The Season Preview will be a running column on questions and thoughts for the upcoming season. Individual teams will be highlighted in each post. CLICK HERE for the full list of Season Previews.
Boy, it sure feels like an exciting time to be a Columbus Blue Jackets fan. It must be kind of a funny, cautious feeling… like biting into a green Jelly Bean… You think it’s watermelon (yum!), but it could be lime (ugh). I imagine a fan base like this has been let down too many times to get carried away with unbridled enthusiasm.
The first time they felt like things were moving in the right direction was when they drafted Rick Nash first overall. He was supposed to be the big sell, the guy who would get butts in seats and divert attention from Ohio State sports and onto the brand new franchise. And he didn’t fail to deliver completely, it just didn’t turn into anything that was successfully built upon. This is like most of the young stars that have come through town during that time (see: Zherdev, Nikolay). Then there was the whole Steve Mason tease; Calder trophy winner turned worst starter in the league (pretty much over night) and after that the hope that things were finally rounding into form when the team made it to the playoffs for the first time (where they were promptly beaten in 4 games and haven’t been back since).
One could see why there would be hesitation to proclaim a turn around… but Nash is gone and it’s a new era in Columbus with a new and aggressive GM in Jarmo Kekalainen. Some of the potential disasters remain the same, like an unproven goalie with one good season under his belt, but for the first time in a long time, the Blue Jackets are making smart trades and signings. And things look pretty good.
They’ve actually assembled a team that has a lot of potential, at least on paper. Just in the last two years they’ve added superstar forward Marian Gaborik, Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, and skilled forwards Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky. Add to the mix recent acquisition Nathan Horton, and an already solid core including Jack Johnson, Nikita Nikitin, James Wisniewski (if he’s healthy), R.J. Umberger, and Fedor Tyutin, and you’ve got a good mix of grit, youth, and veteran leadership that looks ready to be a perennial playoff team.
The key questions that will ultimately decide whether or not this is another Columbus bust? For starters, which Marian Gaborik did they sign? The guy who’s oft-injured and at times shut down by physical play, or the guy who is a 40 goal threat and an offensive force? Surely the addition of Nathan Horton will take a bit of the pressure off of Gaborik and also provide a top tier linemate. Oh, and it’s a contract year for Gaborik too, which can’t hurt. Also, can Bobrovsky duplicate his performance from last year? The Jackets were smart to sign him to a two year deal, because it doesn’t add the calm reassurance of a longterm deal and will keep him hungry, but still gives Bobrovsky the price tag he earned last year.
So, are they at the contender level yet? It doesn’t look that way quite yet, but if Bobrovsky can play like he did last year and they get some of the star power out of their roster that they look to have, this will be a very dangerous team. Hopefully, there’ll be more like the video above.
Optimism rating (out of 5): 4.5