The Columbus Blue Jackets made somewhat of a breakthrough last season, winning their first playoff games in franchise history. Getting Ryan Johansen under contract is important to keep the momentum going, but we think this team is good enough to do it. Here’s why we picked them to finish second in the Metro.
2013-14 record: 43-32-7
Acquisitions: Brian Gibbons, Jarry D’Amigo, Scott Hartnell
Departures: Nick Schultz, Jack Skille, Blake Comeau, Matt Frattin, Derek MacKenzie, Nikita Nikitin, R.J. Umberger
Top five fantasy players: Ryan Johansen, Scott Hartnell, James Wisniewski, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Blue Jackets come into the season riding high after getting the franchise’s first playoff wins. Sure, they eventually fell to the Penguins in their first-round clash, but there was a real sense the series could have gone either way. That’s a confidence booster.
Center Ryan Johansen, 22, has emerged as a potential superstar after a breakout 33-goal season, giving Columbus an offensive generator that propels teammates such as Nathan Horton and Boone Jenner. It’s vitally important for the team to get him under contract, but to not overpay him to get it done. This is a gritty squad that got even nastier to play against with the acquisition of Scott Hartnell, who came in exchange for the exiled R.J. Umberger.
The defense isn’t star-laden but does its job. Ryan Murray is poised for a jump after a very nice rookie season truncated by injury, while 2013 Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky is the club’s anchor in goal. Most heartening for Ohio fans is the Jackets’ well-rounded nature: they were top 12 in faceoff wins, power play success and 5-on-5 offense.
Bust: With great success comes great financial conflict. Columbus had a rocky summer with Johansen, as he wanted to get paid large, while the Jackets preferred a bridge deal. That led to a public spat during negotiations, and the two sides still haven’t come together. If the well has been poisoned, Columbus can kiss goodbye the good vibrations surrounding the team.
In net, the team leans heavily on Bobrovsky, but what if he gets hurt? Right now, there isn’t much of a Plan B, as backup Curtis McElhinney has never played more than 28 games in an NHL season. Younger options Oscar Dansk and Anton Forsberg still need time before being thrown into the fire. The Jackets were just a middling possession team last season, and without stellar goaltending the facade will be lifted. Despite being a legit No. 1 goalie, Bobrovsky still has yet to play more than 58 games. Can he be effective with an increased workload?
Bottom Line: Columbus is poised to do great things. The Jackets have a team culture they have bought into, and those who didn’t fit in (such as Umberger) have been jettisoned. Assuming Johansen harbors no ill will and gets a deal done, he will lead this team as one of the league’s brightest new No. 1 centers. And he has plenty of veteran support from players like Hartnell and Brandon Dubinsky to take things up another notch.
Prospect To Watch: Alexander Wennberg, picked 14th overall in the 2013 draft, had a strong showing at the Traverse City Prospects tournament and is off to a good start at Blue Jackets camp. Wennberg scored 21 points in 50 games with Frolunda of the Swedish League last season and is worth keeping an eye on in September and October.
THN’s Prediction: Second in Metro Division
Contributors: Ryan Kennedy, Rory Boylen