Making progress is what the Blue Jackets did last season, and will be looking forward to do this season. It took them their 10th season in the NHL to make the playoffs. Their playoff run was short-lived as they took on the Detroit Red Wings and got swept in four games.
Columbus also made progress as it re-signed captain and superstar Rick Nash to an eight-year, 62.4 Million contract extension that will keep him in Ohio until 2017-18. It’s considered a major accomplishment as Nash had his pick in where he wanted to go.
Expectations are high from not only the fan base in central Ohio, but within the organization as well. They can only make more progress this season by not only making the playoffs, but winning a couple games and even winning a series.
The Blue Jackets do have the pieces to contend in the difficult Western Conference. The Blue Jackets also enter the season with their top-six forwards set in place. In addition to Nash, they have Kristian Huselius and Derick Brassard on the top line. It’s going to be interesting to see a healthy Brassard as he missed the last 50 games due to injury. The second line will feature R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette, and Jakub Voracek. A rookie last season, Voracek had a quiet but respectable season as he recorded 38 points. Look for top prospect Nikita Filatov and new addition Sami Pahlsson to make significant contributions to the third and fourth lines.
On defense, there may not be any big names you have heard before other than Mike Commodore, but management stayed the course during the trade deadline and the off-season. The unit is mostly a stay-at-home unit who isn’t overly aggressive on offense. They are missing a player who is multi-dimensional and with $7 Million of cap space left going into the season, they have the ability to make a move if they are in contention for the playoffs around the deadline. Having someone who can quarterback a power play is crucial for them as they were last in the NHL on the power play at 12.7 percent.
Columbus did find a gem in goal with Steve Mason. A player who didn’t play a full season because of injury, Mason was the reason the team made the playoffs. Winning the Calder Trophy as top rookie, Mason led the league in shutouts with 10 in only 61 games. It will be interesting to see how this season will be for him. Can he continue the hot streak or suffer the sophomore slump? To aid Mason, the team signed veteran Mathieu Garon as backup.
The outlook for Columbus is pretty good. The re-signing of Nash did create a buzz around the city and did sell a few more season tickets, but they need to continue to make progress to have Columbus become a free-agent destination. In the division, they will be more competitive. It won’t be the match ups against Detroit and Chicago that will determine its fate, but it will be how they play against Nashville and St. Louis as both teams got better in the off season while Columbus stayed the course. Will it pay off with a playoff appearance? Only time will tell.