2011-12 NHL Season Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson (L) is banking the success of the team on the signing of Jeff Carter (R).

Offseason Losses: Jakub Voracek, Nikita Filatov, Scottie Upshall, Mathieu Garon, Jan Hejda, Mike Commodore, Sami Lepisto

Offseason Additions: Jeff Carter, Vinny Prospal, James Wisniewski, Radek Martinek

Last Season Ranking: 13th in the West

Offense: Jeff Carter coming to Columbus will give the Blue Jackets their first 1-2 offensive punch in franchise history Carter will join Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger on the top line. This will be the primary offense and special teams line as there isn’t much depth beyond the top six. With Carter and Nash, only players with the names of Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Iginla and Heatley have scored more goals than Carter and Nash over the last four seasons. Pretty impressive to have two of the top six goal scorers during that span are on the same line playing together. They will be worth a look in the early rounds of your fantasy draft if you aren’t too concerned about plus-minus because of whom they have playing behind them.

19-year-old top prospect Ryan Johansen is expected to begin the season centering the third line, but could get bumped up to the second line should he perform well and Antoine Vermette struggle. Various preseason lines have different players playing different positions and on different lines, but the combination of Vermette, Kristian Huselius, Antoine Vermette and newcomer Vinny Prospal to compete on the second and third lines. They have to find a way to succeed and qualify for the playoffs in the difficult Central division with a warming seat underneath GM Scott Howson, and head coach Scott Arniel. Not to mention Nationwide Arena has had more empty seats than filled ones in the last couple seasons since making the playoffs in 2009. Last year they were 27th of 30 in attendance with an average attendance of 13,658.

Defense: The best signing they made this off-season besides bringing in Carter was signing James Wisniewski. He is a young, offensive-minded blue liner who will see time on the first power play unit to create offensive and scoring for a squad that was second from last on the power play last season. If they want to make the playoffs, a 14 percent success rate won’t cut it. They also signed Radek Martinek who didn’t do a whole lot on Long Island last season. Look for 20-year-old David Savard to contend for the third defensive pairing coming out of training camp. If you compare his stats with Springfield of the AHL last season to the rest of the team, he was second behind Wisniewski in goals and points.

Goaltending: With Mathieu Garon departing for Tampa Bay, it is all on the shoulders of Steve Mason. He won 33 games in 2009 before crashing back to Earth in 2010. He played better in 2011 and it could give him confidence going into this season. It could fall in a line of young goalies such as Carey Price and Cam Ward who struggled while they were young before coming around and being a solid No. 1 goalie after a few years of experience.

The Jackets left fans scratching their head when they not only handed Mason the starting job again, but decided against signing a proven backup and will hand the No. 2 reins to Mark Dekanich. They signed him to a 1-way contract despite having 50 minutes of NHL experience under his belt. It is a huge risk to take especially for a team that needs to win to keep the fan base interested.

Playoff Prediction: In the playoffs, but just barely. It all rides on the play of Mason in goal. They did enough up front with the addition of Carter and Prospal and bringing in Wisniewski to anchor the blue line. While Detroit and Chicago are clearly better than them in the division, they will have to contend with Nashville to finish third in the division and to fight for the last playoff spot.


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