COLUMBUS, Ohio – Brandon Dubinsky was traded from one of the best teams in the NHL to the worst.
Yet when he looks around at his new Columbus Blue Jackets teammates, he doesn't have a whole lot of regrets about leaving the bright lights of New York along with the Stanley Cup aspirations of his old team, the Rangers, to join a team just hoping to be respectable.
Well, maybe he does have one regret.
“The 24-hour delis. There are three on every block,” he said, laughing. “That's something you miss.”
Dubinsky is one of several reasons why maybe they should call them the New Jackets.
After almost a decade of being known as “Rick Nash's team,” the Blue Jackets, who open their 12th season on Saturday night in Nashville, will be built around several new faces.
Dubinsky, fellow forward Artem Anisimov and defenceman Tim Erixon—who all came over in the Nash deal along with a first-round draft pick—will be under a microscope. So will fellow newcomers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Nick Foligno. They'll undoubtedly play important roles in the young team's reconstruction.
“Sometimes change is good. I think Rick felt the same way, he needed change,” said coach Todd Richards, who had the interim tag taken off his job title after taking over for the fired Scott Arniel midway through a disastrous 2011-12 season. “Sometimes as an organization, whether you want it or you're forced into it, you get change. I think that's the exciting thing about going into this year is exactly that word: Change.”
Dubinsky, Anisimov and Foligno figure to join the top two lines. They'll be asked to make up for the 32 goals Nash averaged in his star-studded nine seasons in Columbus.
“It's not necessarily just about replacing, say, the 30 goals or 40 goals that Rick Nash scores every year,” veteran centre Derek MacKenzie said. “It's about creating some offence but doing it the right way.”
The Nash deal came down in late July. Dubinsky, Anisimov and Erixon came to Columbus and worked out with their new teammates for a while. Then the NHL lockout sent those players in different directions—Dubinsky played back in his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, in the ECHL, while Anisimov headed for his Russian homeland to play in the Kontinental Hockey League and Erixon saw action with Columbus' top affiliate, the AHL's Springfield (Mass.) Falcons.
They filtered back to Columbus last week after the owners and players reached a tentative agreement, and then joined the Blue Jackets for full workouts on Sunday.
“It certainly doesn't feel like I haven't played a game with these guys, which is a funny feeling,” said Dubinsky, who had 10 goals and 24 assists last year for the Rangers. “It feels like I'm jumping back into an old rhythm and the same group of guys that I'm used to and accustomed to.”
Anisimov, who had 16 goals a year ago in New York, hasn't had a problem with the transition to the Midwest.
“Not at all,” he said. “It doesn't matter where you live, it matters how you play hockey, how you compete every day.”
Erixon, who is just 20, is hoping to latch on with the Blue Jackets after spending most of last season in the AHL.
The Blue Jackets traded for the rights to Foligno, who had a career-best 47 points last season with the Ottawa Senators, then signed him to a three-year, $9.25-million contract.
He had been intrigued by Ohio's capital city when he came to town for games in the past. He is excited about what has transpired since he came aboard shortly before the Nash trade.
“They've done a great job. They brought (former St. Louis Blues executive) John Davidson in as club president. That's a great step,” he said. “Then you look at the guys they brought in with Nash's trade. Those are great character guys. That's the direction we're going—great character is going to lead to success on and off the ice. The fans are going to appreciate that.”
Bobrovsky may be the most important new link in the chain. Steve Mason was the NHL's rookie of the year when the Blue Jackets made their only run to the playoffs in 2008-09, but has been mediocre at best the past three seasons.
Bobrovsky, who was picked up from Philadelphia for draft picks, gives Richards another option in net. That's particularly valuable in a compressed season of 48 games when there are very few off nights.
Bobrovsky, as a relative unknown, burst onto the scene in 2010-11 for the Flyers, going 28-13-8 with a 2.59 goals-against average. He slipped last year in limited action, going 14-10-2 with a 3.02. Philadelphia lost in the second round both years.
“This is a good organization,” he said through a translator. “We have everything here you want.”
Everything, that is, except for a recognized star like No. 61, the franchise's career leader in most offensive categories.
In the first year without him, the Blue Jackets hope to compensate with a better blue line, stingier goaltending, more depth and a distribution of the scoring.
“In the past, maybe sometimes we kind of rode Nasher's back a little bit,” MacKenzie said. “He was certainly a guy who could make things look easy some times. You add guys like Nick and Dubinsky to your lineup, guys who are going to grind it out, guys who are going to go to the hard places day in and day out, that consistency and the way they play is hopefully going to be contagious in the dressing room.”
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