Continuing to attempt to predict outcomes of the 2016-2017 season. Next up: The Columbus Blue Jackets
2015-2016 Important Notes:
Finish – 15th place in the Eastern Conference, 27th overall
Goals for vs. goals against – minus 33 (26th overall)
Picked 3rd overall in 2016 NHL Entry Draft – Pierre-Luc Dubois
Where will the Jackets finish?
I find Columbus one of the harder teams to predict each season. Their roster on paper looks like it should be a borderline playoff team, but they’ve struggled over the past two seasons to put it all together. One would assume that with a healthy Sergei Bobrovsky that they are immediately a better team than last year. Bobrovsky had his season cut short due to injury, but is currently participating at the World Cup and looks to be in fine form going into this season. It’s imperative that the Jackets have a bounce-back year from their captain Nick Foligno. Coming off the 2014-2015 season in which he scored 31 goals and 73 points, he struggled in 2015-2016 and only managed 12 goals and 37 points. Is he a regular 65-75 point producer? No, but he should be able to provide the Jackets with a 20 goal season.
Seth Jones looks to be rounding into form for the Jackets, and along with other youngsters in Ryan Murray and even David Savard, they look to be built on the back-end for years to come. The Jackets possess enough grit in their lineup to keep teams on their toes night in and night out, and they’ll count on strong seasons from Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson, and a solid sophomore season from Alex Wennberg if they hope to push for a playoff spot.
Built For The Future
Columbus possesses a strong prospect pool heading into the 2016-2017 season. Their AHL affiliate Cleveland Monsters (formerly Lake Erie) won the Calder Cup last season, which is always a good thing for NHL teams. Their AHL team contains future bright-spots including Sonny Milano (31 pts in 54 games as a 19 year old), Daniel Zaar (43 pts in 71 games as a 20 year old), along with Oliver Bjorkstrand, TJ Tynan, and others. Add to this, junior defensemen and 2016 1st round draftee Zach Werenski (31 pts in 31 games in the NCAA), and newly drafted Pierre-Luc Dubois (99 points in 62 games in the QMJHL), and this team is full of future NHLers. The next couple of years in Columbus should be exciting for fans, with the future looking as bright as almost any other.
Making Room For The Young Guns
With so many young stars waiting in the wings, and looking to join the big club this season or next, the Jackets will have trouble finding the room to accommodate the influx of young talent that is waiting. I’m sure all Jackets fans would love to see the likes of David Clarkson and Scott Hartnell replaced by the next generation. That being said, is there a market for these players?
Simple answer for David Clarkson is no. When he signed his current deal (4 years remaining at a hit of $5.25) with Toronto I thought they would never be able to get out of it, so I suppose there always is the potential of a team taking on the Clarkson deal, I just can’t imagine who. If anyone offers ANYTHING, the Jackets would be wise to take it. While he’s not unplayable, he’s just simply not worth half of his current cap hit.
Is there a market for Scott Hartnell (3 years at $4.75)? Another tough contract. Hartnell enters the season at 34 years old, and has begun showing signs of slowing down. I can see a team like Arizona searching for a player like Hartnell. They too have a young team on the rise, but they don’t possess many players like Hartnell in their lineup, whereas Columbus has similar players in Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno. I can see Arizona making a push to trade for Scott Hartnell before the end of the season, especially if they’re in the playoff picture come March.
All in All
I envision the Jackets improving enough this season to push for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East. Backed by a healthy season of Sergei Bobrovsky, and an added offensive punch from youngsters, this team looks built for the future. If only it could get rid of a few contracts (*cough* David Clarkson *cough*).
(Credit: NHL.com ; www.capfriendly.com; hockeydb.com)