I will be previewing all 30 NHL clubs. I will be looking at their available salary cap room, the additions and deletions from the 2008-09 rosters, and where I think they will stack up in their division and conference for the 2009-10 season.
Let's get a move on with the Columbus Blue Jackets, which plays in the Central Division and the Western Conference.
Congratulations Columbus on your first appearance after nine long years in the NHL, your wait is over. Your first round opponent will be.... the Detroit Red Wings, The most successful team of the fifteen in the Western Conference, especially over the last dozen years. Good Luck.
Ouch, the celebration in Ohio’s capital quickly turned to mourning as the Blue Jackets were bounced in a four game sweep at the hands of the eventual Western Conference champs. A similar fate bevelled the Atlanta Thrashers in their one and only post season appearance, three seasons ago.
Now, where this franchise goes from here is solely on the shoulders of two men; Rick Nash and Calder Trophy winner, Goaltender Steve Mason.
Nash, the first overall draft pick in 2002, is a former Maurice Richard Trophy winner and the unquestionable leader of the Blue Jackets. During the off-season, he signed a eight year contract extension that will keep Nash in Columbus until 2018.
Mason, a former World Junior tournament MVP was the MVP of the Blue Jackets last season. Mason’s meteoric rise to the NHL started in 2007. Mason was invited to join Team Canada juniors to play an eight game summit series against the Russians, in honour of the 35th Anniversary of the ’72 Summit Series.
Considered the third string goalie going into camp, Mason played three games out of the eight and posted 2.42 GAA and a .938 save percentage. Better stats then any of the Russian goalies but he left thinking he would be the third stringer again for the 2008 World Junior Championships.
After an impressive start to the OHL season with the London Knights, Mason went into World Junior Camp and took the starting job away from Jonathan Bernier, who had started the season with the L.A. Kings and the Everett Silvertips’ Leland Irving. There he posted a 5-0-0 record, giving up only six goals, recording a shutout and was named a tournament All-Star and the tournament’s MVP.
Approaching his first professional season, Mason underwent an additional knee surgery in September for his injured knee, causing him to miss the first month of play in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Blue Jackets' minor league affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. Shortly after recovering and joining the Crunch's lineup, Mason was called up by the Blue Jackets on November 4, 2008 in the absence of injured starter Pascal Leclaire. The rest as they say is history.
The unrestricted free agent deals that were signed to join the Blue Jackets this season are as follows; Mathieu Garon (Pittsburgh), Samuel Pahlsson (Chicago), Mathieu Roy (Edmonton) and Pascal Pelletier (Chicago).
Remaining Blue Jackets, which are yet to have signed a deal with another franchise, are; Christian Backman, Chris Gratton, Trevor Hendrikx, Jon Landry, Steve Kelly, Craig MacDonald, Manny Malhotra, Jiri Novotny, Michael Peca, Alexandre Picard, Peter Pohl, Alexander Svitov, John Vigilante, Kyle Wharton, and Mike York.
Picard and Svitov are restricted free agents. Svitov has played the last two seasons in Russia and Picard has split the last three seasons between Syracuse and Columbus.
Top Young Faces in the Organization
The Columbus Blue Jackets were able last season to graduate three top prospects up from Syracuse of the AHL. Mason, Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek all solidified their roster spots for the 2009-10 season, after they all had fine rookie campaigns. Mason won the Calder Trophy and was a finalist for the Vezina as well; Brassard was considered a leading candidate to win the rookie of the year award until he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury; Voracek had 39 points in 80 games of his first season in the NHL.
Here are the top young faces that will be looking to impress the Blue Jackets’ organization this season.
The top pick of the Blue Jackets in the 2008 entry draft (sixth overall), spent the season spilt between Columbus, Syracuse and with Team Russia at the World Junior Championships during the Christmas holidays.
Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb has this to say about Filatov, “Nikita is a leader, has a great attitude, excellent work ethic and tons of talent. He has matured during the season and leads by example. He is an excellent skater who can change pace, even at top speed. Despite his size, he still plays aggressive, taking and giving hits.”
Columbus’ Director of Amateur Scouting Paul Castron, has been quoted as saying, he'd be surprised if Filatov doesn't make the final roster out of training camp. He played in eight NHL games last season and scored a hat trick in one of them. "In my opinion, he's ready to play in the NHL."
The Blue Jackets’ first round draft pick in 2009 (14th overall) had 39 points in 57 games with Chicago of the USHL. He was named Defensemen of the Year and entered the draft as the sixth ranked North American skater prior to June’s NHL Entry Draft.
NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee has this to say about Moore, “I watched as an underage player and I knew he was a must see player for this year; he hasn’t disappointed me one bit. His first two strides are like Paul Coffey and he has been labelled as a world-class skater. He is poised with the puck, he gets his shots through to the net and he has gotten a lot stronger this season. He resembles (Calgary Flames) defenseman Jordan Leopold and similar to Leopold at the same age he needs to get a little bit better at playing more aggressive and more physical, but John is going to be a one-two defenseman in the NHL.”
The second-round draft choice in 2008 (37th overall), is entering his junior year at the University of Wisconsin. Going into the ’08 draft Goloubef was the 34th ranked North American Skater and his stock had been steady rising throughout the year.
NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee had this to say about Goloubef, "When I first saw Cody I really liked his game. He is compact and he's strong with a wide stance. He's a good, powerful skater. He thinks the game well, has a really good shot and makes that first pass consistently. He is a solid two-way player that is going to play on your power-play. He played for a defensive style team at Wisconsin. His conservative play meant that I don't think a lot of scouts have seen the offensive side of him enough, but he's a potential top-four defenseman in the National Hockey League, maybe top-three. He's playing against guys who are at least three years older than him - if he was playing in the USHL he might have the puck all the time and be dominating, but he handled it well -- he's a solid kid.
The third round draft choice (94th overall) in 2007, is entering his second professional season. Mayorov spend the majority of the ’08-’09 season playing in the AHL, with Syracuse but did play three games with Columbus.
According to hockeyfutures.com, the young winger forward definitely has impressive size at 6’2 and 192 pounds. However, his work ethic has not been consistent and he has not been able to make a significant impact on Russia’s national team. A pure sniper, this young forward has wheels on him, solid puck handling and can surprise some with a burst of speed and then a precise wrist shot. He does however need to improve his defensive play and become a bigger physical presence. Instead of returning into his own zone, he often tends to float and look for an offensive breakout chance, which at times cost his team dearly.
Recap of 2008-09
The Blue Jackets was fourth in the Central Division and 7th in the Western Conference with a record of 41-31-10 for 92 points.
The Blue Jackets’ offensive was lead by Nash (40 Goals), Kristian Huselius (21 goals) and R.J. Umberger (26 goals) all broke the 20 goal-plateau. The Blue Jackets as a team ranked 15th in goals for and 9th in goals against.
Their power play ranked 30th in the NHL, clicking on only 12.7% of their chances but the penalty killing was tied for 13th.
Outlook for 2009-10
The Blue Jackets were a defense first hockey club in ’08-’09 but that is the way head coach Ken Hitchcock likes it.
A lot of pressure was put on Steve Mason last year and he responded with ten shutouts in his rookie season. However, he did also have ten games, in which he gave up five goals or more. Mason joined a elite group of either Hall-of-Famers or Stanley Cup Champion goaltenders who have won the Calder Trophy.
Since the NHL went to at least 80 games in 1974-75, there have been six goaltenders win the Calder Trophy; Ed Belfour, Martin Brodeur, Andrew Raycroft, Tom Barrasso, Evgeni Nabokov and Steve Mason. In their second seasons in the league, these goaltenders averaged nine less games played, they averaged a -11 in their win-loss ratio, they had a .29 increase in their GAA and a .013 increase in their save percentage.
This is the first time a Calder winner has led a team either back into the playoffs or the playoffs for the first time, since 1974.
This will be the fourth time; a Calder winner will not have the previous number one goaltender as his back-up the following year. Belfour (Cloutier/Hasek), Raycroft (Potvin/Thomas), Nabokov (Sheilds/Kiprusoff). The previous three times, they were only able to get back to the playoffs once, Nabokov and the Sharks.
I have thrown a lot of numbers at you but here is what is important. The Columbus Blue Jackets should finish fourth in the Central division again but they should not make the playoffs.
With the Kings, Oilers, Stars and Predators looking to get back into the playoffs, I believe the Blue Jackets will finish in the ninth to 11th range. This team is young, they are improving and will be a force in the Western Conference in the future but sometimes you have to take a step back, before you find consistent success.
On Aug. 22, I will be reviewing Dallas Stars as I continue to preview each of the 30 NHL clubs. Look for my four-part article on how I would improve the NHL and my other previously published articles on bleacherreport.com.