How the Blue Jackets Stack Up Against the Rest of the Metro

Jan 7, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Kirill Marchenko (right) celebrates with teammates after scoring his hat-trick goal against the Carolina Hurricanes in the third period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 7, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Kirill Marchenko (right) celebrates with teammates after scoring his hat-trick goal against the Carolina Hurricanes in the third period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Jackets, for all of their improvement, probably still need 1-2 years of seasoning before they are ready to seriously contend. Nothing is impossible, but it’s going to be tough sledding this year.

We have to kick this portion of the article off with the obvious front-runners here: the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes have won their division for three consecutive seasons (though, the first division title was in the COVID-inspired Central division). They’ve done so by having 23 players buying into the same high-energy, hard forechecking, stingy defensive style on a nightly basis – and that does not seem to be changing any time soon with Rod Brind’Amour again returning to coach.

Apr 17, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes right wing Stefan Noesen (23) celebrates his goal with center Sebastian Aho (20) defenseman Brent Burns (8) center Martin Necas (88) and center Seth Jarvis (24) against the New York Islanders during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes right wing Stefan Noesen (23) celebrates his goal with center Sebastian Aho (20) defenseman Brent Burns (8) center Martin Necas (88) and center Seth Jarvis (24) against the New York Islanders during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

In fact, I think the Canes are going to be even better this season, at least from a talent and depth perspective. The team that finished with 113 points last season added free agents Michael Bunting, Dmitry Orlov, Tony DeAngelo, and Brendan Lemieux this summer. Key departures include Max Pacioretty, Shane Gostisbehere, Ondrej Kase, and Calvin de Haan.

They’ll have the deepest, most talented defense corps in the NHL this season, and I don’t think anyone can seriously debate that. This team rolls out Jaccob Slavin, Brent Burns, Orlov, DeAngelo, Brett Pesce, and Brady Skjei as their likely top-six this season. Couple that with one of the league’s best kept secrets in Sebastian Aho; who is joined by talented scorers like Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas, Teuvo Teravainen and others; you quickly see that there aren’t many weaknesses here. They also return both goaltenders from last year, along with one of the top crease prospects in hockey. This team is firmly locked in the Stanley Cup contenders category, and should be the class of the division.

Apr 17, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour talks to the players during a timeout against the New York Islanders during the third period in game one of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour talks to the players during a timeout against the New York Islanders during the third period in game one of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

But if the Canes slip (big if), the New Jersey Devils might be next in line for a run at a division title this season. If Stanley Cups are won down the middle, the Devils have an edge over most other teams in the league. They’ll roll out Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier for a combined 35-40 minutes per night, giving them an elite talent playing in the middle of the ice for 2/3 of every game. It’s almost unfair.

They’ve been somewhat quiet this summer aside from the Yegor Sharangovich for Tyler Toffoli swap (I love this trade for them); instead relying on growth from within. After dealing away Ryan Graves and Damon Severson, they’ll have two of the top defense prospects in hockey vying for jobs this fall in Simon Nemec and Luke Hughes, and the hope in New Jersey is that both of these guys can step into pivotal roles as this team continues to transition into Cup contention.

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – JUNE 26: Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier of the New Jersey Devils is seen on the Red Carpet before the 2023 NHL Awards at Bridgestone Arena on June 26, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – JUNE 26: Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier of the New Jersey Devils is seen on the Red Carpet before the 2023 NHL Awards at Bridgestone Arena on June 26, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Still, there is one big concern here for me: their goaltending. For all of the talent up and down this lineup, they’re seemingly content relying on the tandem of Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid to get them over the top. It’s a bold strategy, and one that could be a big storyline whether it works or not. But, if they can get at least middle of the pack play from these two, they should easily be a 100+ point team yet again.