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Capitals' 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Capitals' 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings.

How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams?

This week, CSN is taking a look at each club's offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.

RELATED: CSN'S 2017-18 CAPITALS PREVIEW

Team: Columbus Blue Jackets

2016-17 Results: 50-24-8 (108 points). Third in division, 3rd in conference. Eliminated in the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games.

Notable acquisitions: C Jordan Schroeder, LW Artemi Panarin, C Tyler Motte

Notable departures: C Sam Gagner, LW Scott Hartnell, D Kyle Quincey, RW David Clarkson, LW Brandon Saad, G Anton Forsberg, C William Karlsson

When they will play the Caps: At Washington Dec. 2, at Columbus Feb. 6, at Washington Feb. 9, at Columbus Feb. 26

MORE CAPITALS: WHY IS PHEONIX COPLEY IMPORTANT FOR THE CAPS THIS SEASON?

2017-18 Blue Jackets Analysis:

The Blue Jackets were arguably the biggest surprise of the regular season last year, but they will enter the 2016-17 season with more doubters than you would expect for a young up-and-coming team that finished with the fourth best record in the league.

After a great regular season that included a 16-game win streak, Columbus fell in the first round of the playoffs to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The biggest difference was the play of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy for an incredible regular season that saw him post a .931 save percentage and 2.06 GAA. The playoffs saw a massive regression with a .882 save percentage and 3.88 GAA. It’s hard to win when your goalie is putting up numbers like that, but the fact that the Blue Jackets’ postseason lasted only five games shows just how important he is to his team’s success.

In addition to Bobrovsky, Columbus also returns a strong, young core that is looking to take the next step this season. Cam Atkinson led the team with 62 points last season, Alex Wennberg scored 59 points at the age of 22 and Zach Werenski was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. The one thing this team seemed to lack last season was a dynamic goal scorer. To address that, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen pulled off a big trade with the Chicago Blackhawks to acquire Artemi Panarin.

Playing alongside Patrick Kane, Panarin has scored 61 goals and 90 assists in his first two NHL seasons. The Blue Jackets are betting Panarin can remain as productive in Columbus even without Kane.

The Blue Jackets lose some production with Brandon Saad and Sam Gagner, but they could bolster their ranks with prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois if he is able to make the NHL squad. In the QMJHL, Dubois tallied 55 points in just 48 games.

2017-18 Blue Jackets Season prediction:

The biggest question for Columbus is how will Bobrovsky respond to his postseason performance? Ultimately it may be unreasonable to expect him to play as lights out as he did last season, but the Blue Jackets cannot compete in the toughest division in hockey if he plays like he did in the playoffs.

In addition to Bobrovsky, a lot will be riding on the shoulders of Panarin. He is a good pick up, but ultimately no one knows what he will be without Kane. How will he play when defenses are game planning for him? Even if Panarin disappoints, however, the arrow is still trending up for Columbus.

The Blue Jackets are not going to catch anyone by surprise like they did last season. If they hope to stay among the top teams in the Metropolitan Division, they will have to earn it. To me, this team is absolutely a playoff team and a dangerous one at that, but still likely a year away from winning the division. They may be better than last season, but too much went right for them to not expect some regression. Still, the future looks very bright for Columbus.

More Metro Division previews:

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Suddenly the Caps are in need of a head coach

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Suddenly the Caps are in need of a head coach

Less than two weeks after winning the Stanley Cup, the Caps are in need of a new head coach.

Barry Trotz resigned as the Caps coach on Monday after he and the team failed to reach an agreement on a new contract. How did we get here and where do both parties go from here? JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break it all down.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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7 things to know about Capitals head coaching candidate Todd Reirden

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7 things to know about Capitals head coaching candidate Todd Reirden

For now, Todd Reirden appears to be the frontrunner to be the new head coach of the Washington Capitals.

But who is he? 

Here are some things to know about the Capitals head coaching candidate:

1. Reirden spent the last four seasons with Washington on Barry Trotz's staff

Should Reirden be hired, he would bring a measure of familiarity with him few teams get after a coaching change. Reirden was hired by Trotz in 2014 when Trotz was putting together his staff. He was brought in to coach the team's defense and immediately improved the blue line.

In the year prior to Reirden's hiring, the Caps allowed 2.74 goals per game, good for only 21st in the NHL.

Here is what the defense has done in Reirden's four years in charge of the defense:

2014-15: 2.43 goals against per game, 7th in the NHL
2015-16: 2.33 goals against per game, 2nd in the NHL
2016-17: 2.16 goals against per game, 1st in the NHL
2017-18: 2.90 goals against per game, 16th in the NHL

In those four seasons combined, Washington allowed 2.45 goals per game, lower than every team in the NHL but one. He was also in charge of the team's lethal power play.

2. Reirden has been a head coach before

While he may never have been a head coach in the NHL, Reirden does have some head coaching experience.

Reirden was promoted to head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2009 when Dan Bylsma was promoted to head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While head coach, Reirden led the team to a 55-43-8 record.

3. Reirden came to Washington from the Penguins

Reirden joined the Penguins organization in 2008 as an assistant coach with their AHL affiliate and took over as head coach later that season. He joined the Penguins' playoff staff during the 2009 Cup run. He was promoted to a full-time assistant coach under with the NHL team under Bylsma in 2010 and was there for four years until Byslma was fired. Reirden was not initially fired, but was allowed to seek other opportunities. When he was officially fired, the Capitals hired him the same day.

4. Reirden had a lot to do with Matt Niskanen signing with the Caps

Reirden was hired by the Caps on June 25, 2014. On July 1, Matt Niskanen signed with Washington.

Reirden and Niskanen developed a strong relationship while in Pittsburgh. Niskanen dealt with confidence issues after getting traded from Dallas to Pittsburgh in 2011. Under Reirden's tutelage, Niskanen developed into a top-pair defenseman. Niskanen's agent said at the time it was "no secret" that Reirden and Niskanen had bonded while both were in Pittsburgh.

Brooks Orpik also signed with the Caps as a free agent that year, the second defenseman from Pittsburgh to sign in Washington showing the level of respect they felt for Reirden.

5. Reirden nearly became the head coach of Calgary

Reirden interviewed for the head coaching job in Calgary in 2016 and was considered a finalist for the position before eventually losing out Glen Gulutzan.

Gulutzan was fired by Calgary after the 2017-18 season and is now an assistant coach in Edmonton while Reirden is the frontrunner to become the head coach for the defending Stanley Cup champions. Sounds like things worked out for Reirden.

6. The Caps have been grooming Reirden to be a head coach

Reirden was promoted to associate coach in August 2016 after Calgary had passed on him. Since then, the Caps have not allowed him to interview with other teams for head coaching positions. The implication was clear, this was someone the team wanted to keep.

"You know I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach whether for us or someone else," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan Monday.

7. Reiden played in 183 career NHL games

Reirden was a defenseman drafted in the 12th round by the New Jersey Devils in 1990. After playing four years at Bowling Green, Reirden went pro with several seasons in the ECHL, IHL and AHL. He made his NHL debut with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1998-99 season. Reirden would also play with the St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Thrashers and Phoenix Coyotes. 

For his NHL career, Reirden scored 11 goals and 46 points in 183 games.

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