If you think things couldn’t get worse for the Columbus Blue Jackets, it has. Last season the club posted the sixth-highest payroll in the league but they finished last in the standings. Fans staged a revolt protest, another coach was fired and to top it off, the franchises star player in Rick Nash requested a trade that was granted in the off-season.
The brass of president Mike Priest, GM Scott Howson and coach Todd Richards are left to pick up the pieces of a team that has a darker future than taking a stroll at night. The team finished last season 26th in goals scored with Rick Nash. Take a 30-goal scorer off your roster and there isn’t much left in regards to a go-to scorer. The forward additions of Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno aren’t really suitable names to replace Nash. What does this leave you with? The first line of RJ Umburger, Derick Brassard, and Vinny Prospal. The trio is the three leading scorers returning, and after that there is a large drop off because defenseman Jack Johnson was fifth in goals and points last season. Unless you’re putting up Nick Lidstrom or Bobby Orr-type numbers, a defensemen shouldn’t score more than a second-liner.
There is a glimmer of hope in young forwards Foligno and Cam Atkinson. Atkinson did score 14 points in 27 games, which gives them hope he can blossom in his second year with the club. Foligno is looking for a larger role after coming back from Ottawa, and he can have as big of a role as he wants playing for the Blue Jackets. One player that see time in the lineup should injuries occur is 22-year-old Matt Calvert. The 2008 draft pick has spent time in the AHL last season and could be ready for the NHL, despite his team not playing NHL-caliber hockey.
If there’s any strength on the roster, it’s the defense. They made a mid-season trade for Jack Johnson, making him the quarterback of the offense. The combination of him and James Wisniewski on the power play for a full season should improve what was the 24th best power play unit from last season. They also have contributors Nikita Nikitin, Adrian Aucoin, and the No. 2 overall draft pick in June Ryan Murray. Another player that could see time with the big club is Tim Erixon, a 21-year-old defenseman who was sent to the team in the Rick Nash trade.
In goal, their key acquisition was Sergei Bobrovsky from Philadelphia. He’s in need of a new change of scenery after coming off a disappointing sophomore season. Speaking of disappointments, Steve Mason will be relegated to backup after being the top rookie in the league in 2008-09. The addition of Bobrovsky between the pipes will help improve the penalty kill unit that was the worse in the NHL last season. They killed off 76.6 percent of penalties and Mason had a .796 save percentage on the penalty kill.
While fans in Columbus are growing impatient to see a winner, they won’t see one anytime soon. They’ll face a difficult challenge in their own division considering everyone else is several steps above them. They did end last season on a positive note with five wins in their last six contests. But that was last season when they had Nash on their roster. If there’s anyone worth watching, it will be Bobrovsky, Murray and Umburger.