Hardly the toast of the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets have struggled mightily in recent seasons, as evidenced by their disgruntled (though still loyal) fan base and less than mediocre on-ice product. Here’s a look at the BJ’s 2012-2013 season preview, and whether they have a chance to contend with the other powerhouses in the Central Division:
2011-2012 Season Recap:
The Columbus Blue Jackets had the worst record in the NHL last season, at 29-46-7, and had the fewest points (65) by a margin of 9 (Edmonton had 74). Columbus was abysmal across the board, ranking 26th in goals per game and 28th in goals allowed, at a clip of over 3.1 per game. Their special teams were no better, putting up the 24th best power play percentage and a penalty kill that was last in the league at only 76.6%. The only bright side is that the Blue Jackets are very young, and had the second overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft.
Without a doubt, Columbus’ best player and face of the franchise is Rick Nash. He led the Blue Jackets in points for the fifth straight year, registering 59 points with 30 goals. However, it appears that the Nash era may be coming to a close, as a trade that would deal the prolific scorer appears imminent. Other big time players for the Jackets include 37-year old Vinny Prospal, who led the team with 30 assists, Center Derick Brassard (also the subject of speculative trade rumors), 26 year old defenseman Nikita Nikitin, Defensemen Jack Johnson, who was dealt from the Kings earlier in the season, and newly discovered goaltender Allen York, a rookie who had the best GAA (2.3) on the team while starting the last 5 games in replace of lackluster veteran Curtis Sanford.
Already stated above, the biggest move of the Blue Jacket’s offseason has not occurred yet – the decision to deal or keep Rick Nash. GM Scott Howson is determined to get a massive package filled with NHL ready youngsters and multiple prospects with high upside, in exchange for the uber talented Nash. Although suitors are abound among the typical NHL buyers, both Nash’s no-trade clause and Howson’s inflexibility have dragged the process out for months. The most realistic options at this point appear to be the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Detroit Red Wings.
Along with the Nash drama, the Jackets have also been relatively busy during the free agent period, re-signing Jarod Boll to a two-year, 1.2 million dollar contract. Columbus also traded veteran D Marc Methot to Ottowa in exchange for Nick Filigno, who then signed a 3-year, 9.25 million dollar deal to remain with the club. These pickups should help add some leadership to team that was clearly lacking in veteran experience last season.
As hard as it was to find a strength in this team, I would say that their biggest asset is their youth and farm system. Although not known for having the best front office, Columbus has accrued some solid up-and-coming NHL talent (as seen in Nikitin, Foligno and Cam Atkinson), and have begun to draft more reliably, instead of going for the flashy (typically Russian) pick. Also, if Nash sticks around for another season, look for the power play to be much improved as Foligno should add some firepower. Expect the defense to pick up slightly, despite being in the bottom five in most defensive categories, as veterans Johnson and James Wisniewski anchor the up and coming unit.
Now, this was a bit easier. The Jackets biggest weakness last season was their penalty kill, which was ranked dead last in the NHL at 76.6% and allowed the most powerplay goals with 64. I expect this to improve somewhat as the Jackets develop some consistency at the goaltending position, but with the loss Marc Methot and uncertainty surrounding Nikitin, it will be a modest gain. If Nash remains, then the offense, like the power play, should improve, but expect it to fall off greatly if he is dealt, especially if the return products are mostly prospects.
Although I believe the Columbus Blue Jackets have improved their roster this offseason, and that their massive crop of young talent will start to emerge, it will not be this year. They will not improve on their terrible 5-17-2 mark within the division last year, and will again be at the bottom of the NHL in most categories. Hopefully, along with the trade of Rick Nash go the negative vibes in Columbus, as they try to rebuild a decimated franchise from the ground up.
25-48-9, 5th in Central Division, 15th in Western Conference
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Topics: Allen York, Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets, Derick Brassard, Detroit Red Wings, James Wisniewski, Jarod Boll, Marc Methot, New York Rangers, Nick Filigno, Nikita Nikitin, Pittsburgh Penguins, Rick Nash, San Jose Sharks, Scott Howson, Vinny Prospal