It was a year to remember for the 2016-17 Columbus Blue Jackets. There was a historic winning streak, surprise performers, and an appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Columbus Blue Jackets writers here at Last Word on Hockey have gotten together for a roundtable discussion to talk about the season, and figure out what needs to be done going forward.
Last Word Roundtable: 2016-17 Columbus Blue Jackets Season in Review
Biggest Surprise Player of 2016-17
Andrew Allison: Sam Gagner joined the Blue Jackets last off-season through free agency. At the time, no one thought the signing was anything but a league minimum, bottom-six forward signing. Once the season began that perception didn’t last long. Gagner scored 18 goals and 32 assists on the season setting a career high in points. The Gagner signing was undoubtedly the biggest surprise and a massive boost to this Blue Jackets team.
Sean Merz: For me, the biggest surprise of the season has been the performance of rookie defenseman Zach Werenski. Though it was immediately obvious that his ceiling is sky high, I was not prepared for just how rapid his ascendancy would be. To go from playing in college to being a finalist for the Calder Trophy in the span of a year is astonishing and is almost certainly just the start of a fantastic career.
Nic Hendrickson: The biggest surprise player for me has to be Josh Anderson. I’ve always been a big fan of Anderson, and I definitely thought he would develop into a future bottom-six forward. However, I did not think that his rise to the team would be this seamless and this fast. Anderson was a huge surprise, and if he can play the same style next season the Columbus Blue Jackets will surely experience another good year.
Most Disappointing Player of 2016-17
AA: It’s weird to call Brandon Dubinsky a disappointment, especially because he had 41 points. However, Dubinsky is supposed to be one of the leaders on this team and sometimes he didn’t act like it. Dubinsky took mind-numbing penalties that would put the team in a bad spot in crucial point in the game. See: Game three in the first round of the playoffs.
SM: The biggest disappointment of the season has undoubtedly been the play of Scott Hartnell. As a bottom-six forward, an output of 37 points is not bad, but with a cap hit of $4.75 million, that sort of production is simply not a good value.
NH: The biggest disappoint of the season has to be the production, or lack thereof, from Scott Hartnell. Much like Sean said, for a player carrying a cap hit of $4.75 million to only have 37 points on the season, it makes the load harder to carry for the rest of the team. And when you add it to the fact that he was third on the team in penalty minutes (63), it makes the lack of production a much more difficult pill to swallow.
Favorite Moment of 2016-17
AA: My favorite moment of this season came on November 18th when the Blue Jackets faced the New York Rangers. Halfway through the second Matt Calvert took a puck to the face and went back to the locker room. Calvert came back in the third and scored the game-winning goal, shorthanded, to give Columbus the 3-2 win.
SM: The best moment of the season for me came with the 10-0 demolition of the Montreal Canadiens on the fourth of November. In a season that saw the Jackets break nearly every franchise record, this early game acted as an example of what the team was capable of.
NH: My favorite moment of the season was the game against the Minnesota Wild on New Year’s Eve. Sarcastically referred to as the “Unsustainabowl”, the game showcased two of the biggest surprise performers, and one of the most historic games in league history, with each team riding a franchise-record winning streak. It was an awesome game to watch, and the fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets won made it all the more memorable.
Most Promising Player
AA: The player I think is the most promising for the future is easily Zach Werenski. Werenski broke the Blue Jackets record for points scored in a season by a rookie. He was also six points shy of breaking the franchise record for points scored by a defenseman in a season.
SM: The most promising player is Zach Werenski, without a doubt. At the age of 19, he has already shown the ability to play at the highest level in the most difficult league in the world with intelligence, toughness, and skill that belies his age.
NH: For the sake of not saying the obvious answer of Werenski, my answer would have to be Joonas Korpisalo. Korpisalo may have had a bit of a dip in production this season, but he still projects to be a starter at the NHL level. If the Columbus Blue Jackets get lucky, and the Vegas Golden Knights don’t select him in the expansion draft, he is undeniably the future starter.
Who the Columbus Blue Jackets Should Part With
AA: Scott Hartnell is one of my favorite players on this Blue Jackets team. However, with the expansion draft looming the Blue Jackets need to get Hartnell to waive his no-movement clause. The Blue Jackets have other players that need protected, and if he won’t waive the clause then Columbus might have to take matters into their own hands and find a way to free up another slot for protection.
SM: To continue to drive the point home, the best case scenario in the trade market would be to have Hartnell waive his NMC and send him somewhere in need of a veteran presence. Barring that, trading Boone Jenner or Dubinsky for defensive depth could help clear cap space and solidify the blue line.
NH: There are a few names and scenarios that would justify parting ways with certain players. The first would be that of Gagner. If Gagner demands more than $850,000/year on a new contract, his time should be cut short in Columbus. What Sean and Andew have said about convincing Hartnell to waive his NMC also rings true, if only to protect a younger player in the upcoming expansion draft.
Who Will be Taken in the Expansion Draft
AA: Columbus would be lucky if Jack Johnson is selected in the expansion draft. While Johnson is a crowd favorite, he is also aging and part a defense with great depth. The Columbus Blue Jackets would rather have Johnson selected than players like William Karlsson or Joonas korpisalo.
SM: The best possible player to lose to the expansion draft would be Scott Hartnell. This would require him to waive his No Movement Clause and would also require Vegas to select an aging, declining forward over younger prospects from other teams. The focus in Columbus should be on keeping the core of young players like Anderson and Karlsson together if they hope to push for playoffs again next year. Hartnell’s contract is holding the team back.
NH: While I agree in principle with both Johnson and Hartnell being favorable names to lose in the expansion draft, I don’t see either of them happening. The two candidates most likely to be taken are William Karlsson and Joonas Korpisalo. Karlsson because the pool of centers is looking really weak for Vegas, and Korpisalo because he projects to be a very solid starting goalie. Hopefully it’s the former rather than the latter.
One Player the Columbus Blue Jackets Should Pursue
AA: This off-season, Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie will be an unrestricted free agent. I think Oshie should be a priority for the Blue Jackets this off-season, he can be the scorer they need. The only problem is that Columbus is up against the cap and will have to get rid of some salaries to pursue him
SM: Ideally, the Blue Jackets should focus on adding defensive depth or another scoring threat via free agency or trade. On the blue line, the likes of Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk are set to become unrestricted free agents, and the addition of either will add depth to a strong defensive corps. That being said, T.J. Oshie will also become a free agent this summer and could add a lethal scoring touch to an offense that struggled as the season wound down. All three will likely command good chunks of salary, but each would strengthen the team considerably.
NH: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Oshie would be a fantastic addition for the future. His skating ability and ability to score 30-plus goals would be a massive boost to a Columbus Blue Jackets roster that many seem to think has no big name. Not only would he be a boost to the Jackets on the ice, but a relatively big name like that would draw in more fans on a regular basis. It would be a fantastic move, but the cap space situation might just be a hurdle that cannot be cleared.
Stay tuned to Last Word on Hockey and the Last Word on CBJ Twitter account for upcoming off-season pieces on the Columbus Blue Jackets.