A look ahead: The Blue Jackets
"We have to start having success, it's up to us to prove that. Rick [Nash] is our franchise player. Certainly we hope to keep him for a long time."This coming season will be Rick Nash's sixth as a Blue Jacket, and potentially his sixth in a row out of the playoffs. He's under contract through to 2009-10, but you can certainly see some parallels between his predicament and the one Jay Bouwmeester is likely to extricate himself from in Florida at some point within the next 11 months.
Call it the Roberto Luongo scenario: At some point, talented players want to experience success — or at the very least, a shot to compete in the postseason — and a trade or free agency is sometimes the only way to bring that about.
Through its first seven NHL seasons, Columbus has put up an average of 69 points a year, this in the inflated-total era of three-point games, and has a .423 all-time points percentage that is dead last among active franchises.
That doesn't compare favourably to some of hockey's recently relocated lovable losers, either. The Winnipeg Jets put up a points percentage of .442 over 17 seasons before heading to Phoenix; the Hartford Whalers lasted 18 seasons at a .438 points percentage; the Minnesota North Stars were .449 in 26 seasons; and the Quebec Nordiques were .459 over 16 seasons.
That's not to say the Blue Jackets can't right the ship, just that they better for the long-term sake of the franchise. (As an aside for those out there who don't think Columbus is a decent hockey market: Nationwide Arena averaged more than 97-per-cent capacity for the team’s first five seasons.)
Which brings us to this year's edition of the Blue Jackets. How good are they? And is there any hope of ending the drought given the changes?
It's going to be tough.
Key losses include Adam Foote, Ron Hainsey and Dick Tarnstrom on defence; Sergei Fedorov, David Vyborny, Gilbert Brule, Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche up front. Additions come in the form of Mike Commodore, Fedor Tyutin, Christian Backman, Kristian Huselius, R.J. Umberger and Raffi Torres.
That's a pretty major makeover, and some slight improvements all while keeping the team about $9-million under the salary cap.
Under coach Ken Hitchcock, they've been an incredibly stingy team, last season allowing what statistician Alan Ryder calculated as the lowest quality of shots in the league. That, understandably, did wonders for Pascal Leclaire's numbers in net.
But what Columbus really needs is some goals. They always have.
Blue Jackets finish in goals for
That is horrible. Columbus has averaged 2.34 goals per game in its history, which is quite likely the lowest average on record.
The depth chart this season offers some hope, although it rests on some mighty young shoulders:
Nash - Umberger - Huselius
Modin - Brassard - Torres
Chimera - Peca - Voracek
Murray - Malhotra - Boll
Hejda - Commodore
Tyutin - Klesla
Backman - Russell
To make the playoffs, Columbus likely needs 70-point seasons out of Nash and Huselius, at least 60 from Umberger, and capable second-line performances from Modin, Brassard and either Torres or Voracek.
They're going to be low scoring and difficult to score against, but a playoff team?
Not yet. And it'll be interesting to see what happens at the gate in this go 'round.
Labels: Blue Jackets