Perhaps the achilles heel for any up-and-coming team is a lack of team defense. The Blue Jackets have made a few blunders down the path in the name of free-agent pickups Scott Lachance, Deron Quint, Bryan Berard and Adam Foote. Of the four mentioned, Foote has had the greatest impact on his team- both on the ice and in the locker room.
On the flip side, there have been quite a few "diamond in the rough" pickups on defense. Duvie Westcott could be the most underrated puck-mover in the league. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen is big, physical and tenacious during every shift, and has made large strides playing with Adam Foote. The Jackets boast two players who have untapped potential on the offensive side in Kris Russell and waiver-wire pickup Ron Hainsey. Hainsey is slowly learning the defensive positioning required to keep a spot on Ken Hitchcock's squad.
Many hold the opinion (and it is justified) that Doug MacLean made a mistake in rushing Rostislav Klesla to the NHL. Then-head coach Dave King was opposed to the idea, but after a heated discussion that ended in King being threatened with his job, he obliged. On the contrary, Klesla has developed into a solid all-around defenseman and is just now coming into his own. Finally, he looks at home on the blueline and forms a solid 2nd pairing with Ron Hainsey.
A couple fresh faces appeared on defense for the Jackets this year. Marc Methot played on different occasions and Darcy Campbell (a free-agent signing out of college at Holy Cross) made one start in Chicago. Methot seems poised to lock down a top-six spot in the next few years, and Russell is the Scott Neidermayer of the future: highly regarded as the smoothest skating defenseman to come through juniors in years.
In free-agency, new GM Scott Howson made a very intelligent signing in Jan Hejda. At 29, he is coming into his prime and is virtually a lock for the Jackets' top four. He played regularly down the stretch for Howson in Edmonton last year, and will very likely surprise many this season.
Defense has never been a strength for Columbus, but they are growing. Not only are they growing, but in the right direction as well. Scott Howson has made a point to beef up the blueline, and all except Duvie Westcott and Kris Russell are of the ideal frame for a checking style game.
No one has picked the Jackets to do anything remarkable this season, and based on previous seasons, no surprise. However, with a new team-oriented defensive style and a fresh attitude from the front office down, there is a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.