NHL season previews often sell you an impressive bill of goods before you realize, at the end of the season, you're holding an empty box. Which makes using advertisements and infomercials the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews, presented each day throughout September.
Last Season's Ad Copy (See Also, Jackets Eulogy): Seventh in the Western Conference and fourth in the Central Division (41-31-10, 92 points). Made the postseason for the first time in franchise history only to have the Detroit Red Wings smack them across the nose with a rolled-up newspaper in four games.
Not like it mattered. Last season was one of validation for GM Scott Howson and Columbus Blue Jackets management, which had methodically transitioned the team away from the veteran mercenaries that had encompassed the locker room into the hands of Captain Rick Nash(notes), a gaggle of young players and shrewd acquisitions like winger Kristian Huselius(notes) (21-35-56), centers R.J. Umberger(notes) (26-20-46) and Antoine Vermette(notes) (13 points in 17 games).
What put them over the top? The combination of Ken Hitchcock's system and Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason(notes) in goal, who won 33 games, pitched 10 shutouts, forced the trade of one-time franchise goalie Pascal Leclaire(notes) and conquered mono. And that, friends, is what gets you this.
So the BeeJays made the leap from draft fodder to playoff team last season; will they be one-and-done, or continue to contend in the Western Conference?
Latest Gadgets (Offseason Additions): It's a testament to the Jackets' bounty of young talent that the summer was spent augmenting the roster rather than making dramatic additions. Shutdown center Samuel Pahlsson(notes) found his game after being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, and is fully expected to pair with Jason Chimera(notes) on some sort of grind line. Mathieu Garon(notes) comes over from the Pittsburgh Penguins as a sturdy backup for Mason.
To The Recycle Bin (Offseason Subtractions): One of the most significant losses was defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen(notes) to the Philadelphia Flyers, taking one of the team's true nasty streaks (111 in 51 games back in 2007-08) with him. The Jackets also decided not to pursue several veterans under contract last season, including Christian Backman(notes), Chris Gratton(notes), Jiri Novotny(notes), Michael Peca(notes) and Jason Williams(notes), who had 29 points in 39 games last season. Veteran center Manny Malhotra(notes) remained unsigned as of this writing, even though he continued to represent the Blue Jackets in the NHLPA. Also, people keep stealing his red stapler and never passing him cake.
The Pitchman (Top Offensive Player): Rick Nash's startlingly public negotiation with the Blue Jackets over a new contract ended with him signing a 8-year, $64.2 million deal that cements him as the face of the franchise.
Is he worth it? Damn right. Nash averages 2.67 points per 60 minutes, and his numbers last season (40 goals, a career-best 79 points) only begin to explain his impact in the clutch, including 17 points in 15 games during the March playoff push. He worked well with Huselius, and should have another outstanding offensive season.
Introducing ... (Potential Breakout Player): Nikita Filatov(notes) is one of the most tantalizing talents on the Blue Jackets roster, and a winger who could play himself into the top six during training camp. He's still raw, he's still bulking up for the NHL grind ... but four goals in eight games last season for Columbus was simply the appetizer for what could be back-to-back rookie of the year awards for the Jackets.
Operators Are Standing By (The Defensemen): A group that plays well within Hitchcock's system but remains a deficiency in front of Mason. Mike Commodore(notes) (22:53 TOI) and Jan Hejda(notes) (22:22) are a pairing that helped the Jackets to 13th in the NHL on the kill. Fedor Tyutin(notes) was the leading scorer on defense (34 points), with 17 on the power play. He saw time with both Rostislav Klesla(notes) and Marc Methot(notes) last season; Klesla was limited to 34 games due to injury. Twenty-two-year-old Kris Russell(notes) is one of the few puck-moving D-men the team has; it's a need that must be addressed.
The Spokesmodel (The Goalies): Looking back at Mason's outstanding rookie campaign, it's startling to think what his stats might have been were it not for occasional bouts of inconsistency. He was second overall in GAA (2.29) but 15th in save percentage (.916). He got a taste of the playoffs and he has a capable backup to support him this season. Things are looking good for Mason in Year 2 ... but sophomore slumps aren't exactly uncommon for elite young goalies.