Continuing our look at the teams the St. Louis Blues will face this season, we stay out east. It’s time to look at an old divisional foe, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
It’s been three seasons since the St. Louis Blues had to play the Columbus Blue Jackets more than the required two times. Back then, they were a divisional opponent. Now, they reside in the Eastern Conference.
Columbus thought they had made major strides by qualifying for the playoffs in their first season out east. They fell out in the first round, but challenged the Pittsburgh Penguins enough to push the series six games.
Unfortunately for them, they have missed out on the postseason the next two seasons. They have gone backward in win production both seasons as well.
Right now, they are similar to what the Blues were when John Davidson took over for St. Louis. St. Louis made the playoffs for the first time in quite some time during the 2008-09 season and then failed to make it for a couple more years. Columbus is hoping they are on that same path to make it again soon.
The Blue Jackets’ biggest problem is they did almost nothing in the offseason. They are completely relying on their young players to break through and hoping the veterans with contracts that are weighing them down manage to produce as well.
On the bright side for Columbus, Brandon Saad lived up to the big contract they gave him prior to the 2015-16 season. He eclipsed his career point total by one with 53 and also scored a career high with 31 goals.
Saad is going to have to keep producing at that pace for the team to have success though. The Blue Jackets need other guys, like Dave Clarkson, to start earning their money as well.
General Manager, Jarmo Kekalainen is leaning on his pedigree this offseason. He made almost no moves in free agency and went for draft picks.
Kekalainen is known for his ability to scout talent and the draft is where he has made his bread and butter. If Jesse Puljujarvi ends up being an impact player right away, then Columbus is going to have egg on their face.
Columbus shrugged off the mock drafts and selected Pierre Luc Dubois instead. The Blue Jackets are hoping he will be the center they are looking for to lead their team for the future.
Dubois is not shy when it comes to prognosticating. He believes he is talented enough to win the Calder trophy whenever he gets his shot, be it this season or soon thereafter. The Blue Jackets will need that swagger.
Although it was not an offseason addition, Seth Jones is still going to be a key for Columbus going forward. Acquired well before the trade deadline, Jones was a big pickup for a team that struggles to defend and also create from their zone.
Jones fit that bill. Now they are hoping the youngster can keep making the progressions and become a prime player without Shea Weber next to him.
Interestingly, the Blue Jackets didn’t lose much even though they haven’t added much. The only player of note that is gone from last season is Fedor Tyutin.
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Tyutin has been an extremely consistent defenseman when it came to putting points on the board but also keeping them off. However, his ice time has dramatically been reduced and his points took a nose dive in 2015-16.
He had only scored single digit points in his rookie season prior to last year. In 2014-15 he only had 15, down from 26 the year before, and went even further down to three in 61 games last season.
It seems age caught up to Tyutin extremely quickly. He will now seek to reinvent himself with the Colorado Avalanche while the Blue Jackets focus on Jones and hoping Jack Johnson returns to form.
Blue Jackets Outlook
Columbus finished last season with a record of 34-40-8. They might have the swing to get over .500, but they don’t seem likely to make the jump to the playoffs.
Much of Columbus’ success, or lack thereof, will depend on the health of Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky’s groin issues last season limited him to 37 games.
Relying on journeyman Curtis McElhinney did not suit the Blue Jackets and McElhinney is again the backup. Bobrovski has been working with a strength coach, but groin problems seem to become problematic once suffered.
If, and that’s a big if, Bobrovsky remains healthy all season and Dubois lives up to expectations, then perhaps Columbus can squeak in the playoffs. If either of those does not happen, then it will be a long summer again.
These two ex-division rivals renew their feud very quickly in the upcoming season. Both games will occur in November and then it’s done and dusted.
Columbus will visit St. Louis on Saturday, November 5. Exactly one week later, the Blues will go west to play in Ohio’s capital.
The Blues hold a decided advantage in the series over Columbus. They are 47-29-3 against the Blue Jackets, although Columbus is a game over .500 at home.
The teams split in 2015-16. Both teams won at home and each game was decided by a score of 3-1.
The Blues are in need of improving their record against the Eastern Conference this season and picking up points against Columbus is part of that. Scoring on Bobrovsky will be key. Despite having a 4-3 career record against Bobrovsky, he has put up good stats vs. the Blues.
These two teams will get an early look at each other since they face off in the preseason as well.