Blue Jackets: Five Things You Need To Know
By Craig Custance
The distractions will be gone, and the building can begin. That's the good thing about the Blue Jackets this season. The Rick Nash saga has ended. There's a clear vision and voice at the top with the hiring of John Davidson, and that will help form a clear identity for the Blue Jackets moving forward.
Davidson is following the same path he set in St. Louis, which means constantly improving while building the proper foundation. But he sees more in Columbus now than when he arrived in St. Louis.
"This club has an advantage in that it has better goaltending than when we started there," Davidson said. "They have some pretty good depth [on defense] all the way from their best defensemen to the future."
There's work to be done, but at least Columbus fans can have faith in the process and those leading the way.
1. Living without Rick Nash
Davidson made one thing clear: It's time for this organization to move past the Nash era. "It was time. It was time for Rick," Davidson said. "I think Rick will play well in New York ... but my thought process of the whole thing is, I'm looking north, and that stuff is south. That's back behind." The distraction is gone, but the void is very real. Columbus needs a captain and, if the Blue Jackets are smart, they'll take their time identifying the right one. Jack Johnson has completely embraced joining the Blue Jackets since being traded from Los Angeles, but he hasn't been there a year. R.J. Umberger is another option for the "C." On the ice, the challenge to replace Nash's goal production is one of the biggest issues.
2. Your leading goal scorer ... Cam Atkinson?
There's not much firepower up front for the Blue Jackets, which means they'll give the talented Atkinson plenty of opportunity to produce offensively. He still has a few holes in his game, like most 23-year-olds, but finishing isn't one of them. He had seven goals in 27 games last season and was leading the AHL's Springfield Falcons with 17 goals in 33 games this season during the lockout.
3. Brandon Dubinsky will bounce back
After watching his goal scoring grow to 24 goals in the 2010-11 season, Dubinsky saw a dramatic drop to just 10 goals in 2011-12. Part of it was the pressure of trying to live up to the four-year, $16.8 million contract he signed after the 2010-11 season. But his shooting percentage also dropped from 11.9 to 7.1 last season, which hurts the cause. "I don't know what really happened, but I know he works hard, is a big guy, and I know he cares," Davidson said. "I want him to be Brandon Dubinsky the hockey player. Do what you do, play heavy and hard and be a leader. If scoring comes, great; if it doesn't, do what you do."
4. Defense will be a strength
The blue line is the one area where Columbus stacks up with its division rivals. The top pair of Johnson and James Wisniewski may not be one you want to send out to shut down opposing offensive stars, but those two generate lots of offense and flair when on the ice together. While they bring the offense, the duo of Fedor Tyutin and Nikita Nikitin are expected to excel defensively. Columbus added veteran Adrian Aucoin, who needs to be paired with a strong skater, making John Moore the ideal candidate. Tim Erixon, acquired in the Nash trade, is another young player who could push for ice time. He has a strong understanding of the game but has to get physically stronger.
5. Overachieving hinges on Bobrovsky's success
Columbus has a solid defense and hopes to establish an identity up front as a heavy team that is hard to play against. In a 48-game season, anything can happen, and Columbus' best chance at surprising comes in goal. Steve Mason is in better shape than last season, but expect Sergei Bobrovsky to seize playing time. He was outstanding in the KHL during the lockout, going 18-3-2 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. If that success carries over to a shortened NHL season, the Blue Jackets could become a pesky overachiever. "If we can keep the puck out of the net, you don't need as many goals," Davidson said. "That's what you have to do."
Craig Custance covers the NHL for ESPN The Magazine.
Experience: Entering fourth NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 0
Moving Up: Sergei Bobrovsky
Stop me if you've heard this one before: Unlike a number of similarly ranked players, Bobrovsky got significant time in a pro league during the lockout. OK, so that's certainly going to be a theme here in the early going, and we'll see if the lack of rust on certain netminders is really a benefit once the puck drops on Jan. 19. But Bobrovsky gets an additional uptick in the early going not only because of his excellent work for St. Petersburg SKA in the KHL -- including an 18-3-2 record, 1.94 GAA and .932 save percentage -- but also because the Blue Jackets should be improved in 2012-13 (though the bar is admittedly low). -- Tim Kavanagh
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Blue Jackets:
• May 14: Named Todd Richards head coach. • May 23: Re-signed RW Derek Dorsett.
• May 31: Re-signed C Derek MacKenzie.
• June 20: Named Craig Hartsburg associate coach and Keith Acton assistant coach.
• June 22: Acquired G Sergei Bobrovsky from Philadelphia.
• June 28: Re-signed D Nikita Nikitin.
• June 30: Re-signed RW Jared Boll.
• July 1: Signed D Adrian Aucoin and G Curtis McElhinney.
• July 1: Acquired LW Nick Foligno from Ottawa for D Marc Methot.
• July 23: Acquired C Artem Anisimov, C Brandon Dubinsky, D Tim Erixon and a 1st-round pick in the 2013 NHL draft from N.Y. Rangers.
• LW Rick Nash (traded to N.Y. Rangers)
• D Aaron Johnson (unrestricted free agent, signed by Boston)
• D Marc Methot (traded to Ottawa)
• LW Dane Byers (unrestricted free agent, signed by Edmonton)
• C Darryl Boyce (unrestricted free agent)
• LW Alexandre Giroux (unrestricted free agent)
• D Brett Lebda (unrestricted free agent)
• D Radek Martinek (unrestricted free agent)
• G Curtis Sanford (unrestricted free agent)
• D Radek Martinek (unrestricted free agent, signed by Islanders)