“Is it October yet?” This is a question that I’ve heard countless times as the buzz picks up for the upcoming Blue Jackets season. I’m happy to say we’re almost there, Columbus.
In about a month — Friday, October 7th, to be exact — the Jackets will take the ice for the first game of the 2011-12 campaign, welcoming (hopefully not warmly) the Nashville Predators to Nationwide Arena. It should prove to be an interesting CBJ season, with some big moves this offseason leading to some pretty high hopes for the Union Blue faithful. In this edition of the Weekly Reader, we’ll take a look at some of the things you’ll need to know leading into the season.
Blue Jacket fans breathed an enormous collective sigh of relief in June with the addition of Carter, finally giving the CBJ the top-line center that has been missing from the lineup for years. This is far and away the most significant move the Jackets made during the summer. Carter was an NHL all-star in Philadelphia, and by all accounts a great addition to the locker room and franchise. He may not have been initially thrilled with the trade away from the Flyers, the only other NHL team for whom he’s played in his career, but he has to be excited to line up next to one of the league’s legitimate superstars, Rick Nash. Captain Nash was instrumental in welcoming Carter to Columbus, traveling with GM Scott Howson and Coach Scott Arniel for the team’s initial meeting with the newly-acquired center. Here’s hoping the Jackets’ two most talented offensive players can team up for much success in 2011 and beyond.
Jeff Carter didn’t come cheap, costing the Blue Jackets two first-round draft picks and their biggest off-season loss, right wing Jakub Voracek. Jake’s tremendous upside — most notably his size and speed — will be missed, his epic goal-scoring droughts will not. But if he can pull it together and start finding the net on occasion, he may be a big part of the rebuilding effort that is underway in Philly.
James Wisniewski should give the Jackets a solid offensive boost on the blueline, coming off a 51-point scoring season. He represents a pretty tremendous upgrade from the departed Jan Hejda, who left for Colorado with little effort by Columbus to keep him in town. It should also be noted on the defensive end of the ice that the Blue Jackets re-signed Marc Methot (four years) and Fedor Tyutin (six years) to long-term deals since last season, two guys the organization clearly thinks pretty highly of in terms of their ability to contribute to the success of the team.
Columbus picked up a new face in net this off-season, acquiring Mark Dekanich from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. He replaces Mathieu Garon, the backup goalie who played fairly well filling in for and sometimes replacing starter Steve Mason. If Mase struggles out of the gate like he did early and often last year, look for Dekanich to become an instant fan favorite.
The million-dollar question: will the Blue Jackets return to their playoff form of 2009-10, or continue to be on the outside looking into the post-season as they were last year? The addition of Jeff Carter alone gives many fans, including this guy, reason to be very hopeful. That acquisition represents one giant step in the right direction, at the very least; a player who should take pressure away from and elevate the game of Rick Nash, as well as the rest of the guys on the ice. After what had seemed like a decade of inactivity, the management finally deserves a big ‘Bravo!’ for pulling the trigger on that trade. And especially if any of the young prospects within the organization (Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, etc.) are given the opportunity to play in Columbus this season, the offense should be significantly improved.
Perhaps a bigger factor in the potential success of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2011-12 is the play of goaltender Steve Mason. The bad thing is that Mase seems to know this, and hasn’t exactly handled the pressure well. Some upgrades on the defensive unit and some added offensive production should help to diffuse this; but it’s still going to be up to Mason to stand up and be far more confident than he appeared in 2010-11.
Seeing the world as I do — through a giant pair of rose-colored homer glasses — I’m going with the notion that there has been far more good than bad happening in Columbus lately. I predict the Jackets will indeed make it back into the playoffs as about a six seed, and will finally get that coveted first post-season win. I have a hard time seeing them winning an entire seven-game series against a top team in the Western Conference, but believe that the upcoming year will move the Blue Jackets closer to becoming a successful NHL franchise in the near future.