Columbus Blue Jackets: Are They Playoff Contenders After Free Agent Signings?

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Columbus Blue Jackets: Are They Playoff Contenders After Free Agent Signings?
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The Columbus Blue Jackets are a few weeks into the busiest offseason in their short history, and with the recent injury to left winger Kristian Huselius, they aren't done yet.

The team (finally) addressed two needs that have plagued them since inception.

By signing James Wisniewski, they landed themselves an efficient puck moving blueliner that is on the upswing.  After taking a few shots with guys like Adam Foote and Mike Commodore, the Jackets finally decided to get younger.

I personally think they landed one of the most attractive free agents available with the deal.  Some feel that Wis was too pricey, but as the cap continues to jump up across the next season or two, this will be a rock solid contract for a player that seems to improve with every season he plays. 

You get what you pay for. Columbus realized that with this signing and have a much better blue line after Wis than they did before.

And then there is Jeff Carter. 

A player that was apparently disliked by Flyers fans across the board, he was dealt to the Jackets before the draft for an underachieving forward in Jakub Voracek—who isn't nearly as physical as some Philly fans have been lead to believe—and a pair of draft picks in the draft, including the No. 8 overall selection.

A solid ransom to be sure, but this is a trade that will ultimately help both teams.

Jeff Carter is the number one center that the Blue Jackets have always needed.  He loves to shoot.  So does Rick Nash.  A lot of pundits seem to think that this is going to be an issue, but they seem to be forgetting that there will be a third forward on the ice with these two trigger happy players on the wing opposite of Nash.

Center is generally considered the setup position, but last season, six of the top 10 assist leaders were wingers, while only three were centers.  I may be in the minority, but I think that the top line is going to be fine and among the most dangerous and dynamic in the league.

When the dust settles in Columbus and 82 games have been played next season only one thing will matter:  Did they or didn't they make the playoffs?

If they do play a round in the postseason, then these moves will be viewed as meaningful moves.  If they don't, it may be back to the drawing board for a team that has spent more time there than most teams in the last ten years or so.

For a franchise that has only played one round of playoff hockey in their history—four games against the Detroit Red Wings—I don't believe a one and out will be enough again.  The bar has been raised with these high profile moves, and fans in Ohio will be looking for some more noise than two home playoff games.

While they are closer than they have ever been, I don't think that the Jackets are a playoff caliber team in the West as they currently stand, though it isn't due to forward depth or their blueline.

The key to the playoffs, and making it to the second round, lies in the hands of Steve Mason.

After winning the Calder Trophy in 2008-2009 and leading his squad to the playoffs for the first time ever, Mason has been awful through the subsequent seasons. Forty-four wins in 112 starts across two seasons isn't going to cut it.  Neither is a GAA above 3 and a save percentage almost below .900.

For Columbus to make the jump and win in the first round, they need a return to form for Mason.  And that's very possible.  The best case scenario is that Mason is on a Carey Price-like curve and can turn things around in the coming season.

But if he continues to fold like wet paper in net, then the Jackets may very well have another top-10 draft pick in the upcoming draft.

These moves give Columbus fans a lot of reason to hope for the best season in the history of the team.  The trade and signings show that this management team is geared towards improving the one ice product, and that's an exciting prospect.

While they have addressed two huge holes, they still have a little more ground to cover before making big moves among the contenders in the West.




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