The Columbus Blue Jackets have been given a blank slate. That blank slate was given the day that Doug Maclean was fired. Every player is starting anew. The Scott Howson era starts Friday and it is full of promise. Expectiations for this squad could not be any lower. Nobody outside of the Central Ohio area has them above 14th in their Western Conference predictions. The flaw is that those prognosticators are viewing this year's team through the glasses of Doug Maclean and Gerrard Gallant. The NHL will see this season that with a professional coach and general manager, the ceiling is high for the Blue Jackets organization.
The players are well aware that everyone is saying they are a "year away." This may be true, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that the CBJ make a statement this year. The Jackets are finally going to play a physical brand of hockey. Long gone are the days of taking one open ice hit and packing it in for the night. No longer will we see a team that folds in the face of a two goal deficit. Ken Hitcock has implemented his system this season and the NHL will once again see his genius in action. He will take what everyone thinks is a trainwreck and will right the ship. The CBJ this season will be a freight train looking for somebody to hit. Every scrum in the corner, every scrum in the goal crease, and every fight: the Blue Jackets will be in the middle of it all.
You may be asking yourself, "How can the Blue Jackets be improved with exactly the same core as last year's disaster?" The answer is that youth and experience are abound within the Jackets' organization. Young talent is always a work in progress but with playing time the kinks eventually get worked out. Gilbert Brule will finally regain his scoring ability after taking his lumps last season. Pascal Leclaire will have an injury-free season. O.K. Tollefson will improve defensively to accompany his bruising physical style. Rick Nash will take the final step on his journey to becoming a true superstar. These might be bold predictions but with Ken Hitchcock at the helm, never be surprised.
Now, this blog may turn out to be overwhelmingly optimistic but I am willing to bet that the Blue Jackets will make a statement this year by being in the playoff hunt. If the players can get a clean slate, then why can't the fans? Here's to another exciting season of Blue Jackets hockey. Carry the Flag and Go Jackets!