2014-15 Columbus Blue Jackets Season Preview

Sergei Bobrovsky Columbus Blue Jackets

The following is a guest post from Matt Wagner, who has been covering the Blue Jackets since 2007, and joined the team at The Cannon in 2009. He’s one of the co-founders of Cannonfest, the annual summer Blue Jackets fan gathering, and has also contributed long form pieces for SBNation, Hockey Prospectus, and Fanbase.com. To see more of his writing, check out The Cannon or follow him on Twitter at @bzarcher


The Blue Jackets are coming off what is arguably the most successful season in their franchise’s history, but they show no signs of resting on their laurels.

After claiming the 7th seed last season in the Eastern Conference, Columbus gave division rival Pittsburgh a solid scare in their first round series, taking them to six games, and coming just short of a late third period rally to force game seven before being eliminated.

This success came despite some major injuries, including the loss of Nathan Horton for the bulk of the season, and allowed players like Ryan Johansen, David Savard, and Cam Atkinson to take big steps in their development as they helped lead the team into their second ever postseason appearance.

In the offseason, the team has made some incremental changes (saying goodbye to veteran UFAs Derek MacKenzie and Nikita Nikitin, acquiring depth forwards Brian Gibbons and Jerry D’Amigo), but the biggest “splash” was their trade of R.J. Umberger to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Scott Hartnell.

Though some have predicted that Hartnell’s production may drop without Claude Giroux, it seems likely that Hartnell will find himself playing with either Brandon Dubinsky or Ryan Johansen, and likely help drive positive possession numbers on a team that’s been making major strides in improving their performance in that area.

As of the time this is being written, the only shadow over the club at the moment comes in the status of Johansen, an RFA, who has yet to agree on a new deal with the club. Though it seems likely that a deal will be made before the start of the season, a holdout in the early days of training camp could have a very negative impact on what has become a tight-knit locker room.


Though the team did not get a solid contribution from the injured Horton or the ill-fitting Marian Gaborik (who would eventually be dealt to the LA Kings at the deadline), they still found ways to fill the back of the net.

Ryan Johansen lead the team in what many expect to have been a breakout season, with 33 Goals and 30 Assists in 82 games, plus a pair of goals and four more assists during the team’s playoff run.

James Wisniewski came in as second on the team in overall scoring with seven goals and 44 assists, which also set a team record for single season points by a defenseman.

In 2014-15, the team is obviously looking to both Johansen and “Wiz” to help drive scoring, but the additions of a healthy Horton and Hartnell will hopefully also bring some scoring, particularly on the power play, where the club frequently struggled. The club also expects big things from C Brandon Dubinsky, who signed a six year extension over the offseason.

Mark Letestu and Matt Calvert are likely to continue to be wild cards, particularly with the latter’s talent for “clutch” goals (such as his game winning 2OT goal against Pittsburgh), and last year’s surprising rookie, Boone Jenner, who showed the ability to contribute both with his scoring ability and physical checking.

The team will also be looking at several players who will be battling for a few spots in the bottom six, including new acquisitions Brian Gibbons and Jerry D’Amigo, 2013 first round picks Alexander Wennberg and Kerby Rychel, and the established Corey Tropp and Jared Boll, who spent much of the 2013-2014 season on IR after an ankle injury that required surgery to put right.


While the Jackets are returning the majority of the “core” that opened the 2013-2014 season, what was considered a relatively young group is becoming a seasoned and dependable defensive corps. In particular, the pairing of Wisniewski and 2012 2nd overall pick Ryan Murray, who shared instant chemistry, was able to stand up to some of the toughest competition. The team also continues to rely on “minute muncher” Jack Johnson, most often paired with veteran partner Fedor Tyutin, and the bottom six became the purview of the young guns, particularly David Savard and Dalton Prout, who both took steps forward this season.

The team also saw periodic contributions from Tim Erixon, acquired as part of the 2012 “Rick Nash deal”, who is expected to compete for a full time roster spot with the departure of UFA Nikita Nikitin to the Edmonton Oilers this offseason.

The team’s defense in particular established a reputation for physical play, strong possession, and excellent penalty killing, all of which should continue under head coach Todd Richards and assistant Craig Hartsburg.


Though he wasn’t a nominee for the Vezina trophy this season, Sergei Bobrovsky proved that he earned his place among the league’s top goaltenders with another strong performance. Posting a .923 save percentage and a 2.38 GAA in 58 starts, his season was shortened by a groin injury that kept him out for most of December, but the team received some solid goaltending from Curtis McElhinney (2.70 GAA / .909 SV% in 28 GP) and journeyman Mike McKenna, who was called up to fill the backup role during that period.

The team will continue to rely on the Bobrovski / McElhinney tandem, but have made the decision to entrust their AHL fortunes to 2012 second round pick Oscar Dansk and AHL journeyman Jeremy Smith. Smith could provide a solid option should McElhinney be injured, but any injury that would take Bobrovsky out of the lineup for an extended period of time would be a major blow to the team’s playoff hopes.


With several players proving that they were ready for a larger role, and a significant upgrade in the Hartnell / Umberger swap, there’s no reason why the Blue Jackets shouldn’t be competing for one of the Metropolitan Division’s playoff spots. Everyone from president John Davidson on down has made it clear that they want to contend for the Stanley Cup, not simply accept a first round exit as “good enough”, and the fanbase can be expected to hold them to that.

In addition, Columbus will host this season’s All Star Weekend, and the home crowd wants to see their players lacing up to represent them alongside the league’s best and brightest. (If I had to guess, likely candidates will be Bobrovsky, Hartnell, Johansen, Murray, and Wisniewski.)

Last season was a major step forward, and showed the depth and passion of the “5th Line” of fans in Columbus as this team established themselves as a club on the rise. This season promises to be a test of that claim, and the community will be expecting them to rise to the challenge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *