Columbus Blue Jackets Season Preview
Team Payroll: $27,882,767
Doug Maclean; has been the general manager for the Blue Jacket organization since 1998.
Gerard Gallant; former NHLer and minor league coach entering his first full season as head coach. He was an assistant coach with Columbus since 00-01 and took over as head coach midway last season.
This season the Columbus Blue Jackets are making a run for their first ever playoff spot. Doug Maclean has added some marquee names to the roster in hopes of building around the solid core of players from prior to the lockout. The addition of Adam Foote on defense will help move the puck up ice especially without the two line offside pass rule and feed their skilled forwards. This type of play will become instrumental in the new NHL as the NHL will try to create more breakaways and offensive chances.
To Take Charge
There are going to be two players who decide the CBJ’s chances this year and they are Rick Nash and Adam Foote. Nash who was tied for the leagues lead in goals last season (41) will have the majority of the offence duties on his shoulders. The Blue Jackets will need another strong campaign from him in order to succeed. Foote on the other hand will be the core of the defense and will most likely see close to 30 minutes of ice time per game. Last season not one Blue Jacket had a plus rating, look for that to change this year.
On the Rush
Last season Columbus scored 177 goals (48 on the powerplay) which averages 2.16 per game and ranking them 29th in the league last season. With 41 goals scored by Rick Nash, we should see the majority of the offence run through the top line. Nikolai Zherdev who joined the team midway through the season last year will also see a fare share of the offensive duties as well. Watch for Bryan Berard to anchor the power play and take advantage of his wicked slap shot. Gallant should be running the offensive down low and cycling the puck through Nash and Marchant due to their size and skill set. Although the Blue Jackets ranked 24th in the league on the power play at 14.4%, you will see an improvement this year with the new obstruction rules and improvement on both the offensive and defensive ends.
Covering the D-Zone
We should all be aware of the signing of Adam Foote with the Blue Jackets and to say the least it caught me a little off guard. This signing shows the commitment that Maclean and the whole Columbus organization has towards winning. For those who have been in a bubble for the past 10 – 12 years, Foote is a defenseman that any team in the league would love to have, during his career he has won two Stanley Cups and a Gold Medal in the Salt Lake City games with Team Canada. There is no need to say that Adam Foote is a stud defenseman who knows how to win. Foote should see 30 minutes of ice time a game and having ice time both on the power play backing up Berard and quarterbacking the penalty kill. So the tandem of Foote and Berard is an obvious number one choice for Gallant followed by Luke Richardson and Radoslav Suchy but spots 5 and 6 are up in the air. But with four solid defenders the Blue Jackets are addressing there number one concern and that is defense. In 03-04 Columbus were -61 as a team total with not one player having a plus rating; with the new defense core Columbus will be in more games this season compared to last.
Guarding the Net
Denis or Prusek; Prusek or Denis either way Gallant has his hands full evaluating these two. Denis should get the nod as the number one goalie with more games played last season and a better goals against average of .918% versus Prusek’s .917% but Prusek had a much better defensive core in front of him in Ottawa last season. So with the addition of a couple new defensemen look for Denis’s numbers to improve.
Talking about my Generation
In the sophomore position the Blue Jackets have a blue chipper in Zherdev. The 03/04 campaign saw Zherdev score 34 points averaged .59 points per game but this figure should increase with his ice time. Watch for Zherdev out on the power play and most likely on the first line. Gilbert Brulee the Blue Jackets 6th overall pick is outstanding as well. During the course of his WHL career he averaged 1.06 points per game and last year increased his average to 1.24 points per game. Having see Brulee play twice last season in Vancouver I am well aware of his creativity on the ice and the intensity he plays with. He almost reminds me of a Doug Gilmour and with his vision on the ice. In those two games I saw him register a pretty assist in the first game and a goal and an assist in the second, which would be a welcome addition to Columbus’s second or third line, where their depth thins out. Look for players such as Pineault to make a name for themselves in training camp this fall.
This is just a rough guess as Gallant is still experimenting with his new acquisitions and rule changes but this is where I would like the lines to settle.
Nash Marchant Zherdev
Malhotra Wright Hrdina
Sanderson Brulee Vyborny
Shelly Svitov Fritsche
Most will have the Blue Jackets missing the playoffs this year and have them building towards next year. Not me! I think the CBJ will limp into the playoffs narrowly, since they have addressed their major concern in defense we should see more closer games to say the least. I think they should place in the 7th or 8th spot in the Western Conference hovering around the .500 mark or about 80 points. If not they should be in the hunt for a playoff spot come March and narrowly missing it by no more than six points.