As part of a continuing series, writer Benjamin Benya will be previewing all 30 NHL teams over the next two weeks in preparation for the 2010-2011 regular season.
Up next, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Key Additions: C Ben Guite, G David LeNeveu, D Nate Guenin, LW Ethan Moreau
Key Subtractions: RW Greg Moore, D Nathan Paetsch, D Mathieu Roy
Just two years ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets were a dark-horse playoff team with limitless potential. But as the competition around them has gotten better, the Blue Jackets have tread water and are losing ground minute by minute.
Similar to other cellar-dwelling teams in the NHL, the Blue Jackets have made a cosmetic change behind the bench, with Rick Arniel taking over a squad that has yet to win a playoff game. The roster remains veritably unchanged from the previous season, in which the Jackets ship capsized roughly one month before the postseason. The Blue Jackets finished with 79 points, good for last place in the Central Division.
Rick Nash has always been known as a natural goal scorer, but statistically, he has only twice been a point-per-game player. Nash is always on the cusp of 40 goals and 30 assists, and, depending on the play of the team around him, could finally be due for a 100-point breakout.
Both Kristian Huselius and R.J. Umberger are returning to the team as well, both still finding their identities within the club. Umberger is truly rising upwards, and will likely produce 70 to 80 points this year playing with Nash.
Huselius, meanwhile, is decent enough to score 20 goals without too much defensive liability. If, however, Umberger is not paired with the star Nash, it’ll be Antione Vermette, who had a big year last year and can only improve with a new contract in pocket.
The Blue Jackets offense is rounded out currently by grinders like Chris Clark, Derick Brassard, and Samuel Pahlsson. In short, they’re a tough team with several defensive forwards in the fold, and while scoring may be at a premium (unless Jakub Voracek becomes a superstar), a good number of them can provide clutch goals in a pinch.
The Columbus defensive corps is a well-rounded crew with a bit of depth, but, as is common for the team, lacks much firepower. Though Rostislav Klesla and Mike Commodore are decent, shutdown defenders, neither is known for their scoring prowess. That honor, at the moment, goes to Fedor Tyutin.
In Tyutin’s two years for the Blue Jackets, he’s doubled his career statistics and sees a lot of power-play action. He’s expected to split much of that time with Anton Stralman this season, who has really come into his own after just a year with the club.
Perhaps Columbus’ chances of moving up the standings lay solely on the shoulders of Steve Mason, who showed in two seasons how to run hot and cold for a team. His debut was stellar, posting 33 wins with a 2.29 goals against average and the first playoff appearance in Blue Jackets history.
Then from there, Mason dropped significantly in 2009-10, winning just 20 games with an inflated 3.05 goals against average. At no point during the season was Mason able to find his rhythm, perhaps due to the fact that he no longer had competition from Pascal Leclaire. The backup, Mathieu Garon, is used to being stuck in this position after seasons spent in Los Angeles with several other goaltending prospects pushing for his starring role.
Acquired in a deadline deal for Alex Picard just a few months ago, Chad Kolarik looks like the kind of talent ready to make the jump to the big leagues. Many have reason to be skeptical of Columbus’ prospect pool, but Kolarik is a definitive stud with strong numbers throughout college and in the AHL. He’s consistent more than anything else.
Writing a season preview on the Blue Jackets just feels like a case of déjà vu from the previous year. Columbus has a number of veterans on expiring contracts that they could move throughout the course of the season for the betterment of the team, because staying the course isn’t going to get them anywhere. Fifth in the Central, 14th in the Western Conference.