Rear View Mirror
The Blue Jackets followed their franchise's first playoff appearance with a disappointing 14th place finish in the Western Conference and last place in the Central Division. The limped out of the gate to a 22-27-9 record and lost 14 of 16 games in December that ultimately cost Ken Hitchcock his job. The team did not fare better under interim coach Claude Noel as they finished the season 10-8-6.
Offensively they struggled, as they finished tied for 20th in the league in goals (214). It started at the top as Rick Nash saw his goals totals drop from 40 to 33 and points drop from 79 to 67. Steve Mason had the definition of a sophomore slump as he went from Calder Trophy winner to backup at times last season.
Offseason Ins: LW Ethan Moreau (EDM: 76 GP, 9G-9A-18P), LW Nikita Filatov (KHL: 26 GP, 9G-13A-22P),
Offseason Outs: D Nathan Paetsch (10 GP)
What Makes Them Tick
The Blue Jackets did not make many roster moves this offseason, but the biggest move could be the hiring of Scott Arniel. Arniel brings his AHL record of 181-106-16-17 to Columbus and a promise to play an uptempo style.
With that uptempo style, the pressure falls on the forwards, and most of all, with the first line of Captain Rick Nash, Antoine Vermette, and Kristian Huselius. Vermette had a career-high in both goals (27) and points (65) last season. Those players, along with R.J. Umberger, who had a career-high in points (55) last season, and former first round pick Jakub Voracek , who had 50 points in a successful sophomore season, should show signs of an improved offense.
What Could Make Them Go Boom
Steve Mason had the ultimate fall from grace last season, if you looked up the definition of a sophomore slump, Mason's picture would have been right next to it last season. Mason was ranked 44th out of 47 goalies in GAA (3.06) and 40th in save percentage (.901). The 22 year old won only four games combined in 18 starts between December and January and went zero for three in his April starts.
Needless to say, Mason needs a bounce back season for the Blue Jackets to improve. He needs to play, well, like a rookie again. If he returns to the goalie that won 33 games and had a 2.29 goals-against average, then the Blue Jackets have a fighting chance. If he continues on a downward spiral, expect to see more of Mathieu Garon, who did have a 12-9-6 record in his 35 games last season.
Player to Watch
Nikita Filatov was the sixth overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry draft and the Blue Jackets were excited that he chose to come to play in the America in 2008-09 instead of his home land of Russia. Flash forward to last November to when the talented player was frustrated with playing time and the organization agreed on a one-year loan agreement with CSKA Moscow of the KHL. Well now, the 6’0’’ left winger is back in the states and is actually already in Columbus, six weeks ahead of training camp.
Filatov will have to mend fences with the players he left cold in the beginning of last year, but he should also let his talent do the talking. The Russian did score a goal in his first NHL game and six career goals in only 21 NHL games. He will have to prove to the new coaching staff he is here to work and not get overly frustrated when things do not go his way, his development is key for this team not only this year but in years to come.
With not much roster turnover from last year’s disaster of a season, the team is hoping to chalk last year up to the wrong mix with the coaching staff. Young players like former top-ten picks 20 year old Jakub Voracek (16 goals last season), and 22 year old Derick Brassard (36 points last season), will be ask to improve on those totals.
Young defenseman like 23 year old Anton Stralman, who had 22 power play points, and 26 year old Fedor Tyutin, who had 18 power play points, will be asked to play bigger roles this season. There will be growing pains for both the new coaching staff and the young roster which will cause the Blue Jackets to miss the playoffs for the 9th time in the franchises 10 NHL seasons.