Monday, August 11, 2008

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
2000-01: 26th
2001-02: 30th
2002-03: 16th
2003-04: 29th
2005-06: 28th
2006-07: 28th
2007-08: 29th

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.



At 10:37 a.m., August 11, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Will you be doing these posts for every team?

At 11:00 a.m., August 11, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

My gut seems to be making a case for this team this year. I don't know why. I like to believe I don't listen to my gut too much but if you look at it's size, I guess I have listened to it too much in the past.

At 11:13 a.m., August 11, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) It would be a monumental feat for them to make the post season this next year. Who would they displace? You'd also have to believe their divisional rivals(St Louis and especially Chicago) will be improved making it even more difficult for the Jackets to make headway.

At 12:38 p.m., August 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the CBJ have a good shot, but so does every other team in the bottom half of the west...
You would think with the solid D of last year getting better, this Hitchcock team should be in the running till the end..
Especially since so many Western teams have tilted towards Offense, sacrificing a little D.
There is no doubt in my mind the West will be thougher then ever..

At 3:57 p.m., August 11, 2008, Blogger dave said...

If the new first line clicks for Columbus, it's not hard to imagine them challenging for second in this division. It's pretty wide open, and with Chicago's goaltending situation up in the air and St. Louis resigned to rebuilding, the Jackets could make their first playoffs.

I don't know how anyone could envision St. Louis being much better...

At 4:28 p.m., August 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this division should be killer. the blackhawks & blue jackets have made major strides in catching up with the Wings. agreed they have a uphill battle but with cap room they can now make a deal when they have a injury or need. watch out this is a up & coming team, with lots of good young players from the last few drafts.

At 4:30 p.m., August 11, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Will you be doing these posts for every team?

I've already done smaller team previews for every team for McKeen's Hockey magazine, but I may try and do some sort of preview like this for more teams.

I think I'll run out of time, however, given the season starts in less than two months.

At 11:04 p.m., August 13, 2008, Anonymous archleester said...

as the KING says, "It's now or never."


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