It goes without saying that with no scoring, you likely won't win many games. Coming into last year's campaign, the Blue Jackets and their fans believed en groupe that they boasted a group of forwards that could rival any in the West. On paper, Rick Nash, Sergei Fedorov, David Vyborny, Anson Carter, Fredrik Modin and Nikolai Zherdev looked like an offense that could outscore the Cleveland Browns on some nights. For whatever reason, things just didn't pan out as we all envisioned.
The likely culprit of this mess is the lack of foresight by Doug MacLean. Granted, Carter, Modin and Zherdev are extremely talented players. They were thrown into the wrong situation for their skillset. Carter and Modin score the goals started by someone else: deflections, one-timers and tap-ins from the slot. These guys need players to feed the puck to them. And unfortunately, the Jackets lacked depth at center ice and had one legitimate playmaking center, 38-year-old Sergei Fedorov.
At the All-Star break last year, the Jackets were dead last in goals scored, and later on in the year, set the all-time record for shutouts against in one season. With those forwards, what went wrong? See above.
This season, some of that cast has returned, but the departure of Carter to free agency and up-and-coming power center Alexander Svitov to Russia gave the Jackets some leeway to make adjustments. Bringing in Michael Peca is a bonus, and even though he may not light the scoresheet up, he is a consistent leader and above-average playmaker and checking center. Rest assured, Peca will put up more points than Svitov's 18 last year.
Freddy Modin has found the spark to his scoring fire- linemate and good friend David Vyborny. The two have great chemistry and could flourish on a line with Fedorov in the middle. The top line is a toss-up; most fans would love to see Derick Brassard show up in camp and win the top-line job, and he undoubtedly has the talent to do so. Doing so would allow Peca to drop into an appropriate role on the third line between speedster Jason Chimera and rising star Dan Fritsche, who is coming off of a career year offensively.
Nikolai Zherdev would seemingly do well with a change of scenery, and bringing in Brassard to feed him the puck might do the trick. Rick Nash seems to be the only guy who will dish the puck to Nik with regularity, and keeping the two together would be beneficial. A top line of Nash-Brassard-Zherdev looks and sounds lethal.
Ken Hitchcock wants his fourth line to be one of "specialists." He has the faceoff winner in Manny Malhotra, and the grit specialist in Jody Shelley. Hitch wants his other winger to be a good penalty killer, and Curtis Glencross should be that guy.
I realize this arrangement leaves Gilbert Brule out of the mix. Based on Gilbert's performance last season, most would agree he was in over his head; and when he wasn't, he was toiling on the fourth line with no sign of promise. He may need a year in Syracuse to get himself ready, but if he can make the jump now, all the better for him.
Next time, I'll breakdown the Columbus blueline.