Over the Next 30 days I will be Previewing each of the National Hockey League Clubs heading into the 2011-12 season starting from the Anaheim Ducks. Day 8 of the series belongs to the official AarifDeenReport Columbus Blue Jackets Preview.
Please resort to myhockeybuzz page for previews of teams falling before this team.
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Heading into opening night, the Blue Jackets and their fan base awaited as questions were to become answers. Will Steve Mason re-group from his sophomore slump? Will Derick Brassard return to rookie form? Will Rick Nash be able to finally breakout with average linemates? Will this average defense be able to slow down the best in the game? And most importantly: will Columbus finally get another shot at postseason action?
Well now, 11 months later, all those questions have become answers. But none turned out the way Jackets faithful were hoping. Steve Mason was able to post an over 500 record, however he still was very stingy in net. Derick Brassard was able to score 47 points this year, 17 of them goals, playing alongside Rick Nash. Nash once again scored over 30 goals, and once again was held to less then 70 points, which he’s surpassed just once in his career. Columbus’ defense lead by Hejda and Tyutin gave up more goals than 25 other teams in the league last season. And most importantly, once again, Columbus ended the regular season on the outside looking in.
During the opening month of the season, Columbus was able to post a 6-3-0 record. Surprising many by beating teams such as San Jose, Anaheim, and last years finalists Philadelphia and Chicago. It was a great way to kick off the season. This was followed by wins in 8 of their next 11 games. Yes, heading into the last week of November, Columbus held a 14-6 record, and was in the fold not only for the playoffs, but for the Central division title as well. Things were looking up in Columbus. Back-up goaltender Garon had a 6-1 record with Mason winning 8 games, they were scoring nearly 3 goals a game, and everyone was pitching in lead by Rick Nash who had 13 of the teams 58 goals through the first 20 games of the season. Quarter #1... success!
The next dozen games saw Columbus in the winning column just twice. Lets just say from then on, things weren’t exactly looking so good. Still posting a winning record and in the thick of the playoff race, Columbus started to slowly lose team chemistry and it didn’t seem like the team had much of a winning mentality anymore.
Once the calendar turned to 2011, the Jackets had 20 wins and were hovering above 500 still holding onto their playoff hopes. But it was the new year that saw Columbus go 14 days into January before posting a win. And by the end of the season, they had won only 34 games. 14 throughout the last 43 games. Another failure to make it to the postseason, and another year for fans to watch 16 other teams battle for the Cup. Something had to be done in the offseason to change this team into a winner. And lets just say, Owner McConnell and GM Scott Howson surely answered the call.
Major Players Added:
Whether it was to be done through trades or through free agency, Scott Howson was given the okay by team owners to spend big this summer. It was finally his time to take advantage and go out and acquire (albeit overpay) some talent. He kicked it into full gear, and before the NHL draft took place, Columbus made their biggest move this summer
Jeff Carter: Just over 24 hours before the biggest day in many teenagers young lives at the draft, Columbus struck a blockbuster deal with Philadelphia. They traded young Czech forward Jakub Voracek, 2011 1st round pick (8th overall), and a 3rd round pick to Philadelphia for star forward Jeff Carter. Rumours were swirling all weekend that their first round pick was on the block, and it was a big factor in the deal that saw Columbus acquire their first legitimate top-line centerman in well, forever. And this is coming from a team that had Sergei Fedorov as part of their team for three seasons.
James Wisniewski: After acquiring his rights before free agency was underway, Columbus signed (overpayed) Wisniewski to a 6-year deal worth $33 million. An average of $5.5 million each year. James started the year with a preseason “gesture” that saw him receive a 2-games suspension. He ended the year on his 4th team in 3 season, and eclipsed the 50 point mark for the first time. After being traded to Montreal, he took advantage of his new role and put up 30 points in just 43 games. Jackets fans, get ready for this offensive defenseman to hit full-stride in Columbus, and power up the 29th ranked powerplay starting in October.
Radek Martinek: As things started to get quiet for the Jackets, GM Scott Howson was searching the free agent market for a new veteran presence on the d-line after Hejda fled to Denver. His search was over when he signed long-time New York Islander Radek Martinek to a 1-year deal worh $2.2 million. The 34 year old will bring a calm veteran presence to the blue-line and will be matched up with one of the more offensive defenseman on the team in order to play his role as the last man back.
Vaclav Prospal: The last major signing Howson made to improve his club came during the last week of July. Former Ranger Prospal signed on with the Jackets for $2.5 million with bonuses. The veteran has spent a lot of time on the injury reserve the last 12 months, but he is still proven to be very effective. In the 29 games he suited up for New York last year, he scored 9 goals and 23 total points. He, as well as Carter and Wisniewski will give the terrible Jackets powerplay a mega boost for this upcoming season.
The Others: The Jackets added goaltender Curtis Sanford to their depth chart. barring any injuries, Sanford most likely will start the season in Springfield. The back-up role will most likely be filled by youngster Mark Dekanich who was signed out of Nashville where he has played a grand total of 1 NHL game. Quite a lot of pressure being put on this backup goaltender who will be turned to if Mason sinks once again. Journeyman AHLer Alexandre Giroux was also added as depth for the big club.
Who Was Lost:
D Mike Commodore signed on with the Detroit Red Wings for 1 year worth $1 million
D Jan Hejda signed on with the Colorado Avalanche for 4 years worth $13 million
F Scottie Upshall signed on with the Florida Panthers for 4 years worth $14 million
G Mathieu Garon signed on with the Tampa Bay Lightning for 2 years worth $2.6 million
F Trevore Smith signed on with the Tampa Bay Lightning for 1 year worth 525k
F Kyle Wilson signed on with the Nashville Predators for 2 years worth $1.1 million
F Ben Guite signed on with the San Jose Sharks for 1 year worth 525k
D Sami Lepisto signed on with the Chicago Blackhawks for 1 year worth 750k
F Andrew Murray signed on with the San Jose Sharks for 1 year worth 575k
F Chris Clark remains an Unrestricted Free Agent
F Ethan Moreau remains an Unrestricted Free Agent
D Anton Stralman remains an Unrestricted Free Agent
D Craig Rivet remains an Unrestricted Free Agent
Heading into this season, Columbus will once again enter the year with many questions. This time, fortunately, these questions will involve bigger names and bigger hopes. Will Rick Nash FINALLY hit his full potential playing alongside Jeff Carter? Will Brassard show his consistent play on the 2nd line? Will Wisniewski and Martinek turn this defense in the right direction? Will Steve Mason finally return to rookie form knowing Garon is not there to bail him out? And most importantly: will Columbus FINALLY get another shot at postseason action?
Blue Jackets fans are entering the season a lot more confident with these questions as compared to last summers questions. The Rick Nash lead offense will be sparking plenty more goals this year. Not only will Jeff Carter play a vital role in improving the 25th ranked offense, but Vaclav Prospals calm veteran game will also pitch in close to 60 or more points and 20 goals. He will play a major role for the jackets this year. His scoring ability mixed with his veteran presence for the young team will make him a fan favourite instantly at the Nationwide Arena.
Brassard will love the fact that he won’t be counted on to play top-line duty anymore. While a talented player, Derick is not a 1st line center. While playing on the 2nd line, he will easily improve his offense and will prove to be a bigger offensive help to the Jackets over teammates Vermette and possibly even Umberger.
Not much has improved for Columbus defensively. Not only was Hejda lost in free ageny after signing in Colorado, but underachieving defenseman Mike Commodore was bought-out by management and joined divisional foe Detroit. James Wisniewski and his new $33 million deal will vastly improve the Jackets offensive play. But until James learns to add a defensive game to his play, Columbus will still be without a #1 defenseman. He has the mean streak covered at least. Wisniewski loves to hit, fight, and get under the opponents skin with such antics as the aforementioned “gesture” toward Sean Avery during last years pre-season.
Probably the biggest question mark for Columbus this year will be their goaltending. Scott Arniel and company really need to work hard and light a candle under Steve Mason. The last two years, when Mason has faltered, Mathieu Garon has been able to take full control of the starting position and win some games for the Jackets. At least keeping them in the playoff race. This year will be a lot different. Barring any trades or signings, the fight for the back-up role will be between Curtis Sanford and Mark Dekanich.
Likely to be handled by Dekanich, the back-up in Columbus nevertheless shouldn’t be given more than 20 or so games to start this season. Mason must regain his rookie form and take control of the crease in order for Columbus to have a clear shot at the playoffs. So the question is, can the young goalie snap back into form?
Deen’s Projected Lineup:
R.J. Umberger - Jeff Carter - Rick Nash
Kristian Huselius - Derick Brassard - Vaclav Prospal
Matt Calvert - Antoine Vermette - Derek MacKenzie
Derek Dorsett - Samuel Pahlsson - Jared Boll
Mark Methot - James Wisniewski
Grant Clitsome - Fedor Tyutin
Kris Russell - Radek Martinek
While sporting an improved roster this season that has the potential to return to the playoffs, Columbus will once again miss out on the big party. Heading into the final weeks, Columbus will be fighting for the well sought after 8th seed with Nashville and Colorado. While they have a chance to steal the last seat in the playoffs, they will lose the race and end 10th place in the Western Conference. This however will be done whilst sporting a winning record. Expect Rick Nash to score at least 45 goals this season.
Deen’s Daily Tidbits:
Brendan Shanahan is mega valuable to the NHL. His ideas are golden!
The new nets look great, the new technology is great, but no touch icing? Won’t happen, sorry.
Anyone else hoping news comes out that Sidney Crosby is healthy after Hiller announced he is? The league is a lot better with the best healthy.
Is it October yet?
David Aebischer receives a tryout from Winnipeg. Is that random or what?
Teemu Selanne please come back!
Thanks for reading! Follow me on twitter @AarifDeenReport please!