Over the span of six weeks, we’ll be taking a quick look at each of the 30 NHL clubs — examining their major storylines, pivotal players and the most important questions they need to answer heading into the 2016-17 season.
By the time we’ve hit every team, it will be mid-September. And that, of course, means it will be time for training camps to open. Perfect timing, really.
Today, it’s the Columbus Blue Jackets…
The Columbus Blue Jackets entered the 2015-16 campaign as a dark horse candidate to sneak up on some teams, make the playoffs and maybe even win their first best-of-seven series ever.
Then the season started.
Before anyone had even settled in, Columbus was 0-8, had fired Todd Richards and replaced him with the visibly upset John Tortorella. Things got a little better in November, but still not quite good. And then the wheels permanently fell off in December anyway. By January, franchise center Ryan Johansen was dealt to Nashville.
This time around, those expectations won’t be nearly so high — at least not externally. Internally, however, the Jackets believe their blue line is much improved. And they’re likely not too happy with a franchise history that dates all the way back to 2000, yet has only yielded two short-lived playoff appearances ever.
How badly does Columbus get hurt by the expansion draft?
Not to skip right over the upcoming season or anything, but there could be some considerable drama surrounding the arrival of that team in Las Vegas next summer. Especially for a team like Columbus.
As it stands, clubs will be able to protect either a) seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie or b) eight skaters and a goalie. First and second years pros like, say, Zach Werenski won’t need to be protected, but guys with no movement clauses will automatically have to be. And the Blue jackets have quite a few of those.
So it’s entirely possible that they have to leave a decent younger player exposed while they’re being forced to use one of those protected spots on David Clarkson. They gave themselves some much-needed wiggle room by buying out Fedor Tyutin last month, but they’ll still have to be vigilant to make sure they don’t lose anyone with too much upside.
NOTABLE SUMMER ACQUISITION
Pierre-Luc Dubois (via draft)
General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen took considerable heat for passing on fellow Finn Jesse Puljujarvi with the third pick in the draft. And while the stance that he needed to draft someone just because they were from his country was ridiculous, he did take a calculated risk by passing on a potentially elite prospect that seemed to be a top three pick on virtually every other draft board.
With that in mind, Kekalainen must feel pretty strongly about the guy he did take in that slot. Dubois is a highly touted power forward who covers all 200 feet of the ice and plays with an edge to his game. Those sound like good qualities to have on a squad coached by Tortorella, and it doesn’t hurt that he poured in 42 goals and 57 assists with Cape Breton of the QMJHL last year either.
Zach Werenski (drafted: No. 8 overall in 2015)
Dubois instantly becomes one of the top guys in the system, and may play right away. Werenski has been the guy for over a year now though, and could be on his way to the NHL this year too. He signed an entry-level deal in March, after anchoring Michigan’s blue line for two seasons. And the Jackets believe he’s ready to make an impact at the game’s highest level sooner, rather than later.
BIGGEST CAP HIT
Sergei Bobrovsky ($7.425 million)
In terms of total cap hit for the upcoming season, Bobrovsky is the second-highest paid goaltender in the league (behind Henrik Lundqvist). And he hasn’t been playing like it lately.
Granted, he’s dealt with more than his fair share of injuries. And, as frustrating as that is for fans and the front office, you really can’t blame that on Bobrovsky. In fact, he’s probably more frustrated with the situation that anyone.
Problem is, he hasn’t been all that effective when he has been on the ice over the last two years. He was flat out dominant during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, taking home the Vezina that summer. And he was pretty solid the following year as well. But his goals against average of 2.68 in 2014-15 left something to be desired, and it ballooned to 2.75 — with just a 0.908 save percentage — in 37 games this past season.
Like most netminders, when Bobrovsky is on his game, his club has a shot to do some damage. And he’s shown in the past that he can reach that level. But the roster around him isn’t nearly loaded enough to overcome shaky play between the pipes right now.
2017 UFA TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Take that however you want it. If you like the potential this group has — and there certainly are pieces to like — then you can rejoice in the fact that everyone except Gregory Campbell, Sam Gagner, Curtis McElhinney and Cody Goloubef are already locked in beyond next season.
If you’re waiting for some sort of overhaul though, well, this is pretty much the roster you’re getting for awhile, barring some sort of big trade.
Sure didn’t seem like Foligno would be considered an x-factor a year ago at this time. Back then, he was fresh off a 31-goal, 73-point season and about to be named captain in Columbus.
What a difference one season can make. Foligno’s production dipped to the point where it was almost eerily symbolic of the Blue Jackets’ entire season. He fell all the way to 12 goals, his lowest total in a full season since 2009-10 — and, actually, he only suited up for 61 contests that year.
Part of the issue was his shooting percentage, which was essentially chopped in half. When he was piling up those 31 goals in 2014-15, he was converting 17 percent of his shots. Last year, only 8.1 percent were going in. A more realistic expectation probably lies somewhere between, which would likely result in a little over 20 goals. And this lineup will need at least that from their captain in 2016-17.