Last season the Columbus Blue Jackets finally, finally made the playoffs. Now winning a game in the postseason … that’s still on the to-do list. But this organization is blessed with a lot of young talent and the future continues to look promising.
Will the Blue Jackets continue to move towards fulfilling their potential, or will this season be a step back and/or sideways?
Who’s new: C Sami Pahlsson, G Mathieu Garon
Who’s gone: C Michael Peca, D Ole-Kristin Tollefsen, D Christian Backman, RW Jason Williams, C Manny Malholtra
A (lightly researched) guess at the lineup:
Kristian Huselius-Derick Brassard-Rick Nash
R.J. Umberger-Antoine Vermette-Jakub Voracek
Raffi Torres-Sami Pahlsson-Fredrik Modin
Jason Chimera/Derek Dorsett-Michael Blunden/Andrew Murray-Nikita Filatov/Jared Boll
Fedor Tyutin-Rostislav Klesla
Mike Commodore-Jan Hejda
Kris Russell-Marc Mehot
Reasons for hope: Nash (new long-term contract), Brassard (new long-term contract), Vermette (new long-term contract), Voracek, Umberger and Filatov — that’s as deep and talented of a young forward corps as there is, though we’re not sure how many of them are going to reach elite status yet. Except for Nash, of course. He’s a legit top-10 player in this league (and an In the Room favorite). If you’re looking for a potential Vezina candidate still on his rookie contract, you can’t do much better than Mason.
Scott Howson has also proven to be a pretty savvy GM in his short tenure. The Blue Jackets felt like they HAD to make th playoffs last year, much like the Thrashers felt like they HAD to make the playoffs a couple of years ago. Atlanta GM Don Waddell sold the farm (including some guy named Braydon Coburn) and bought himself exactly zero wins once they got in. Howson improved his team as well but adding Vermette for a goalie he didn’t need anymore in Pascal Leclaire was a much better long-term move.
Reasons for despair: Not many, except that the defense is razor-thin rigt now and there are too many forwards. Filatov seems too talented to keep off the roster, but finding him a place in the top six isn’t easy (one solution could be to make Umberger the third/fourth line center with Pahlsson and still plant him in front of the net on the power play). Filatov has hinted at the KHL option if things don’t go his way, and that would be an unwanted distraction. The blue line is so thin that 2009 first-round pick John Moore might have a chance to make this team, if not at least for the first nine games.
There are also all the standard worries about the young team not progressing, guys like Mason/Voracek having sophomore slumps or Brassard not being able to stay healthy again.
Quick final take: There are several potential rising powers in the West (and they are all likely to find a place in this space as a “Team to Watch”). I’d give the Blue Jackets a slight edge over St. Louis, L.A. and Phoenix moving forward. They all have nice young talent cores, but only one of them has Steve Mason (or a U-25 goalie who has proven he can do it like Mason).
Some people think Detroit is aging/sliding (don’t buy it) and Chicago has too much off-ice turmoil/bad karma (don’t buy it). This is still only the third-best team in the Central at best, but that doesn’t meant Columbus can’t be the 6th seed and scare the crap out of a division winner heading into the first round of the playoffs. Collecting the franchise’s first playoff victory should be reasonable, and winning a series also isn’t out of the question.
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