2014 Columbus Blue Jackets Predictions and NHL Futures Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 9/29/2014
The Blue Jackets should be coming into this season with nothing but optimism and momentum. They got off to a slow start last season but closed very strong to make the playoffs and then gave the Penguins a real test in the six-game opening series. Instead of dreaming of the next step forward, though, the team is dealing with a horrible distraction.
Ryan Johansen emerged as a very solid No. 1 center last year in just his third year in the league at age 21. He is a restricted free agent, and contract negotiations have become very ugly. After the player had chosen not to report to camp, management made the details of the failed negotiations public. Johansen doesn't seem very close to signing and is even reportedly flirting with several KHL teams. Johansen had 33 goals last year, and he's still so young that improvement seems likely. He'll be missed - and the team doesn't need to deal with the distraction.
If Johansen isn't available - and at this point he'll be rusty early even if he does start because he will miss at least all of camp - then scoring is a real concern for this team. Johansen led all scorers with 63 points. Second was defenseman James Wisniewski, and he had just 51 points. There just isn't a lot of offensive depth here. The team was just 12th in the league in scoring last year, and despite a strong finish to their season they particularly struggled to score in the final third of the year. A big key here will be Nathan Horton. He was a major disappointment last year in his first season with the team. He struggled to stay healthy and was underwhelming when he was able to play. He should find a big role on the top line this year, though, and has the capability of scoring more than 60 points a year - he has already done it twice.
Without excellent offense, goaltending is just crucial for this team. If he can stay healthy, Sergei Bobrovsky provides that. He didn't start strong last year after an excellent 2012-13 season, but after an injury he was exceptional down the stretch. He's an elite goaltender and a huge factor in the success of this team.
Columbus Blue Jackets Offseason Moves
The team has added and subtracted several players, but the only one who really raises an eyebrow at all is the addition of Scott Hartnell. He has some offensive upside - he has scored 37 goals in a season before - and he provides some good toughness and leadership. He's not a sure thing, but if he is comfortable and finds chemistry then he could be an excellent addition - especially on a relatively young team.
This year's first-round draft choice, winger Sonny Milano, was never going to have a role on this team. He was supposed to be headed to Boston College this fall, but this summer he instead chose to sign with the Blue Jackets and then spend the year playing junior hockey in the OHL. At the Blue Jackets prospect camp, though, he suffered a broken jaw and will miss two months before his junior career starts. There are plenty of other prospects, though, with center Alexander Wennberg being the most intriguing. The 20-year-old Swede may start the season with the team, but if he doesn't he will surely be back from the AHL soon.
Columbus Blue Jackets NHL Outlook
The best thing that happened to this team is that they moved from the Western Conference to the Eastern before last season. In the West they would be easy to dismiss as a team that is far from likely to be a playoff team. In the East, though, they are competitive and could potentially claim a wild card spot as they did last year. I would feel a whole lot better if they were able to get Johansen back in the fold, but I am not at all optimistic about that at this point. They are well coached and well run and will likely be in the mix - especially if Bobrovsky can stay healthy and they can get off to a better start.
Columbus Blue Jackets Schedule
Last year the team started poorly, and with the way the schedule sets up in October that could be a risk here again. They open with Buffalo and host Calgary - two weak opponents - but the other eight games during the month are against playoff contenders. The biggest challenge by far is three games in four days against the teams in California.
Columbus Blue Jackets NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
The Blue Jackets are, in the eyes of oddsmakers, a perfectly average team - their odds of 33/1 to win the Stanley Cup puts them behind 15 teams in the 30-team league. They are 16/1 to win the Eastern Conference - eighth in the 15-team conference. They are also middle of the pack in the Metropolitan Division at 13/2 to win it.
2014-15 Columbus Blue Jackets Predictions
It is hard to make any predictions about this team until we know what the status of Johansen is. I like their coaching, though, and the offseason was decent. They play hard and smart. If Bobrovsky can stay healthy then they are real wild card contenders with or without their young star center. When I close my eyes I think of this as a playoff team - but not a division winner.
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