Jackets Buzzing Forward

Despite missing the playoffs once again, things are actually looking up in Columbus for the Blue Jackets. It doesnt seem that way for a franchise that has never made the playoffs but its actually good times ahead for the team and success is just around the corner.

Three things really have made the difference in Columbus:
  • Ken Hitch***** – Adding an established coach who not only has tremendous experience at all levels but is a winner has made a big difference for the team. The Jackets actually show direction and purpose now with such a disiplined coach behind the bench. To actually have a game plan, to actually have a system in place and to have someone who knows how to win was exactly what this franchise needed.
  • Scott Howson – He hasn’t invented the wheel or anything like that, but his experience as a draft guru and developer is helping the Jackets be a better team on that side of the ledger. Ex-GM Doug Maclean did a terrible job at development and Howson has done a good job to change that. It was nice to see the last two top picks by the Jackets not playing in the NHL as 4th liners at the age of 18. This is why Brule struggled, why it took until this year for Leclaire to emerge and why Klesla has not lived up to potential. The slow, steady approach he is taking will reap its rewards soon enough.
  • Rick Nash – While he has been the face of the franchise since he was drafted, Nash cemented himself as the lead dog the day he scored that wonderful, highlight reel goal to win the game against the Coyotes. At the same time, he has been the first to buy into the team’s philisophy and really been a leader at playing the system. It was to little surprise he was named team captain after Adam Foote was traded. His emergence as a team first guy and leader to go with his wonderful skills should perhaps vault him to a top 10 player soon.
These 3 individuals have played a major part of the team’s turnaround and are a big reason why the future is better in Columbus.
They are however still a few players away from really being a deep and talented squad that would be good enough to compete in the difficult Western Conference.
Here is how the team stands heading into the summer:

2008-09 CAP HIT – $23 million for 14 players.

With so many contracts coming off the books like Foote and Fedorov, there is room to manuevre for the Jackets. This flexibility could allow them to fill some needed holes, especially on defence. The team may look into getting a top 6 forward as well, preferably at centre to play with Nash or anchor a 2nd unit. Its unlikely the team will brush up against the cap max, but they are armed with more room than most which is a major asset in today’s NHL.

UFA – David Vyborny, Dick Tarnstrom, Michael Peca, Jan Hejda, Ron Hainsey, Mark Rycroft, Derek MacKenzie, Zenon Konopka

RFA – Pascal Leclaire, Dan Fritsche, Marc Methot, Joakim Lindstrom, Aaron Rome, Alexander Picard

Leclaire is the biggest name to be re-signed. He had a big year and is due for a big raise. The Jackets would love to bring back Peca, Hainsey and Hedja. They were all steady veteran players who were a strong influence on the team’s younger core. Peca played a big role in Nash’s emergence as captain.

Under Contract:

Goal – Fredrik Norrena

Leclaire and Norrena form a very solid tandem. Leclaire was excellent finishing 2nd in shutouts. He is on the verge of being yet another dominant French Canadian netminder to patrol the crease in the NHL. Hopefully a new contract will not hurt him like it has for many. Norrena is quite capable of playing 25 games and afforded the team of having a goalie that was not a significant downgrade from their number 1.

Defence – Duvie Westcott, Rostislav Klesla, Kris Russell, Ole Tollefsen

One thing the Jackets need is more depth at this position. That will be even more prominent if Hedja and Hainsey are not brought back. The loss of Foote hurts in terms of losing a shutdown player, losing a ton of leadership and losing a physical presence. Some of that will need to be replaced. Only Tollefsen is willing to throw his weight around. Hedja was a major surprise and an important piece to bring back. He led the team in +/- and was in a word steady. He was also a great influence on his countryman Klesla. This was perhaps Klesla’s best season to date. His improvement will go a long way for this team. Hainsey led the defence in scoring and if he departs, that is something the team will need to address. Russell will eventually be that type of player but is still too raw to take that responsibility now. Its possible they could target one of the big name free agent defencemen out there coming July 1st. They had a pretty woeful PP and the lack of a QB was a big reason.

Forward – Rick Nash, Fred Modin, Nik Zherdev, Gilbert Brule, Manny Malholtra, Jason Chimera, Andrew Murray, Jiri Novotny, Jared Boll
Nash and Zherdev give the Jackets a big one-two punch up front. Both are world class exciting to watch players and while they didnt put up major point totals last season, they had strong years. Zherdev seemed more consistent last season and bought into the system much better. The offence is built around these two and will only get better when some of their youngsters like Brule, Brassard and Voracek join the club full time. Perhaps another veteran scorer to join Modin in helping to bring along all these young players will be an important piece for Howson to find this summer. They could use a playmaker, especially for the PP. There is a solid number of checkers and grinders with Chimera, Malholtra, Fritsche and Boll. Big, physical players fit in well with the game plan Hitch***** has implemented. If Peca leaves, they need a faceoff presence. Peca was also a key part of the PK that finished a respectable 9th overall.
Top Prospects

Goal: Steve Mason
Mason was yet another goalie who had his stock rise thanks to backing Canada to another gold medal at the World Jrs. He had a great tournament and got a small taste of the NHL getting called up a few times for emergency purposes. Right now he is leading Kitchener to a strong showing in the OHL playoffs and will get to play in the Memorial Cup, adding more championship experience to his resume.

Defence: Marc Methot, Kyle Wharton, Will Weber, Ted Ruth, Clay Wilson

Methot will likely get a strong chance to make next year’s team. He did not look out of place in his brief showing this past season. There a few decent players but no real studs coming through the ranks. Having several bodies will help with their depth issues.

Forward: Jakub Voracek, Derick Brassard, Alex Picard, Stefan Legein, Tom Sestito, Adam Pineault,

They have a nice mix of offensive talent (Voracek, Brassard) with some muckers and grinders (Pineault, Legein). Both Brassard and Voracek could fill the team’s need for top line centres. Both are trem
endously skilled offensively and Brassard is quite close to making the team full time. Voracek has dominated Jr and hopefully that will translate into a good pro career. Legein was another quality role player for Canada at the World Jrs who was able to showcase his heart and desire on a big stage. His stock has risen and he may add a different dimension to the Jackets in the future.
The team is well set for the future, provided the team develops their young talent correctly. That more than anything set the franchise back and prevented them from making the playoffs like their other expansion cousins.
Things will likely get better with the team having two first rounders in the upcoming draft plus 3 more picks in the top 100. With depth being the word to describe this year’s crop of talent, the Jacket should land two quality prospects. Because they are so well stocked, there is no real big need to grab a certain position. Taking the best available talent will be their focus. With the 6th pick they could end up with players like power forward Kyle Beach, rugged Luke Schenn a defenceman, another skilled centre like Cody Hodgson, sniper Mikail Bodeker, or steady centre Colin Wilson. Despite not being in the top 5, a top prospect will fall to the Jackets nonetheless. They’ll also be able to grab a good prospect late in the 1st round with the Avalanche 1st round pick they received in the Foote trade. They also pick early in the second. The options are plentiful for Columbus.
Its about time the team started to see some light at the end of the tunnel. It has not been a very good start for the franchise but here on in, it can only get better. With a strong coach/front office, the team is in good hands and with a star like Nash to build around with excellent support building up around him, the team has nowhere to go but up.

10 Responses to Jackets Buzzing Forward

  1. RIP_Dimebag says:

    I believe the Jackets will be a playoff team next year, they're really close, all they need to do is add some scoring help for Nash.

  2. HABSSTAR says:

    You know I don't ever really hear a lot about the Jackets. Aside from Nash's highlights.

  3. Kramer says:

    I never liked the name "Jackets", so Kramer's gonna do Columbus a big favor by picking a new name for its NHL team.

    Every summer they have the Jazz and Rib Festival over there.

    So how about calling the team the "Columbus Jazz and Ribs"?

  4. Radio says:

    The NHL needs a contraction draft. That is, opposed to an expansion draft.

    Remove: Florida —> Atlanta –> Columbus —> Tampa

    Then Detroit and Chicago move into the East.

  5. jimbob says:

    Columbus has actually a pretty decent fan base.  As for the Florida teams, they should keep one of them because there is a market for them.
    Phoenix, Washington, Atlanta, Nashville don't have any real business with a hockey team.  Could you imagine how huge Ovechkin would be in Chicago, Detroit, LA or NY?  His ad potential is wasted on Washington, a place that has never had a great fan base even when it was going to the cup finals.

  6. Radio says:

    Florida games are depressing tho. Don't they have the worst attendance out of any team in the league? I don't know the numbers but, out of all the games I watched this season, it certainly looked that way from seeing the empty seats and crowd noise.

  7. hockey_lover says:

    Is it really a matter of attendance though?  Isnt it a matter of there not being enough talent to spread across that many teams?

    I can think of 3 or 4 players on each team that probably shouldnt be in the NHL.

    But thats just me.

  8. HABSSTAR says:

    You have a point.  Too many teams not enough talent.  But it's a double edged sword.  If you don't grow the game you'll be stuck with the same talent pool. 

    No problem with expansion, but it should have been a bit more controled. 

    Maybe one way of expanding the potential talent pool and getting more people to the games would be to do like the Habs did and give out a free ticket to young kids.  Let the kids get a taste of watching hockey, and pester their parents into buying tickets and attending the game as well. 

    Fills the arena, and grows the game.

    P.S.  It is killing me to use a Bettman term but it is what it is.

  9. HABSSTAR says:

    What if they just had and Original Six division???  To hell with the rest of the League LOL! 

    NY Rangers

    Check that shit out!

  10. HABSSTAR says:

    Ohio is a big industrial State, but most of the old industry is dead right?

    How about the Columbus Rust Stains!

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