Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of his hockey season. Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page. Today we take a look at the 2013-14 Columbus Blue Jackets.
At the beginning of last season, I wrote a column that included the Columbus Blue Jackets as a team we feel sorry for. What a difference a season makes. The Blue Jackets could be a very dangerous team, even though they’ve been relocated to one of the most challenging divisions in the NHL. Here’s a look at where they’ve been and where they’re going.
It was so very close. The Blue Jackets nearly pulled it off. They finished off the stunted 2013 season with an unlikely run that nearly landed them with the eighth and final seed in the crowded Western Conference. Unfortunately, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
The Blue Jackets finished with an overall record of 24-17-7 after losing their superstar forward Rick Nash to the New York Rangers via trade. Funny enough, that trade left the Rangers floundering for much needed depth and the Blue Jackets in a much better position on their forward lines. Also, Columbus can thank one Sergei Bobrovski for taking this team upon his shoulders most nights. The Number One Cop’s season was one from which legends begin. It was a performance that ended with the goaltender winning the Vezina Trophy and being considered for the Hart trophy as the league MVP.
They made the best trade of the deadline, bringing Marian Gaborik to the team. He looked like a new man, released from the hard-nosed brand of hockey he never quite fit in with and allowed to focus on creativity and scoring goals. As much as this move helped in the immediate, Gaborik’s arrival was more about looking to this coming season, to build on the progress that this club has made since the 2012 off season.
Not only did club president John Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekkaleinan avoid trading away any of their first round draft picks in this year’s entry draft, they managed to sign Nathan Horton before anyone else could get their hands on him. That gives the Blue Jackets a top six that could be very dangerous. They re-signed Bobrovsky to a two year bridge contract, gave Artem Anisimov a three year extension and avoided trading away any of their future. Thus is the philosophy of one John Davidson. This man can be credited with rebuilding the St. Louis Blues into the team and organization they are now.
I assure you, Blue Jackets faithful, that JD and Jarmo have your club in good hands. Your trades will be better, your signings will be of both high quality and value. The quality of your scouting will be top notch as well. Speaking of that, a minor move occurred that didn’t receive a whole lot of press but should not be over looked. Former CBJ player and director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright left the organization after 13 years. Although it seemed mutual, no change under JD can be overlooked. Clearly, he identified a weakness and made a move to better the organization. Whatever it is, mark my words, it will be to benefit the club over the long haul.
What to Watch:
There are two major stories to watch in Columbus this year. Goaltending has been a major albatross before Sergei Bobrovsky’s arrival. Can he build on last year’s outstanding performance? Considering the one thing the Blue Jackets did not improve was their defensive corps (they ranked 9th overall in goals against, largely because of the man in net), look for coach Todd Richards to lean heavily on the Bob. It’s always a crap shoot with goalies. They committed to Steve Mason, now with Bobrovski’s former Flyers club, too early, but paid the price. That’s exactly why Kekkaleinan would not commit to Bob long term. Fool his predecessor but not him. However, Bobrovski is not Mason and there will be no Vezina hangover for this goaltender. Expect another great season from the Bob.
The Blue Jackets also have three forwards in their top six that have had repeated problems with injury. Horton has struggled with concussions in the past and will miss the start of his Blue Jackets career after having off season shoulder surgery. Brandon Dubinsky has also not been the most durable of forwards but that has everything to do with the gritty style of play he champions.
Then there is Marian Gaborik. If there is one player that could be nicknamed Mr. Glass it is Gaborik. The dynamic scorer has missed significant time to multiple injuries. It’s a wonder he didn’t miss more time last season with an injury that resulted in abdominal surgery after the final whistle sounded on the Blue Jackets’ season.
Injuries to key players could play a huge role in the success or failure of this squad over the course of a full 82 game schedule. They may be able to weather one injury, but missing two of their top 6 forwards could devastate a Columbus squad that ranked 25th in goals per game scored last season.
Who to Watch:
Jack Johnson appeared in Columbus and wasn’t given much hope on his chances of ever seeing time in the post season. Honestly, his +/- last season wasn’t great at a -5 but his game began to improve significantly towards the end of the season. If the Blue Jackets are going to have success, Johnson must be the impact player that we saw in Los Angeles. He will have to build on his strong finish and make sure that his minutes, although high in quantity (he finished with an average of just under 26 minutes per game), are also high in quality.
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