All speculation is over on who is going to make it (the only one of significance in debate was Filatov), who we would lose on waivers (none), and would we pick up anyone (no).
We now have our team built by the architecture firm of H&H Architects. This team screams Hitchcock. With few exceptions, this team is big, strong and fast. All will compete, there will be no exceptions to that or the players that don’t will be up in the press box. With the additions of Umberger, Commodore, Tyutin, Torres and a healthy Modin, we are sporting the biggest and most physical line that this team has ever put out on the ice. Along with last year’s addition of Boll, Murray and Peca, the last 2 years have been kind to Hitchcock’s vision of what this team needs to be. Chimera and Nash also fit into what Hitch wants out of his players. You know that Hitch is finally telling himself that his plan is starting to come together.
Don’t forget the influence of Mr. Howson. His hand is all over this team. Fedor Tyutin may be the most talked about and most important to this season’s success. Tyutin was on Howson’s radar for years and even before he got to Columbus. Another addition to this team that is not cut out of the Hitchcock cloth is Kristian Huselius (that’s not to say Hitch doesn’t like his play because he does). If this team has any hope of getting to 230 goals this season, Huselius will be one of the main reasons. He will make Nash better just like he did with Iginla in Calgary. Whoever the center is, Umberger or Brassard, he will make them better. As I have said before he is a difference maker. Now let’s look at Howson’s 1st ever draft pick, Jakub Voracek. Since the draft of 2007 (which Howson had a conversations to trade away but thought better of it when Voracek was still there), Voracek went and had a 100+ point season in Halifax, put on 25 pounds in the off season and scored 6 points in 6 preseason games. His is one of our top 6 forwards and very well could have a 60 point season this year.
Where Howson has changed this team is not only in talent evaluation but in the lack of ego and attention to the dynamics in the locker room. Howson has, with precision, put together this team without the urge to sign someone flashy to feed his ego that also could shred apart the dynamic in the locker room. Who was our sexy pickups this year? Commodore or Huselius would have to be it and unless we make a run in the playoffs, you will never see either of them on the cover of Hockey News. Neither will be disruptive in the locker room and the opposite will be true. Commodore is a leader that will also keep it light. Huselius is as quiet as a church mouse and won’t ever do anything to draw attention to him. He is a very good talent evaluator that doesn’t get swayed by a player’s big name or what he has done in the past. He is also very good at balancing the salary cap. We no longer will be choked with a contract of a player that is 3-5 years past his prime.
When he takes risks, they are calculated. Backman was a risk but he is in the last year of his contract, so you should get his best and if that’s not good enough, he’s gone at the end of the season. Mike York was a risk but signed him to a 2 way contract. He wasn’t good enough and so to Syracuse he goes with no damage done. Picking Filatov was a risk. He did his homework, Russia blew smoke and in the end, he is playing in North America this year. Filatov was either the 2nd or 3rd best talent in the draft and we got him at 6. He has the talent to be a 40+ goal scorer in this league, not many of those out there.
Enough on who and how it was built. Now what does this team need to do to make the playoffs?
1. Must get off to a fast start! We will know by Turkey Day whether this team is in it or not. That is why the Torres injury hurts so bad.
2. Must score 230 goals or more this year. That would be an increase of 40 goals over last year. Where that increase has to come from are from 7 players. Most would think Huselius but he will just was out what we lost with Zherdev. The 7 players are Umberger, Voracek, Brassard, Tyutin, Backman, Russell and a healthy Modin. The top 2 lines have to all be 20 goal scorers and that would have Nash with 40 and Huselius with 30. That’s 150 goals. Last year our top 6 goal scorers equaled 108 goals. Long way to go but in that group from last year was Fritsche, Malhotra, Chimera and Fedorov. Those type guys are not being counted on this year to carry the goal scoring burden. To get to the 230 goals plateau, another 80 goals will come from the back 2 lines and the defense. With a 3rd line of Chimera, Peca and Torres, it should help get to that number a lot easier.
3. Leclaire must play 60 games and be as good as last year. He has a much better defense in front of him. There is no debate about that. The question is always his health. You cannot expect Norrena or even Mason to carry this team for an extended time and still make the playoffs.
4. This team must handle injuries. Beside Nash and Leclaire, this team has the depth to handle players going down with injuries. Now will that depth perform when needed? If one of the top 6 go down, expect Filatov to be on his way. That is a lot to expect from a rookie but it is what it is. He will need to score when he is up. The question will be can he on a consistent basis? The other player that would be hard to fill is Tyutin. He is a rare offensive and defensive defenseman that moves the puck out of the zone with purpose. Can Methot or Tollefsen fill that? No! Now you will be asking Russell or Backman to do more than you want them to do. If they don’t step up if Tyutin goes down, that could be all that is needed to keep us out of the playoffs.
5. Must go .500 on the road. Must collect 41 points away from Nationwide Arena. 41 points on the road and 54 points at Nationwide Arena gives the Jackets 95 points and a spot in the playoffs. If we only get 33 points on the road like last year, you can’t expect to make that up by getting 62 points at Nationwide Arena. That’s not realistic and don’t expect it.
6. The backup goalie must go .500. Whether it’s Norenna, Mason or the usher in section 112, they will play around 22 games this year. They must give us 22 points. Norrena gave us 26 points and he played in 37 games and started 30. Now add the 8 points from a 500 road record and 4 points (if I only use the games he started) and we have 92 points. That would have put us in last year.
This is my take on everything. What’s yours? Did I miss anything? Fire away and let’s start playing some real hockey that counts!
***Note- Manny Malhotra was put on IR with a “lower body injury” and the Jackets called up Derek Dorsett to replace him.
Fire the Cannon!