretch. It's easy to forget that a) he was a highly regarded prospect back in 2020, one who was tearing up the OHL and looked the part of an NHL player when he debuted that season, and b) how little hockey he's played since then thanks to injuries and the pandemic. Foudy just turned 23, so there's probably more in there as well. I think he's going to be a solid player in this league.
26. Sticking with talk about young talent, it seems like there were three prospects in the CBJ organization who stood out most with their play throughout the season -- winger Jordan Dumais and defensemen Svozil and David Jiricek.
27. Dumais went step for step with Bedard when it came to the CHL scoring title, eventually finishing with 140 points (54 goals, 86 assists) with Halifax of the QMJHL. Listed at 5-8, Dumais isn't the biggest player in the world, and he'll have to improve his skating. But at age 19, he can still do so, and you can't teach the creativity and finishing skills he has. Dumais was a third-round pick in the 2022 draft, but it seems like he convinced most prospects experts that he can be an NHL player and difference maker this year. He'll be fun to watch, even if he has to go to back to Halifax next year because of the CHL/NHL agreement.
28. Svozil, meanwhile, also posted ridiculous stats at the Canadian junior level, notching an 11-67-78 line in 56 games with Regina of the WHL while playing with Bedard. He was dominant on the power play, as well, posting 36 assists to place second in the league in that stat. Even more impressive was his two-way play at the World Juniors while helping Czechia to a silver medal, its first medal of any kind at the tournament since 2005. Svozil has work to do defensively but he has verve and poise most blueliners don't have in the offensive zone. The 2021 third-rounder could be an impact player as he gains pro experience, likely in Cleveland next year.
29. Then there's Jiricek, who put together one of the most impressive seasons for a rookie blueliner in the AHL in recent years. The No. 6 overall selection in this past summer's draft would likely go higher if that was redone today, as Jiricek had 6-32-38 in 55 AHL games while skating at age 19, a pretty ridiculous showing given his age and the competition. His size and aggressiveness will make him stand out in the defensive zone; his skill and vision will make him a plus player offensively as well. Jiricek projects as a Blue Jacket sooner rather than later.
30. While we're talking about young players, don't forget about Yegor Chinakhov and Alexandre Texier. Chinakhov was off to a good start to the season before suffering a freak injury; it wouldn't be a huge surprise to me to see him take everything he's learned the past two years and make a big jump forward next season. As for Texier, Kekalainen announced yesterday the young forward will return after a season in Europe, and he was in the midst of a breakout season last year before heading home. Those are two underrated pieces who can add big dividends next season.
31. On the subject of another young player, I think this year's tough season makes Sillinger's 16-goal rookie season at age 18 in 2021-22 even more impressive. It's an unforgiving league for youngsters, and Sillinger got off to a tough start and never could find his scoring touch this time around. The good news is he's still just 19, and I have a hunch this adversity will serve him well in his career.
32. The biggest question facing the Blue Jackets, though, might be the goaltending position. There's no question the CBJ netminders will have to bounce back next season, and the good news is that's very much on the table; we saw Joonas Korpisalo go through the worst season of his career in 2021-22, then follow it with likely his best. We know there's plenty of talent inside of both Merzlikins and Daniil Tarasov, but injuries and inconsistencies have marked the past two seasons for both. They face crucial seasons next year, and the Blue Jackets will also have a key hire to make in replacing Legace. The good news? Merzlikins hasn't shied from expressing he knows the team needs better, and he pledged to do whatever it takes this offseason to be ready. I'm not betting against him.
33. Lastly, a final thanks to everyone out there who read my work this season, and honestly thanks if you read this piece this far. One of the best things about having this opportunity is interacting with Blue Jackets fans, and the 5th Line proves its mettle time and time again with some of the best support in the NHL. One day, I know this fanbase and city will be rewarded for its unflagging dedication to getting behind the Blue Jackets.

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