The Blue Jackets seem to have a game plan that they follow religiously. Unfortunately for them, it's a really dumb plan. Each of the last few years they have limped out of the gate as if they didn't get the memo that the season had started until Christmas time. In 2013-14 they were able to recover and make the postseason. Last year, though, they were in such a big hole early on that going 16-3-1 in their last 20 games, which was the best record in the league, wasn't enough to make the playoffs. Last year at least they had an excuse - they were hit by injuries like no team should ever be, having to deal with more than 500 lost games. It's hard to take advantage of having a decent roster if they never get to play together. So, can this year be different?
Columbus Blue Jackets Offseason Moves
The Blue Jackets had a very dynamic one-two punch for their top line. Nick Foligno had 31 goals in his first all-star season last year and was named captain. Ryan Johansen overcame a holdout that delayed the start of his season last year to become an all-star, too. Those two youngsters are only going to improve, and they are the core of this team in the future. The team needed a third musketeer to play with them, and they made a big splash this summer to get one. Brandon Saad was the centrepiece of a seven-player blockbuster that also brought two prospects to Columbus from Chicago. Having won two Cups in Chicago, he knows how to win, and he is young, fast and offensively very sound. He didn't come cheap - he has a new six-year contract at $6 million per year - but he should be worth it. Just think of this - he's 22 and has already won two Cups, and he has already played 67 playoff games! The team may opt to split these three players up to balance the lines a bit, but either way Saad is a big new piece of the pie.
Outside of that huge deal, the team didn't do too much that was dramatic. They shuffled a lot of players around, but nothing that profound.
Columbus Blue Jackets NHL Outlook
Last year was a lost year. Do they have the pieces to put it in the past? Defensively they are sound. Jack Johnson was offensively solid and should be better this year with the distraction of his financial woes more behind him. David Savard was excellent last year paired with Johnson, and has a nice new contract to show for it. He should continue to improve. Fedor Tyutin is not remarkable in anyway, but he is reliable. Ryan Murray, who was the second overall pick in the 2012 draft behind only Nail Yakupov, is a top pair-caliber guy already, and he's only 21. He needs to stay healthy, though - he managed only 12 games last year and 66 the year before as a rookie. The ceiling is very high. It's a strong top four, and there is a whole lot of potential for that third pairing - they might not be great, but the competition for the spot will keep things honest. They should be good at the blueline.
The forward corps is solid, too. We have talked a lot about the first line already. It's very good and will only improve with time and chemistry. A likely second line of Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson is solid. Scott Hartnell and David Clarkson on a line with Alexander Wennberg is a line that's easy to get excited about - Wennberg is one of the players I am most optimistic about this year in the league in terms of taking a huge step forward. The fourth line is fine, too. There are a lot of reasons to like this forward unit, too.
The goaltending story is simple. Sergei Bobrovsky is the second-highest-paid goalie in the league, and he is more than capable of playing like it. If he does then the team has no issues. If he struggles or gets hurt then, well, Curtis McElhinney is no Bobrovsky.
Columbus Blue Jackets Schedule
There is no easing into the season for the Blue Jackets - they open with a home-and-home with the Rangers on consecutive nights. If Columbus wants to contend this year then they need to look very good in games like this - and at least win one of them.
Columbus Blue Jackets NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
The Blue Jackets are at +2500 to win the Stanley Cup, which ties them with two other teams and places them behind 12 others. They are also tied with two other teams in the hunt to win the Eastern Conference at +1200. That places them behind six teams. At +650 they are the fifth choice to win the eight-team Metropolitan Division.
2015-16 Columbus Blue Jackets Predictions
This team was better than they performed last year, and they are better now than they were last year. If they have luck this year like they did last year then the troubles will be too much to overcome. If not, though, then they are absolutely a playoff-caliber team. The bottom half of the playoff race in the East is very intense this year - I count 12 teams with a legitimate shot at the eight playoff spots at this point - so it wouldn't be tragic if they didn't make it, but they are good enough to make it. I expect them in the postseason.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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