I’m sure the first question many of you are asking yourselves is why I, a passionate Rangers fan, am writing a blog on MYHB about the Columbus Blue Jackets. In my nearly four years of contributions on this site I can only think of one time I wrote about a team or a player of another team that was in no way related to the Rangers. So why start now? I have a couple of rational reasons for doing so actually.
First, I may be a Ranger fan first and foremost but I also am a fan of the sport of hockey. I watch games other than Ranger games whenever I have the chance. As such there are bound to be teams that catch my interest. For me the team I am beginning to find myself secretly rooting for is Columbus.
Think about this: John Davidson, formerly a Rangers goalie and TV analyst, is the new man in charge of hockey operations for the Blue Jackets. I have not once heard any Ranger fan ever say anything negative about JD. I admire the job he did in St. Louis and believe he will be able to achieve the same success in Columbus. I have every reason to want to see JD succeed given his history with the Rangers and the fact he is just a great guy.
The Blue Jackets also boast several former Rangers that I grew to like during their tenures in New York. Brandon Dubinsky was a good soldier for the Rangers for quite a few years. He tended to get criticized by some of my fellow Ranger fans for his lack of production relative to his salary but he did some good things for the Blue Shirts. He was one of the first players in a wave of home grown Rangers that finally showed the team was committed to developing talent instead of just trying to buy it.
Vinny Prospal is a great guy and you have to just love his goal celebrations. Artem Anisimov is actually a pretty funny guy too. Fedor Tyutin was a guy we hated to see go when we made the mistake of taking Nikky Z. off the Blue Jackets hands. Dane Byers was a Ranger draft pick who appeared in a handful of games with the team while R.J. Umberger was briefly Ranger property after he was included in a trade from Vancouver for F Martin Rucinsky in ‘04.
Suffice it to say there are a lot of ties to the Rangers on this Blue Jacket club. For that reason alone I’d like to see Columbus surprise everyone and sneak into the playoffs. And if not that at least stay in contention for a while.
Another reason I have to start writing about Columbus is that sometimes I flat out get bored. Those that know me outside HB know that I also contribute original Ranger material to several other websites. Fact is I do enjoy writing about other things as strange as that may sound. So seeing that there hasn’t been a lot of recent activity on the Blue Jackets board, I thought why not start posting some Columbus blogs.
With all that out of the way I’m going to discuss what will need to happen this year for the Blue Jackets to remain competitive this year.
Good goaltending: The Jackets have qualified for the postseason just once in their 12-year history. It’s no coincidence that Steve Mason happened to perform at a level worthy of winning the Calder Trophy that season. Since then he’s been horrible and the Jackets haven’t sniffed a playoff berth.
GM Scott Howson ignored the goaltending position entirely when he went out and aggressively added Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski to the club in the summer of 2011. That proved to be a big reason why last year’s squad failed so miserably despite the costly adds. Columbus allowed the 3rd highest goals-per-game average last season and they were on of just four teams in the league to finish with a Save % under 0.900.
Howson attempted to fix the problem by acquiring former Philadelphia Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in a trade. “Bob” as he is called has yet to prove he can be a #1 in this league over the course of a full season but he’ll likely get a chance to do so this season.
For the Blue Jackets to remain in contention for a postseason berth they will need to get above-average play in goal. Average won’t be good enough for this team.
Scoring by Committee: Rick Nash was the most dynamic offensive weapon this franchise has ever had and now he is a New York Ranger. That doesn’t mean the Blue Jackets should give up trying to score goals.
The Blue Jackets have a few players (Dubinsky, Prospal and Umberger) with 20+ goal seasons on their resume. They also have several younger forwards capable of contributing some points (Derick Brassard, Anisimov, Cam Atkinson, Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno to name a few). On the blue line Wisniewski and Jack Johnson both can help out the offense.
There may not be a potential 40-goal scorer on the roster but they have enough potential to be a league average offense if the young talent steps up.
Quality Defensive Play: The Jackets position of strength is their blue line. They have some solid veteran players on the back line that need to play well in their own zone to help out Bob.
Adrian Aucoin was brought in to provide a stabilizing veteran presence. He’ll be counted on to mentor young guys like David Savard, John Moore and Tim Erixon abd to play key minutes.
Tyutin is one of the longest tenured Blue Jackets and is a steady defenseman. He’s averaged better than 23:00 per game in three of the four full seasons he’s played for Columbus and plays in all situations.
Nikita Nikitin scored 32 points in just 54 contests and had a +/- rating of -5 for a team that scored 43 fewer goals at ES than they allowed.
The Blue Jackets may not boast several All-Star performers on the blue line but there is enough talent there to suggest they can be a good defensive team. The key for them will be to consistently play up to their potential.
Fix the PK: The Jackets allowed more PP goals than anyone and had the worst PK success rate in the NHL. They need to fix that if they want to climb the standings.
A team’s best penalty killer is invariably its goaltender. If Bobrovsky proves to be a capable #1, or if Steve Mason surprises the world (again) and rediscovers his magic then the Jackets will be better on the PK. If not, Columbus will be in deep trouble.
Someone in the Central has to stumble: The Central Division is one of the toughest in the league. Last season four of the five clubs made it to the playoffs. This year all four of those stand a decent chance of doing the same. The probability of any division in the NHL sending all five teams to the playoffs is practically impossible. For Columbus to put themselves into the conversation for a playoff spot they’ll need one of their division rivals to stumble and have a down year.
While Columbus probably won’t be a playoff team in 2013 stranger things have happened in this league. The shortened schedule will likely compress the standings by not allowing teams to distance themselves from their competitors. I would expect a number of teams to be within a handful of points of a playoff berth as the season draws to a close. If Columbus does what I suggested above they could be in that mix come April.