The next playoff game for the Blue Jackets will be their first, and after years of unabashed loyalty, the fan base is getting a little restless. Attendance has dropped, and it is about time for the franchise to start winning. Thankfully for Blue Jackets fans, there are some kids in place that could make that happen, but maybe not in 2008-09.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
2007-08: 34-36-12, 80 points (fourth in Central)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: After two down years, Rick Nash returned to the game’s elite. Enigma Nikolai Zherdev had a solid year, though he was traded to Broadway in the offseason. Ron Hainsey had another nice season on the blue line, though he left for Atlanta via free agency. Pascal Leclaire looked like a franchise goaltender when he was healthy.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Beyond Nash and Zherdev, no one scored more than 14 goals. The Blue Jackets went into the season hoping one of their young centers like Gilbert Brule or Derick Brassard would make The Leap, and it didn’t happen. David Vyborny and Fredrik Modin were expected to be top-six forwards, and because of injuries and ineffectiveness combined for 10 goals. Oh yeah, that franchise-long postseason drought – still ongoing.
ARRIVALS: C R.J. Umberger, LW Kristian Huselius, RW Raffi Torres, D Mike Commodore, D Fedor Tyutin, D Christian Backman, LW Mike York
DEPARTURES: RW Nikolai Zherdev, RW David Vyborny, D Ron Hainsey, C Dan Fritsche, C Gilbert Brule, D Dick Tarnstrom, D Duvie Wescott
IMPACT PROSPECTS: C Derick Brassard, RW Jakub Voracek, RW Nikita Filatov, G Steve Mason
Who plays with Rick Nash?
The Blue Jackets tried to acquire a No. 1 center, and Umberger was the best they came up with. He’s probably not a legit No. 1, but he might be the guy on this team. The only other guy who might be able to fill the role is Brassard. Whoever it is, he could be playing between Nash and Huselius so there should be ample opportunities for some assists.
How will the Nikita Filatov saga play out?
It isn’t at the level of the Evgeni Malkin defection from two years ago, but the KHL isn’t happy about losing the sublime talent to North America so quickly. Assuming Filatov is at Blue Jackets camp, the next question is can he make this team? Having him and Voracek on the opening night roster could be a nice jolt of energy for a franchise trying to keep its young fan base from growing disinterested.
PROGNOSIS: The defense corps should be pretty solid, but coach Ken Hitchcock’s system will also have something to do with that. Offensive troubles have been the issue with Columbus, and the Blue Jackets will need the kids to play well because the depth up front isn’t enviable without them. This is a franchise that desperately needs a playoff appearance, but here’s hoping GM Scott Howson doesn’t make the mistake that Don Waddell did by selling off the future to attain that goal.
|Manny Malhotra/Mike York
||Jared Boll/Andrew Murray
*NOTE: This is not necessarily an attempt to guess line combinations