It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets.
How they did last season: 34-40-8 (76 points); Last in the Metropolitan Division; 15th in the Eastern Conference. Missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Notable acquisitions: C Sam Gagner; LW Pierre-Luc Dubois; D Scott Harrington; and assistant coach Brad Shaw.
Notable departures: RW Rene Bourque; RW Jared Boll; D Fedor Tyutin; D Justin Falk; LW Kerby Rychel; and assistant coach Craig Hartsburg.
When they will play the Caps: Nov. 15 in Columbus; Nov. 20 in Washington; Jan. 5 in Washington; March 23 in Washington; and April 12 in Columbus.
Analysis: The Blue Jackets finished 27th in the league last season and, well, followed up that disappointing campaign with an awfully quiet offseason.
Why so quiet? Looks to me like GM Jarmo Kekalainen is taking the longview while also counting on a confluence of events to occur in 2016-17. Among the thins that need to happen:
- Bounce-back seasons from winger Nick Foligno and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets' highest and fourth-highest paid players. Foligno had 12 goals and 37 points, a steep decline from the 31 and 73 he produced the year before. Bobrovsky, meantime, struggled with injuries and consistency and won only 15 games.
- A breakout season (or three) from the organization’s deep pool of young players and prospects, many of whom helped the AHL Lake Erie Monsters sweep the Hershey Bears in the Calder Cup finals. Defenseman Zach Weresnki, forwards Sonny Milano, Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand and goalies Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo—all of whom are close to being ready to contribute in the NHL. There’s also left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois, the No. 3 overall pick in June’s draft. Should they have taken Jesse Puljujarvi instead? Time will tell. But Dubois has an outside shot at sticking in Columbus straight out of camp.
- A masterpiece coaching job from John Tortorella. Can he help youthful standouts like Seth Jones, Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner reach their full potential while simultaneously guiding the organization’s many prospects through a sometimes tough transition to the NHL? That remains to be seen, but the 2004 Stanley Cup champion coach certainly has navigated a lot of different situations during his two decades as an NHL head or assistant coach. It should also be noted that Torts went a respectable 34-32-8 after replacing Todd Richards. Under Richards, the Jackets opened the season 0-7-0.
If all, or even much, of the above happens, that would be great for Columbus and its long-suffering fan base. The Jackets actually might be good enough to make things interesting down the stretch. And, more importantly, it could lay the foundation for future success.
Season prediction: Call me a pessimist, but I don’t see it coming together. Not this year, at least.
Too many variables, too much youth and a tough division, to boot.
Having seen the Capitals build through the draft and benefit from prospects who learned to win while playing for a championship-caliber AHL organization, it’s certainly possible this youth movement could lead to positive things down the road.
If they don’t, however, watch out. It’s hard to envision where the Jackets turn next. They aren’t getting much bang for their buck currently; according to www.generalfanager.com, in fact, they’ve got less than $4 million available in cap space this season and no big salaries set to come off the books at year’s end. So, if things do go south, there might not be any option other than a tear-it-down rebuild.
2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS
— Carolina Hurricanes
— New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
— New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
— New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
— Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
— Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
— Washington Capitals (coming soon)