BT's 2009/10 NHL Season Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets
Yesterday, during the Nashville Predators preview, Kanye West had a second driving urge to interupt.
And I really don't have a problem with this—except for the fact that Beyonce's video was no where near the best ever.
In fact, because it was simply her dancing for three-and-a-half minutes, it made the song more annoying. Maybe I'm just bitter.
Columbus Blue Jackets
2008/09 Record: 41-31-10, 95 points, seventh in West—swept in first round of playoffs by Detroit.
Additions: Mathieu Garon—G (2 years/$2.4 mil), Samuel Pahlsson—F (3 years/$7.95 mil).
Subtractions: Jason Williams—F (FA), Ole-Kristian Tollefsen—D (FA), Aaron Rome—D (FA), Mike York—F (FA), Michael Peca—F (FA), Manny Malhotra—F (FA), Wade Dubielewicz.
Last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets took a step forward.
You can classify it as a big step forward because it was their first-ever playoff appearance, but the sweep at the hands of Detroit also takes a few inches off of that stride.
Then again, anyone going up against the Red Wings is going to have a tough time.
After all, it did take the Pittsburgh Penguins two tries to beat them, so maybe the Jackets have some hope this season.
Stevie Wonder and His Care of the Crease
You know you’re good when mono can’t even stop you.
Midway through a spectacular rookie season that saw Mason net the Calder trophy, he missed three games due to the “kissing disease.”
Unfortunately, we can’t blame that on him kissing the trophy, but maybe Sean Avery has some diseased “sloppy seconds” he’s still passing along.
Lame Avery jokes aside, the Jackets have something special in Mason. A 30-win goaltender with sparkling statistics, Mason has a bright future in a market that’s traditionally had trouble finding a starting goalie.
This year will be very telling with regard to his mental makeup, however.
Not one to take a night off, Mason is always hungry to prove himself and nowhere are expectations higher than the sophomore season for any player—let alone a goalie.
Fortunately for Mason, there will be no revolving door behind him this year.
In the 2008-'09 season, four goalies saw action behind Mason in a combined 26 games.
This year, that duty will hopefully fall solely to Mathieu Garon.
After a quality 2007-'08 campaign in Edmonton, Garon came into last season hoping that he could hold on to the starter’s role. After suffering through a bout of ineffectiveness to begin the season, not only did Garon lose his role, but he was eventually traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins where he sat shotgun on the way to a Stanley Cup championship.
If the Jackets are going to be successful on days that Mason doesn’t start, Garon is not only going to have to prove that he can be the same 30-win goalie from L.A. (2005-'06), but that he can also keep that mentality when not playing every day.
Commodore 64 and Methot Man
The Blue Jackets really have a variety of parts on the back end, and last year they really came together.
For the team that featured the fourth-fewest goals allowed amongst playoff teams and fifth fewest in the conference, there was no real No. 1 guy as the Jackets were one of 10 teams (and only three playoff teams) to feature a defense with no one player averaging more than 24 minutes.
Fedor Tyutin led the defense, averaging 23:30 per game and finishing with 34 points.
Tyutin’s offensive production definitely benefited from increased ice time and responsibilities in Columbus last season (remember, he was in New York three years prior), but producing much more than last year’s 34 points may be unlikely.
Despite that, his size (6’3", 210 lbs.) will come in handy, as well as the fact that, from what points he does score, a portion of them will be on the power play.
Last year, Jan Hejda received big time minutes as well.
Specializing in a shut-down role last year, Hejda led the team in plus/minus (+23) and shorthanded time on ice (per game), but don't expect him to boost his career high 21 points from last year.
Hejda has played in 163 of 164 games over the past two seasons and limited his penalty minutes to just 38 last season. His penalty-killing compadre, Mike Commodore, allowed an identical 36 shorthanded goals-against last year, but both spent over 300 minutes on the penalty kill last year, averaging 3:58 (Hejda) and 3:44 (Commodore) a man down.
Speaking of Commodore, he had a slightly unrealistic 24 points last year—a kind of surprising stat from a player who’s not known for that sort of thing.
The big reason for that, as well as Tyutin’s career year, is because the Jackets don’t feature a big time offensive weapon from the back end.
Rostislav Klesla, despite a ton of potential when he entered the league, has had trouble staying healthy, which has stunted his offensive growth.
Marc Methot has some offensive potential, but not much more than 20 or 25 points per season, while Kris Russell has a big shot and a ton of opportunity in the NHL—he just needs the ice time and the experience on a big-league power play.
The Blue Jackets also have three good, young defensemen either in junior (John Moore—OHL, Kitchener Rangers) or in the College ranks (Teddy Ruth and Cody Goloubef), but players like Nick Holden, Jonathan Sigalet, and Mathieu Roy will be filling out the ranks this season while Brent Regner and Andrey Plekhanov might get some time as call-ups.
Mustard on Your Umberger? Then You Can Nash Away
After a few down years (if you can count seasons of 31 and 27 goals “down years”) Rick Nash seems to have found his stride at the NHL game again. With 38 goals in 2007-'08 and 40 goals last year, Nash has truly developed into a premier power forward and, with plenty of bountiful young talent surrounding him in Columbus, he can only get better.
Derick Brassard is one of those players, and if it wasn’t for mid-season shoulder surgery, Brassard may have been Columbus’ second contender for Rookie of the Year.
Despite a small frame, Brassard has the ability to feed the puck all over the ice as well as get up and down the rink very quickly.
He’s augmented in the middle of the ice by R.J. Umberger. Umberger started off very slowly on the season with just two points in his first nine games, but from there, Umberger really transformed into a goal-scoring center.
In fact, until Kristian Huselius scored in game four of the Detroit series, Umberger was the only Blue Jacket with a goal (two in three games) in that series.
Speaking of Huselius, his production went down a bit after coming over from Calgary (as expected), but he has developed a level of consistency. Huselius has 20 goals or more in five of his six NHL seasons and he seems to have settled in as a 55-60 point scorer, so that kind of mid-level production for the shifty power player isn't uncommon.
The Jackets were able to add a little more scoring at the trade deadline last year as well by adding Antoine Vermette, who could combine with someone of Huselius’ (or dynamic rookie Nikita Filatov’s) talents to make his way back to the 50-point plateau.
Along with Filatov, Maxim Mayorov may be able to stake a claim to a roster spot as well for a full rookie season, while Jakub Voracek should produce around the 45-point mark this season as well as potting at least 10 goals after getting his feet wet last year and hopefully using his shot more this year.
The Blue Jackets are also fortunate to have plenty of depth. Before coming to Columbus, Fredrick Modin was a 30-goal threat, now however, he’s simply an injury-hampered winger who is still capable of potting a few goals.
Otherwise, Raffi Torres, Jason Chimera, Derek Dorsett, Andrew Murray, and a plethora of others will be providing solid depth for the Jackets and the addition of Samuel Pahlsson replaces some of the depth lost when Mike York, Michael Peca, and Manny Malhotra hit free agency.
Pahlsson also brings a lot of grit and two-way awareness to the Jackets and will boost their checking lines and penalty kill.
So What’s It All Mean
The big advantage that the Blue Jackets have over the two other teams they’re competing with at the bottom of the Central (Nashville and St. Louis) is their offense, while their goaltending is on par with that of Nashville and better than St Louis’.
Where this team lacks is defensively.
Although they had some big performances from their defenders last year, Mike Commodore was really being pushed while Jan Hejda was playing a bit above his head last year.
The team still lacks a big time No. 1 defenseman and a real offensive threat from the blueline unless Russell steps up big time this year.
The differences between those three teams will certainly make the battle for third in the Central interesting.
Predicted Finish: Fourth in Central.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out all of his previous work out in his archives.
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