Columbus Blue Jackets: Five Bold Predictions for the 2013-14 Season
The Columbus Blue Jackets will attempt to get acclimated to their new Eastern Conference home on the fly in 2013-14, something that will be far from simple and easy given the talent level of all of their new foes.
In the east, with Detroit moving over as well, there are nine teams that made the playoffs last season, and a 10th—the Blue Jackets—that missed on a tiebreaker. Four of those playoff teams will be in the new Metropolitan Division with the Jackets.
For Columbus to compete and achieve their goal of finally returning to the playoffs, at least a few of the following bold predictions will need to become reality.
Marian Gaborik Scores 40-Plus Goals
Marian Gaborik has scored 40-plus goals three times in his career, the latest coming in 2011-12 with the New York Rangers.
If he can stay healthy, there's no reason he can't do it once more.
On a line with fellow former New York Ranger Brandon Dubinsky and rookie Boone Jenner most of the preseason, Gaborik scored two goals and five assists in four preseason games. The line will continue to work together in the regular season and look to keep their hot streak going.
With free-agent acquisition Nathan Horton shelved for until at least mid-November of the regular season, the pressure will fall on Gaborik to lead the charge on offense.
It's a contract year for the Slovak superstar—possibly his last contract year if all goes well for him.
James Wisniewski Plays 60-Plus Games, Scores 30-Plus Points
James Wisniewski would probably like to just forget the last two seasons have happened.
Since signing with the Blue Jackets in the 2011 offseason (along with Jeff Carter), things have been rough for the offensively gifted defenseman.
Sidelined for a month last season, Wisniewski came back and managed decent numbers and averaged more than 20 minutes a game. His power-play presence was not what it was at the beginning of the season, scoring only one goal on the man advantage in 15 games.
This season, all that should change.
Wisniewski looked sharp in the preseason, scoring a goal and adding two assists. He was partnered with rookie defenseman Ryan Murray most of camp. Murray had a solid enough performance in exhibition games to make the Blue Jackets final roster.
Before Wisniewski went down with a broken bone in his foot last season, he had three goals—all on the powerplay—and 6 assists in 15 games.
His ability to still skate 20-plus minutes a night in the preseason without showing any lingering effects from the injury shows he's ready to be a major contributor for the Jackets in his third year with the team.
Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson Have Breakout Seasons
Secondary scoring will need to be better this season if the Blue Jackets want to go anywhere.
The defense is solid and has the depth to carry the team. Sergei Bobrovsky will still be a good netminder if he even comes close to the numbers he put up last season, and Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton should provide excellent offensive numbers if and when they are both healthy.
When teams manage to take away those players, the Blue Jackets will need an answer.
Columbus finished 25th in goals scored per game, and also let their leading scorer, Vinny Prospal, walk in free agency. Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov are poised to take on increased roles, but Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson will need to be the ones to step up to the plate and provide solid support from the second and third lines if the offense is going to be better.
After an excellent preseason, this should be the year that the 21-year-old Johansen and 23-year-old Atkinson breakout and establish themselves as formidable players in the top-nine of a playoff-caliber team.
Atkinson scored nine goals and nine assists in 35 games in the shortened season, which put him on pace for 21 goals and 21 assists over the course of 82 games.
Johansen's numbers weren't nearly as impressive, but his performance throughout training camp suggests he's ready to put up career numbers in 2013-14.
Sergei Bobrovsky Is Again a Vezina Trophy Finalist
Sergei Bobrovsky's Vezina Trophy-winning season could turn out to be a fluke.
He could go back to being an average, streaky backup goaltender like he was in Philadelphia. He could crumble under pressure the next two seasons and end up bolting for the KHL.
He could, but he won't.
Bobrovsky's ability to carry the team at times last season was unbelievable. Series of incredible saves seemed to become the norm during the Blue Jackets second half run that included 17 wins in their final 25 games.
The pressure should not be as heavy on the Russian netminder with a revamped roster and a fresh start. Sure, he'll have to come up huge at times. With the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Eric Staal, Rick Nash, Sidney Crosby, Claude Girioux and many others in the division, he's sure to be tested often.
However, the defense should be much stronger, as well as the offensive output.
Bobrovsky will be prove his spectacular season in 2013 was his coming out party and not a blip in an otherwise unimpressive career, especially since he did not secure a long-term contract this offseason.
The Blue Jackets Win a Playoff Game
Making a playoff appearance this season is not going to be an easy task for the Blue Jackets, but if even half of the aforementioned predictions come to be fact, there's no reason the Blue Jackets can't make their second ever playoff appearance.
Winning a playoff game may not sound very bold, but when you look at how competitive the Eastern Conference looks on paper and consider the fact that the Jackets have only made one playoff appearance in their 12 years of existence and were swept, and it's a daunting challenge.
This is hardly a team that is susceptible to a sweep, and while they may fail to make much noise when they finally return to the playoffs, there's no doubt they'll make history and take home a "W." There's not a team in the Eastern Conference that the Blue Jackets couldn't shock in the postseason, and whoever they match up against will have a taxing series on their hands.